Special effects master Ray Harryhausen dies at 92

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm •  Published: May 7, 2013
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LONDON (AP) — When Ray Harryhausen was 13, he was so overwhelmed by "King Kong" that he vowed he would create otherworldly creatures on film. He fulfilled his desire as an adult, thrilling audiences with skeletons in a sword fight, a gigantic octopus destroying the Golden Gate Bridge, and a six-armed dancing goddess.

On Tuesday, Harryhausen died at London's Hammersmith Hospital, where he had been receiving treatment for about a week. He was 92.

Biographer and longtime friend Tony Dalton confirmed the special-effects titan's death, saying it was too soon to tell the exact cause. He described Harryhausen's passing as "very gentle and very quiet."

"Ray did so much and influenced so many people," Dalton said. He recalled his friend's "wonderfully funny, brilliant sense of humor" and love of Laurel and Hardy, adding that, "His creatures were extraordinary, and his imagination was boundless."

Though little known by the general public, Harryhausen made 17 movies that are cherished by devotees of film fantasy.

George Lucas, who borrowed some of Harryhausen's techniques for his "Star Wars" films, commented: "I had seen some other fantasy films before, but none of them had the kind of awe that Ray Harryhausen's movies had."

The late science fiction author Ray Bradbury, a longtime friend and admirer, once remarked: "Harryhausen stands alone as a technician, as an artist and as a dreamer. ... He breathed life into mythological creatures he constructed with his own hands."

Harryhausen's method was as old as the motion picture itself: stop motion. He sculpted characters from 7.5 cm to 38 cm (3 inches to 15 inches) tall and photographed them one frame at a time in continuous poses, thus creating the illusion of motion. In today's movies, such effects are achieved digitally.

Harryhausen admired the three-dimensional quality of modern digital effects, but he still preferred the old-fashioned way of creating fantasy.

"I don't think you want to make it quite real. Stop motion, to me, gives that added value of a dream world," he said.

Ray Frederick Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles on June 19, 1920. As a boy, he saw the 1925 silent fantasy "The Lost World," Willis O'Brien's stop-motion movie about dinosaurs in a South American jungle.

"I always remember the dinosaur falling off the cliff," he remarked at a Vancouver, Canada, animation and effects convention in 2001. "That stuck in my mind for years."

His future was assured in 1933 when he saw "King Kong" at Grauman's Chinese theater in Hollywood.

"I used to make little clay models," he recalled. "When I saw 'King Kong,' I saw a way to make those models move."

He borrowed a 16 mm camera, cut up his mother's old fur coat to make a bear model, and made a film about himself and his dog being menaced by a bear. His parents were so impressed that he was spared a spanking for ruining the fur coat.

During World War II, Harryhausen joined Frank Capra's film unit, which made the "Why We Fight" propaganda series. After the war, he made stop-motion versions of fairy tales that prompted his idol, O'Brien, to hire him to help create the ape in "Mighty Joe Young," an achievement that won an Academy Award. Harryhausen then embarked on a solo career.

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