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The Lasting Legacy of VFX Legend Ray Harryhausen

Ray Harryhausen Jason and the Argonauts
Columbia Pictures

Back in the early days of filmmaking, effects work was often very difficult to pull off, and limited in scope. Obviously, things changed greatly with the advent of computer technology & the resulting boom in CGI possibilities. One major factor between the early days of cinematic effects and what we see today in modern blockbusters was animator Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen was best known for his stop-motion animation, a technique where thousands of pictures of still puppets, clay sculptures, etc., are compiled to look like a fluid video. The most famous examples of this are the skeletons in “Jason and the Argonauts,” as well as the Kraken in the original “Clash of the Titans.”

In order to make his effects look particularly realistic compared to others at the time, Harryhausen really focused on perfecting the art of rear-projection. A precursor to green screens, rear-projection was a process in which a video was projected onto a screen behind the actors, in order to, like a green screen, effectively drop the characters into a background they weren’t in at all. This technology, albeit a much more sophisticated version of it, is making a comeback on huge projects like “The Mandalorian.”

Harryhausen’s legacy on mid-to-late 1900s Hollywood can’t be understated. George Lucas has gone on record repeatedly talking about Harryhausen’s influence on the original “Star Wars” trilogy. A few of the most obvious moments that point to this is the space-chess board on the Millennium Falcon, as well as the Sarlacc Pit in “Return of the Jedi.”

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Peter Jackson also went on record that Harryhausen’s work inspired the grand design of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and the influence of his larger-than life “Clash of the Titans” Kraken carried over into “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Jurassic Park,” and many, many more.

Ray Harryhausen was an incredibly important force in Hollywood. His career was plagued by development issues, and often not getting the credit he deserved for the transformative work he did on his movies. However, his skill, both artistic and technical, hold a special place in Hollywood history that will certainly outlast any IMDb credit for a long, long time.