Ray Harryhausen made dreams come true. Granted, they were the dreams of little boys and girls who prefer to count monsters over sheep. Nonetheless, he was a true fantasy titan. Which makes today's news that the cinematic icon has passed away, in London, at the age of 92, infinitely sad.
To this generation's filmmaking giants, like Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, Harryhausen provided their younger selves with invaluable inspiration—he proved that nothing's impossible whenever there's imagination and talent involved. Specifically, Harryhausen redefined the visual effects medium through some of the greatest stop-motion animation of all time, work that never feels dated, only timeless and awe-inspiring.
The imprints he's left on cinema are vast. Long before the days of expensive CGI and Avatar-like trickery, Harryhausen's gritty, imaginative, meticulously hand-crafted, and incredibly badass The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Cyclops, (The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, 1958), sword-wielding skeleton warriors (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963), and Medusa (the original Clash of the Titans, 1981) were fuel for wide-eyed adoration and artistic motivation. Watching flesh-and-bone actors seamlessly interact with these creations—in a process Harryhausen dubbed "Dynamation"—gave future directors and effects wizards the everlasting influences necessary to eventually conceive those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the Xenomorph in Alien, and every other cinematic ghoul, goblin, and gigantically inhuman villain.
In the recent documentary Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, Steven Spielberg saluted him by saying, "[He's] the father of what we do today in the business of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure." Expect an outpouring of similarly minded eulogies in the next few days, from prominent filmmakers down to esteemed critics and A-list actors. None of which will be too much.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)