Though I can’t pinpoint my first experience with a Ray Harryhausen film, I know the one that inspired me the most. In 1981, I sat in a dark theater and watched Titans Clash. I watched men fight huge scorpions, and I saw Gorgons beheaded, and horses flew effortlessly before my eyes, and I was enthralled when the Kraken was released by the gods to cause terror and destruction upon the world. I was completely mesmerized by what I was seeing. This–this was what movie magic was all about.
Shortly after that experience in the movie theater, while my friends wore sheets tied across their bodies and fought each other wielding plastic swords, I started my research at the library, which is what most of the nerdy kids in my generation did. I learned all about the great Willis O’Brien and the technique of stop motion animation, and how a man named Ray Harryhausen was the foremost expert at the time. I recalled watching Mighty Joe Young on my local Monster Theater TV show, as well as being thrilled with the Sinbad films, and I remembered how cool the skeletons were in Jason and The Argonauts as they swarmed over Jason’s ship, swords in hand, and all of this was attributed to this one man.
Star Wars was already a huge part of my life at this time, and the stop motion effects that ILM were doing then had his fingerprints all over them. This man, this Harryhausen, was a magician–a wizard–who brought inanimate object to life and served as an inspiration to me, and as I later learned, pretty much every other filmmaker working as well. In sixth grade, my art teacher took a chance and taught the class basic animation. We had a class project, and each student was in charge of drawing the “cells” for the narrative that I had come up with and storyboarded. I learned about animation here, how to use the camera and lighting and everything technical, and soon after, I switched from cell animation to stop motion, all because of the Kraken, and Gwangi, and Mighty Joe Young. Because of Ray Harryhausen.
At home, I filmed my toys transforming from cars to robots and back again. GI JOE fought COBRA in the tree behind my house, all animated, meticulously shot one frame at a time, taught to me by the articles I had read on or about Ray Harryhausen.
As I got older, animation gave way to film and then to prose as my favorite vehicle of storytelling. But the stories I write all go back to those films that I watched growing up, these cinematic influences that I hold in my heart as pure magic, wielded by a wizard that I would never meet, never get the chance to tell how much of an inspiration he was to me.
Ray Harryhausen passed away today at the young age of 92. The world lost a true magician, a one-of-a-kind master at what he did, who inspired the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, Jackson and the list goes on and on. Ray Harryhausen, who was himself inspired by Willis O’Brien, would go on to inspire multiple generations of creators of all kinds and he will be missed by many, and forever loved by all that he wowed with his magic. The Kraken is back in its pen under the sea. The Skeleton armies lay silent, Mighty Joe Young is at rest. Ray Harryhausen is no longer with us, but this wizard’s spells will live on forever.