In praise of Ray Harryhausen

Even though Ray Harryhausen, the big daddy of stop motion animation, stopped making movies with 1981’s Clash of the Titans, his influence has loomed so large over cinema, it feels like he never left.

Now that Harryhausen has passed away at the age of 92, it will be even harder to believe he’s gone, again because of his incredible legacy.


In fact, as Steven Spielberg told the L.A. Times, “Without his work, there never would have been a Star Wars or a Jurassic Park,” which is indeed true. Although both of those films took special effects to new levels, Harryhausen’s stop motion animation innovations were the foundation that modern effects were built on. (In fact, there’s stop motion in Star Wars with the chess scene, and the spaceships were animated with a variation on the technique.) 

Harryhausen didn’t invent stop motion animation, but he’ll always be synonymous with the technology, which is very low tech by today’s standards, but it’s still enormous fun to watch. The care and love Harryhausen put into his creations are evident in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years BC, and the Sinbad films, just to name a few. 

Harryhausen’s work was a tremendous inspiration to young filmmakers to be like Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and George Lucas.

As Lucas recalled in the documentary The Harryhausen Chronicles, “I had seen some other fantasy films before, but none of them had the sort of awe that the Ray Harryhausen movies had.” When Harryhausen got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Spielberg said, “His films continue to set our imagination on fire.” 

As Harryhausen himself said, “Some people think it’s childish to do what I’ve done for a living. But I think it’s wrong when you grow to be an adult to discard your sense of wonder.” Thankfully, many generations of filmmakers kept that sense of wonder, and Harryhausen’s inspiration drove them to create incredible fantasies themselves. 

As Scott Ross, the former CEO of Digital Domain, told the Hollywood Reporter, “In many ways Ray Harryhausen was the icon of an era where visual effects were done practically, painstakingly and perfectly. Before ones and zeroes, before motion control, before $100 million budgets there was Harryhausen.” 

And as Henry Selick, the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, said, “Thank you, Ray Harryhausen…we were mesmerized by the soulful monsters you brought to life and fantasy worlds you created. Today, it takes an army of CG artists to impress a movie audience in the same way but they’ll never match the humanity and soul you put in your work.”