Ray Harryhausen (1920 - 2013)

One of the greats is gone today. Thanks for the wonderful movies, Ray!

The Harryhausen family regret to announce the death of Ray Harryhausen, Visual Effects pioneer and stop-motion model animator. He was a multi-award winner which includes a special Oscar and BAFTA. Ray’s influence on today’s film makers was enormous, with luminaries; Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, John Landis and the UK’s own Nick Park have cited Harryhausen as being the man whose work inspired their own creations.

Harryhausen’s fascination with animated models began when he first saw Willis O’Brien’s creations in KING KONG with his boyhood friend, the author Ray Bradbury in 1933, and he made his first foray into filmmaking in 1935 with home-movies that featured his youthful attempts at model animation. Over the period of the next 46 years, he made some of the genres best known movies – MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), MYSTERIUOUS ISLAND (1961), ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), THER VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), three films based on the adventures of SINBAD and CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981). He is perhaps best remembered for his extraordinary animation of seven skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) which took him three months to film.

Harryhausen’s genius was in being able to bring his models alive. Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right, just as important as the actors they played against and in most cases even more so.

Raymond Frederick Harryhausen, Born: Los Angeles 29th June 1920, Died: London 7th May 2013


  1. He was part of the trifecta of my childhood imagination, the other two being Berni Wrightson and Ray Bradbury. But with Harryhausen, it was something even deeper. You could see the craft in his work. What was handmade about his creatures was not hidden. And it made me believe that I could create something as wonderful one day.

    1. The technique wasn’t the thing — it was the way he infused his characters with motion, as if by every movement they communicated some intent. His imagination danced, and he learned how to film it.

  2. I hope wherever he goes, it’s at LEAST as interesting as the world he created here.

  3. I know it’s old-fashioned, but I always prefer works like Harryhausen’s to any CG special effects, perhaps because, even if the actors on screen aren’t really interacting with the figures, there’s a sense that they’ve been made, that they’re tangible and real. And that, if I’d been a really, really lucky kid, I could have played with them. 

    1.  Ray’s work and Aardman Films. There’s something about knowing how hard it was to do the stop-motion that makes them extra special.

  4. Whether they were prehistoric dinosaurs or mythological creatures, in Ray’s hands they were no longer puppets but became instead characters in their own right, just as important as the actors they played against and in most cases even more so.

    This exactly.  His creations were infused with personality and often pathos, from design to construction to animation. 

  5. Aw man, this gloomy day just got a little gloomier.  So long Ray, thanks for all the wonderful movie magic.

  6. There really is a certain kind of pleasure from watching Harryhausen’s creatures move. I don’t know what it is, but it lights up a part of my brain and holds my interest.

    1. I, on the other hand, always feel like I’m watching a really dark episode of Gumby.

    1. He did do the best Skeletons. They were so full of energy and aggression; like 3D wizz lines.

  7. Damn. 

    I doubt there will ever be a movie that excites the sense of wonder that “Jason and the Argonauts” did for me as a kid. His stuff just had a kind of magic.  RIP. 

    1. It was Golden Voyage of Sinbad that did it for me as a kid. Loads of monsters, a evil Dr Who and, gulp, Caroline Munro…  she made me feel funny.

  8. My great uncle had the pleasure of directing 3 movies with Ray and they became life long friends. He had nothing but good things to say about working with Ray. Because of the Hollywood system, the live action director always got the director’s credit, when we all knew it was Ray who made the movie what it was. My sister and I were always sure to see the Ray Harryhausen/Ray Bradbury/Forry Ackerman panel at SDCC, and when we met him afterwards, he was the nicest person, always taking time to talk with us and happy to sign anything we brought by. Current Hollywood types could sure learn a lot from those 3 men.

    1. Cowboys and dinosaurs, at least.  I tellya, if you haven’t seen Valley of Gwangi yet, run right out and hunt it down.  Damn, it’s entertaining as hell.  If someone remade it tomorrow and did it right, they could reignite kids’ love for Westerns like Cowboys and Aliens failed so miserably to do.

    1. I tellya, it’s going in my will!  I’d hasten my own death for the chance to be animated by Ray.  Star Wars made me want to make movies, but it was Harryhausen’s Sinbad movies and Jason and the Argonauts that first made me wonder how anyone could do such wonderful things in a movie.

  9. The first thing I think of when Harryhausen is mentioned, is the skeletons. The second, the clockwork owl robot from Clash of the Titans. Great times.

  10. He really managed to put some personality into his monster. I felt rather sad when the Griffon-thing got killed in Golden Voyage.

  11. I think “First Men In The Moon” was one of those movies I saw in the back of the station wagon at the drive in where the folks already had us in our pajamas. 

    The action sequences of “20,000,000 Miles To Earth” with the lizard-ape were stunning (Harry got an Italian vacation into the deal).

    And it was nice to see “Mars Attacks” on HBO the other night, with all it homages to “Earth Versus The Flying Saucers.” 

  12. I’d never seen, or couldn’t remember, the chess-playing baboon. Amazing. He was the Gretzky of analog effects.

  13. I remember watching Clash of the Titans with my dad as a kid. Not too long ago, we went and saw one his Sinbad films at the local cinema… This is really sad. 

  14. His animated creatures had more character, more life, than many of the human actors in the movies.  He would have been a great 19th century zoologist, his eye for the ways animals move and react was exquisite.

  15. The way Ray Harryhausen made the skeletons move in “Jason and the Argonauts” — that’s how skeletons _should_ move; it’s how I imagine undead when I read a fantasy book; it’s the gold standard against which I compare other movie special effects.

    Personally, I think his greatest achievement was to elevate stop-motion animation from being just a gimmick effect to being an artform in its own right.

    Ray entertained the world, inspired a generation that includes some of today’s best-known film-makers, and remained humble and dedicated to fans.
    Take this quote for example:
    “I’m very happy that so many young fans have told me that my films have changed their lives. That’s a great compliment. It means I did more than just make entertaining films. I actually touched people’s lives — and, I hope, changed them for the better.” -Ray Harryhausen

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