Special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen dies at 92

Special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen dies at 92
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POSTED: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 2:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 2:04am

Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion animation and special-effects master whose work influenced such directors as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and George Lucas, has died, according to the Facebook page of the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

Harryhausen was 92. The page did not offer a cause of death.

Harryhausen's pioneering work on such movies as "Mighty Joe Young," "Jason and the Argonauts," "One Million Years B.C." and "Clash of the Titans" (1981) was widely praised for its ability to blend stop-motion effects -- models filmed one frame at a time -- and live action.

In "Jason," for example, the hero has a battle with a group of skeletons that emerge from the ground and take on the Greek warriors.

Harryhausen called his format "dynamation," and though it looks somewhat crude by today's computer-generated standards, it still packs a punch -- and other filmmakers remain agog by Harryhausen's abilities.

Several filmmakers paid tribute to him on his 90th birthday, including Jackson, "Wallace & Gromit's" Nick Park and Monty Python's Terry Gilliam. Pixar worked in a reference to Harryhausen in "Monsters, Inc."

Raymond Frederick Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles in 1920. From his childhood he was intrigued by movies and animation, inspired by films such as "The Lost World" (1925) and especially "King Kong" (1933). As a teenager he built dioramas featuring prehistoric creatures and filmed them with a 16-millimeter camera, gently hitting the "run" button to move the film one frame at a time, according to his biography on rayharryhausen.com.

By the time he was in his early 20s he was friends with Forrest Ackerman and Ray Bradbury, two men who shared Harryhausen's fondness for storytelling and animation. Ackerman became a writer, editor and famed memorabilia collector; Bradbury, of course, became one of the most celebrated science-fiction writers.

Other influential colleagues included Willis O'Brien, the "King Kong" animator, who encouraged Harryhausen's pursuits, and George Pal, who produced 1953's "The War of the Worlds" and directed 1960's "The Time Machine."

The science-fiction and fantasy films of Harryhausen's career weren't the star-filled, big-budget productions of today. Indeed, Harryhausen's creations were often the main attraction for films that lacked the polish of major studio releases.

But the dedicated Harryhausen had a well-earned following, and was quick with praise for his successors. He also never lost his fondness for storytelling, and even in today's computer-dominated marketplace, maintained high hopes that the art of combining stop-motion with live action would continue.

"Stop-motion is a medium that welcomes fantasy, hence the number of recent productions," Harryhausen told CNN in 2012. "As yet, though, there seem to be no productions that are utilizing model stop-motion and live actors. But that will, I think, re-emerge. It is only a matter of time." 

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