Today marks what would have been the great Ray Harryhausen’s 100th birthday. To film and animation aficionados, Ray’s name is highly praised, and rightfully so. He was a brilliant stop-motion animator who, following in the footsteps of Willis O’Brien (the man behind the original King Kong), Ray elevated the world of visual effects in live-action movies that set new standards for decades. His work was often a part of science fiction and fantasy movies, but even if a film itself wasn’t necessarily great, Ray’s work on its own was groundbreaking.
My favorite of Ray’s work, and the favorite of many, is the skeleton sword fight from Jason and the Argonauts. It was made in 1963 , which means there were no computers involved. It was just little skeleton puppets moved one frame at a time, lit to look like it was outside, and large real human actors were filmed separately from the skeletons to look like they were interacting with them. Insanely difficult to pull off, but done so brilliantly. Here’s the scene:
I feel very privileged to work in the animation business, and was thrilled to have had the chance to meet and talk with Ray a number of times before he passed. His tales of working in this business inventing techniques and trick along the way were fascinating. They were especially fascinating because while I usually work on projects that are completely animated, Ray’s objective was to have the make-believe stuff appear to be real by having it interact with real things.
Perhaps the most unique brief chat with him came from bumping into Ray on a sidewalk here in Burbank, CA one day. Most people walked by without giving him a second look, but then a young animation guy like me knew who he was.
Ray passed away at the age of 92, but what an amazing legacy he left behind.