Master Animator and Director Ray Harryhausen Dies at 92

Stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen, whose work is featured in classic adventure films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and The Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981) died in London on Tuesday, May 7th at the age of 92. The New York Times has an obituary.

Born in Los Angeles in 1920, Harryhausen had an early fascination with animated models in the 1930’s after discovering the stop motion work of Willis O’Brien in King Kong. He went on to work with George Pal on the Puppetoons shorts, the Army Motion Picture Unit during World War II with Frank Capra and O’Brien himself on Mighty Joe Young in 1949.

Using a signature technique of combining rear projection and stop-motion puppetry called Dynamation he brought life to science fiction and fantasy creations in almost thirty films and shorts spanning five decades. The influence of Harryhausen on film luminaries like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and James Cameron is immeasurable and his work continues to inspire animators and VFX artists around the world.

  • jens

    That is very sad. I had the pleasure and luck to meet him over lunch with some of my classmates after he had given a lecture at my uni. One of the best and funniest moments during my studies.

    I remember him talking about animating dinosaurs when science found out that they apparently walked different to what was believed at the time. He just said, -I did not care how they were supposed to walk. The new walk looked like they are constipated, so I did not change it!-

    He was 90 at the time and still giving lectures, -what dedication! I think everyone can call themselves lucky if we’re still as witty, agile and nice at such an age.

    rip mr. Harryhausen

  • Satorical

    I was lucky enough to go with my friend to see Mr. Harryhausen speak a few years back in NYC. The joy he took in his craft was obvious, and he seemed like a super-nice guy.

    While his later stop-motion works on things like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans were well-known, his was a lifelong passion. I snapped up a copy of his Early Years collection when it came out. If you get a chance, do yourself the favor of checking it out.

  • Toonio

    Ray inspired scores of people to pour their imaginations on their crafts, and moved them into always pushing their art to the next unimaginable level.

    Talking about legacy. talking about making the world a better place.

    Thanks Ray! Till forever.

  • Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the first time I saw Ray Harryhausen films. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad was the first one I got to see in a theater and it was an awesome experience.

    I remember being maybe 7 years old and sitting facinated in front of the TV watching the skeleton fight from Jason and the Argonauts.

    I remember watching Earth vs. Flying Saucers on Creature Feature on a Saturday afternoon and being enthralled from start to finish.

  • It’s
    a benchmark day and a sad one… The passing of this great man is hard
    to accept… But his near 93 years on this planet is as remarkable as
    his legacy of fantastic films. Will miss him but have his wonderful
    films to remember him by.

  • I met Mr.
    Harryhausen in his home in London. He was such a nice charming fellow.
    When I was working in London with Joan Fontaine I had some time off and
    rang him up and after a nice chat he invited me over and we talked about
    films and living in California. His very nice wife who’s name escapes
    me at the moment brought us beers and she had lemonade. I wasn’t working
    on anything very impressive but told him of my working in Europe on the
    film The Good King. I was just the actress’s assistant. But I had once
    wanted to work in animation . He showed me his awesome gallery of models
    from his films. At the time he’d just returned from the foundry where
    they’d cast some of his sculptures in bronze. Well, Mr Harryhausen was
    an idol of mine from when I was younger and to have met and visited him
    in his home was a very special and memorable experience. Thanks Ray for
    all the fun… A world without Mr. Harryhausen is hard to imagine.
    Time for a Marathon on TCM!

  • Jamaal Bradley

    Thanks for the great memories from my childhood… He brought a smile to many people in the world. Your did your job…and you did it well.

    Rest Well

  • I have a story about the time I offended Ray Harryhausen.

    He was giving a talk where I worked, and I wanted to ask how he managed to keep the action so well-integrated between the live-action and animated parts, especially with how poorly-integrated modern films were. I was so star-struck that I had to rehearse the question in my head a million times to have any hope of getting it out there.

    Unfortunately, I made the mistake of rehearsing it with the word “claymation” instead of “stop-motion.” I didn’t realize that “claymation” was a loaded term that he didn’t like at all, and certainly didn’t want used in reference to his body of work.

    The first time I said “claymation” he stopped me and asked me not to call it that. The second time I said that he got very irritated. Finally I asked, “Well what should I call it?” and he said “stop-motion.” I stumbled and managed to re-ask the question with the appropriate substitution, and finally he gave his answer:


    • Funkybat

      I’ve run into that, albeit not while talking to a living legend. The most common term for stop-mo I heard growing up was “claymation.” I’ve since learned that most of these stop-motion models were not made with clay, but I suspect that the aversion to the term has to do with something more than that. I’ve avoided using it in recent years, but I still don’t quite know why it’s so frowned upon.

      Can anyone in the stop-motion field enlighten us as to why the term seems to get so many folks prickly when they hear it?

      • If I remember right, the word Claymation was “invented” by the Will Vinton studios, that may be one reason, also of corse the fact that claymation means clay, and not puppets..

        • Sam

          But the problem with the term stop-motion is that the idea of many frozen frames being put together can refer to all animation.

      • It’s extremely imprecise.

        It’s like talking to a British car enthusiast and referring to a ’63 Jaguar XKE fastback as a Mercedes gullwing coupe.

      • dvanim8

        Claymation is termed coined by will venton. When he own his venton studios, now Laika.. Believe the term Became popular during the California Raisins campaign.. He used clay in all his all his clay animated’s a form of stop motion just using clay as a main component. The stop motion community doesn’t like the term claymation to describe the overall art form.. No everything done is stop motion is using clay as the medium. It’s only a part of the to speak.

      • Neil

        Probably because “claymation” is trademarked by Will Vinton (or Laika now, I’m not sure of the current situation) – it’s actually a brand name for his work, not a general term.

      • Curiousrobot

        I can’t say for sure (not a stop-motion guy in particular, nor am I myself prickly about it), but I’d say it probably has something to do with the fact that “Claymation” is a trademarked term registered by Will Vinton. A couple of decades ago, Vinton was practically synonymous to the public at large with stop motion, which is probably why “claymation” is synonymous for “stop-motion” to you guys as well. I can certainly imagine a person like Harryhausen being a little miffed at his life’s work being referred to using Vinton’s marketing term, which is just a name for stop-motion using clay, which people had been doing forever.

        That, and of course, the fact that it’s not accurate. Most of the time, Harryhausen wasn’t using clay. But I’m sure it had more to do with some annoyance at Vinton’s publicity and trademark.

      • Curiousrobot

        I guess it’s more like three decades ago. God, I’m old.

      • John A

        Well guys, “Claymation” is a term created by Animator Will Vinton to describe the films made by him and others at his studio.Vinton ‘s work had a very dinstictive look, since everything on the figure was made out of plastecine clay, and characters would frequently distort or morph into other things, something very different from the kind of work produced by Ray Haryhausen and Willis O’Brien. Their figures were very painstakingly detailed steel armatures with ball and socket joints covered with foam rubber and latex. In order to make a figure change its expression, there was a whole system of wires underneath the surface of the model face that would allow the animator to articulate the figure’s jaw, or lips, or eyebows.

        “Puppet animation” was a term commonly used to describe the works of George Pal and Rankin-Bass (and others)and I’m sure Mr. Harryhausen would have been O.K. with that term as well. Somehow over time, the word “claymation” has been picked up by the general public (but not by actual animators)to describe anything that uses an actual 3-D figure as opposed to a computer generated one. It might help the public keep the two techniques straight, but animators think the term demeans their craft, and gives a false impression as to what actually goes into making this particular type of stop motion film.

        For a while, Columbia Studios had their own term for Ray’s work, they called it “Dynamation” an abreviation of ‘dynamic animation’-when his films were made in cinemascope, the studio advertised them as “filmed in Dynaramma”.

  • For some reason, I had assumed Ray had already passed away. He certainly was a true pioneer in his field. I envy all of you who had a chance to meet him.

  • Arnold Kunert

    C. Edwards refers readers to the New York Times obituary, which contains three errors regarding Ray Harryhausen’s life and career: Ray’s film “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” was released in 1953, not 1952; “The Three Worlds of Gulliver” was released in 1960, not 1959; and Ray and Diana Harryhausen were married in 1962, shortly after the completion of photography on “Jason and the Argonauts,” which was released in 1963. Their daughter Vanessa was born in January 1964. These may appear to be relatively minor errors, but they should be corrected now or they will almost certainly appear in future coverage of this wonderful artist.

  • Jen Hurler

    Even having grown up with VFX wonders like “Jurassic Park,” that skeleton scene from “Jason and the Argonauts” still blew my mind.