Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Legend ascends to Mount Olympus: RIP, Ray Harryhausen

With true sadness in my heart, I report that pioneering special effects / stop motion animation wizard Ray Harryhausen has passed away at the age of 92.
The Master at work, with a model of the Medusa's head (we hope it's only a model)

Thank you, dear sir. You made such an impact on my young burgeoning imagination, as well as countless thousands - millions! - of aspiring artists the world over with your astounding talent and pioneering techniques. These days, it's so easy to "create" an image with a computer, but when you do, you're leaving out the most vital element, the true spark of life: its soul. Harryhausen created his subjects from clay, by hand, and brought them to cinematic life one frame at a time. It could take days, weeks, even months, to complete just one scene, but back in the early days of special effects, that was how it was done. An agonizing discipline to be sure, one that is for the most part lost in this modern digital age (save for those few such as Tim Burton, who refuses to let that fire die, as evidenced by his own classic stop-motion animated offerings including 'Nightmare Before Christmas' and 'The Corpse Bride'). 

And for generations of stars-in-their-eyes monster kids like me growing up in the '60s and '70s, its magic worked wonders, scaring the unholy crap out of us late at night as we watched these movies on the flickering cathode ray screen, safe in our suburban homes. I'll never forget the first time I saw the screeching, horrid-winged harpies swooping down and the dreadful skeleton army in 'Jason and the Argonauts' as a youngster- I'm telling you, it about frightened me half to death! 
Ain't no bones about it, this was a scary scene! (Jason and the Argonauts)

But, oh, the sheer joy of that fertile, forever intoxicating fear... I was hooked! It was so rich and heady, I could taste it, and it fueled my desire (hell, a more apt term was it lit a FIRE under my ass!) to be an artist and create my own monsters. 
And, boy, did I ever.
A giant metal statue of Kali comes to life and wreaks havoc (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad)
Even after all these many years, so many images from Harryhausen's catalog of creepy characters remain permanently seared in my mind's eye... the giant bees sealing up the explorers in a wax honeycomb in 'Mysterious Island' ... the horrifying Medusa slithering down the hallway searching for Perseus, the giant scorpions and the Kraken rising from the depths in 'Clash of the Titans' ... the unexpected charm of the huge ape in 'Mighty Joe Young' ... all the many dinosaurs, all the monsters from myths and legends throughout the ages and across all cultures... the list is nearly endless, and indeed, all of it served as fodder to instill in me this lifelong love of art and special effects. 

We truly have lost a diamond, my friends, when Mr. Harryhausen's spark was extinguished...
At work on bringing life to the skeleton army (Jason and the Argonauts)

Rest well, oh wonderful sir. Your place on Mount Olympus is secured. 
Thank you for the treasures you have left us. 

Gone, but never, ever will you be forgotten.

Ray Harryhausen 
June 29, 1920 - May 7, 2013  

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