6 Influential Stop-Motion Movies From Ray Harryhausen

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Raymond Frederick “Ray” Harryhausen—who died today at age 92—was a pioneer and visionary in the filmmaking industry. Although he never directed a full-length feature film, his style of stop-motion animation special effects and his bold imagination directly impact nearly every genre movie from the 1940s to today. Harryhausen almost single-handedly kept the stop-motion animation technique alive for three solid decades before the advent of computer camera motion control and CGI.

He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005, while directors like Tim Burton, Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, and George Lucas pay homage to Harryhausen’s work in their films. Here are six of the most influential stop-motion Ray Harryhausen movies.

1. MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)

Ray Harryhausen’s work on Mighty Joe Young—which was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, one of the directors of the groundbreaking 1933 movie King Kong—contributed to the film’s Academy Award win for Best Special Effects in 1949. The movie is known for its elaborate action sequences and larger-than-life characters. Mighty Joe Young is seen as one of the best examples of what stop-motion animation can offer.

2. EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956)

The science fiction film Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (also known as Invasion of the Flying Saucers) displayed an elaborate alien invasion that had UFOs crashing into a number of government buildings and monuments. Harryhausen incorporated military stock footage with stop-motion animation to bring the fictional event to life; his flying saucer design is the prototype for almost every alien invasion movie ever made. Director Tim Burton paid homage to Harryhausen’s work in his 1996 film, Mars Attacks!

3. THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was the first of three Sinbad movies released by Columbia Pictures. Harryhausen refined his stop-motion technique with a new system called “Dynamation," which incorporated stop-motion animation with lush and vivid color. It took him 11 months to complete the animation for the film, which features one of Harryhausen’s most iconic creations, the monstrous single-horned Cyclops. In 2008, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

4. MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)

Loosely based on Jules Verne’s novel, Mysterious Island was used by Shepperton Studios to showcase the high level of special effects the British movie studio could churn out and offer directors. Although the film was a box office disappointment, Mysterious Island is considered to be one of the finest examples of Harryhausen’s imagination and design.

5. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

Jason and the Argonauts is perhaps best known for the iconic sword fight featuring seven skeleton warriors, which took Harryhausen four months to complete. He considered Jason and the Argonauts to be his best film; it was nominated for the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Fantasy Films of all time. Director Robert Rodriguez paid homage to the skeleton sword fight scene in his 2002 film, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams

6. CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

When people think of the 1981 film Clash of the Titans, the creatures that immediately come to mind are Harryhausen's terrifying Medusa and towering Kraken. After the film was released, Harryhausen retired from filmmaking (special effects in Hollywood movies like Star Wars and Superman made the stop-motion animation technique seem old fashioned). Director Louis Leterrier's 2010 Titans remake—which starred Australian actor Sam Worthington as Perseus and Liam Neeson as the mythological Greek god Zeus—didn’t incorporate stop-motion animation, but Harryhausen’s influence can still be felt: The creatures were updated versions of his stop-motion creations.

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May 7, 2013 - 5:00pm
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