Today is the birthday of Ray Harryhausen, a pioneer of special effects in movies in the days before computers.

Many of the classic fantasy and sci-fi movie creatures came from his hands – literally – and from his imagination.


As a kid in Los Angeles, Harryhausen was fascinated by dinosaurs and fantastic creatures, especially when he started seeing them on screen in early movies like “King Kong.”

Soon he decided he wanted to bring those beings to life himself.

On the advice of “King Kong”’s special effects master, Willis O’Brien, Harryhausen studied not just filmmaking and photography, but art and anatomy, so that the models he’d been creating at home would move in more lifelike ways.

And remember, in those days, special effects meant creating models that needed to be filmed and moved one frame at a time.

The extra work paid off: Harryhausen’s special effects won wide acclaim and plenty of awards, even sometimes for movies where the script and the acting weren’t as good as the special effects.

His first big film, “Mighty Joe Young,” was released in 1949; his last was the original “Clash of the Titans” in 1981.

And while modern special effects use computers and other high-tech methods to do what Harryhausen did by hand, his influence is still all over movies today.

The big blockbuster movies of today wouldn’t be what they are without special effects, and special effects wouldn’t be what they are without Ray Harryhausen.

Edward Clarac earned a Purple Heart after being shot down flying combat missions in a B-17 during World War II.

Over Father’s Day weekend, about 75 years later, the 98 year old got to take another flight in a B-17.

Only this flight was considerably quieter, I think.

Ray Harryhausen: The Father of Stop-Motion Animation – The Spread (Cinema Jam)

A Fascinating Top Ten Compilation of Creatures by Stop Motion Pioneer Ray Harryhausen (Laughing Squid)

WWII bomber pilot experiences B-17 flight for the first time since 1945 (KPRC 2 Houston)

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Photo by Danie Ware via Flickr/Creative Commons