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It was announced today that stop-motion animation legend Ray Harryhausen died at the age of 92.
If you're a fan of cinema and special effects, chances are you're already a fan of his work. His influence can be seen in the work of Tim Burton, Phil Tippett, Harry Selick, Rob Bottin, Dennis Muren, Sam Raimi, James Cameron, Sid and Marty Krofft, and countless others.
Harryhausen's influence extends beyond stop-motion and into the realms of traditional and computer animation. This is primarily because he was a storyteller first and an animator second. A movie with Harryhausen effects has its own special feeling. The design work, the fluidity of movement (though it is less fluid by far than modern stop motion), and the little humanizing touches all set him apart from his contemporaries.
One reason fans embrace Harryhausen's work so much is because he was one of us. He didn't go into special effects because it was a business opportunity. He went into it because he was inspired by the magic of movies. Willis O'Brien's work on King Kong, a wonder to everyone who saw it (and sees it), initially drew him in.
Harryhausen would get his start working on shorts and would eventually apprentice under O'Brien for Mighty Joe Young. He was on his own soon after that. By the time The 7th Voyage of Sinbad hit, it was clear Harryhausen was a master of the craft. It helped that movies were going to color just as Harryhausen was getting his solo start in features. It added depth to the fantasy.
Every stop-motion fan has his favorite Harryhausen moment, whether it's in one of the Sinbad movies, Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C., Clash of the Titans, or one of his lesser-seen features. (If you haven't already seen it, I say you check out Valley of the Gwangi.)
Clash of the Titans, in particular, was a McQ household favorite. It holds the distinction of being the first movie to scare me. (I talk about this both here and here.) Scaring a kid may not seem all that nifty a trick, but it's at least a little impressive that Harryhausen was able to do it one frame at a time.
Harryhausen left his imprint on cinema in a way few do. His work is sure to continue being studied and emulated for decades to come.