The special effects mastery of Ray Harryhausen


The special effects department on a movie set is what helps bring stories to life and seem believable. Think of the bullet time scenes in The Matrix, the T-Rex flipping the car in Jurassic Park, or King Kong with a gorilla scaling the Empire State Building, they have all been made possible thanks to special effects. One man loved stop-motion special effects and worked on many of Hollywood’s most visually groundbreaking movies, that man was Ray Harryhausen and here are some incredible facts about his life.

First film work

His first feature film was Mighty Joe Young, a 1949 fantasy film about a giant gorilla who is brought to Hollywood to make a young woman a lot of money. Harryhausen world on the movie as part of the stop-motion special effects team that won an Oscar. Harryhausen had been inspired by King Kong as a young boy and just a couple of years after that film was released in 1933 he went and made his very own film in his parent’s yard. The amateur film, Cavebear, featured a giant cave bear attacking Harryhausen’s family dog, Kong.

He was thrifty

Harryhausen did some work for the Army during the Second World War, helping to educate and train the forces. During his time there he found plenty of unused footage that he took and used as a part of his short children’s films based on fairy tales in the following years. These films helped to get his foot in the door of Hollywood and set him on his way to being a part of some of the biggest movies in Hollywood. Stop-motion was his, and many of the films he worked on used this special effect to bring both terrifying monsters and iconic fantasy characters to audiences.

One million years B.C.

He worked on the 1966 prehistoric epic movie helping to bring some of the monsters to life. He used his skill in making models to make several dinosaur-like creatures attack the early humans that inhabited the planet all that time ago. The monsters created by Harryhausen in the film include a giant Iguana, an Allosaurus, and a giant spider all attacking the humans at various stages. His effects helped audiences imagine some of the struggles our early ancestors likely had to go through to survive.

The Clash of the Titans

The 1981 fantasy epic Clash of the Titans was his last major production and is possibly his finest work. He created so many of the mythical creatures many of us have come to know over history, fearful creatures such as the Kraken, Medusa, and Cyclops. Perhaps his best work in the film is the scenes involving the snake-haired Medusa, each of the snakes on her head seems to have a life of their own. Although that was his last major movie, he would later come out of retirement for one special film.

The story of the tortoise and the hare

The Clash of the Titans was released in 1981 and Harryhausen didn’t work on any major projects following that. He was tempted out of retirement after many years to complete a short movie he began working on back in the ‘50s. He was approached by a pair of filmmakers who wanted to help him complete his work on the project and agreed to allow them to take over the project, while still being heavily involved himself. He animated several of the scenes himself, helping this 50-year long project reach competition. It debuted at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2002.

Ray Harryhausen had a long career working with stop-motion technology, building many of the models that were used in the films himself. When he was 90 years old, he was awarded a BAFTA award for his services to special effects. A truly great man who was dedicated is life to his passion.