Tuesday, May 7, 2013

R.I.P.: Ray Harryhausen

Special effects and stop mation animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen passed away today at the age of 92. I could go on at length about his contributions to fantasy film making, about the countless hours of labor he invested bringing life to his creations frame by frame, second by second, scene by scene over the course of a career spanning form the late 1930's to the early 1980's.  But instead I'll just re-post this, my favorite special effects scene of all time.



Since the end of Harryhausen's career, the tools for bridging the gap between the imagination and the moving image have grown both more versatile and less innovative.  With increasing reliance placed on computer imagery (in a process that J. Hoberman describes as the transformation of  the history of film into the history of animation), it becomes more and more difficult to regard something with wonder.  While the majority of modern contemporary visual effects will likely look outdated and archaic within a few years, time only lends a deepening sense of awe to the kinds of techniques that Harryhausen practiced over his lifetime. Comparing the Medusa in 1981's Clash of the Titans with the same monster in the 2010 remake is to see difference between a scene created by an artist and a scene created by committee.  And as these anonymous, digitized creations sluice through our memory like easily digested cinematic gravy, Harryhausen's work endures, every frame of every creature stamped with the artistic signature of a single man.

Harryhausen was still active as a speaker late into his life.  In March of 2006, I attended a screening of Jason and the Argonauts with the animator in attendance   The animated sequences were greeted like musical numbers, garnering deep applause from the packed house of the Winifred Moore Auditorium.  When the lights came up, Harryausen rose from his chair.  He had been sitting in front of me the entire time, an unassuming man in his late eighties, still proud of his work, still telling the same stories so many years later.

     

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