Essays · Features and Columns

Fade Out: Ray Harryhausen (1920–2013)

By  · Published on May 8th, 2013

Ray Harryhausen was a luminary who nurtured the growth of countless imaginations. He was that rare filmmaker who was an active part of the evolution of the art form, taking his place both as the inspired and the inspirational.

“When I first saw King Kong in 1933, I wanted to do something in the film business,” said Harryhausen in an interview for the documentary Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan. “Nothing like it had been put on the screen. . . it haunted me for years that, even though it was a little jerky, this creature was amazing. So big. You know, it just left an enormous impression. It wasn’t only the technical expertise, it was the whole production of the film. They took you by the hand from the mundane world of The Depression, and brought you into the most outrageous fantasy that’s ever been put on the screen. It really set me off on my career.”

That experience led directly to him pursuing a passion that would thrill millions. From The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms to 20 Million Miles From Earth to the Sinbad movies to The Valley of Gwangi to Clash of the Titans and more. So many films born from a darkened theater in 1933 and one young man’s ingenuity.

And just as he was inspired by that RKO classic, his work would go on to inspire others. Steven Spielberg once said that without Harryhausen, “there never would have been a Star Wars or a Jurassic Park.” More than just a master filmmaker, he crafted models that came to life, building movies that excited audiences and won the admiration of other filmmakers. The genius that Spielberg and others inspire will be Harryhausen’s legacy as well – a history that will continue to grow from painstaking hours spent moving tiny skeleton arms a millimeter at a time.

Sadly, Harryhausen passed away Tuesday at the age of 92 in London, but his own words about Kong still echo into and beyond his own towering work. He took us by the hand from the mundane world, and brought us into the most outrageous fantasies.

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