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NPR Arts & Life

Remembering Monster-Maker Ray Harryhausen

Medusa from 1981's <em>Clash of the Titans</em> is among legendary animator Ray Harryhausen's many creations.
Medusa from 1981's <em>Clash of the Titans</em> is among legendary animator Ray Harryhausen's many creations.
Harryhausen designed and animated the skeleton soldiers from 1963's <em>Jason and the Argonauts.</em>
Robyn Beck/AFP / Getty Images
Harryhausen designed and animated the skeleton soldiers from 1963's <em>Jason and the Argonauts.</em>

Harryhausen manipulates the figure of a serpent-like monster for a stop-motion film circa 1965.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Harryhausen manipulates the figure of a serpent-like monster for a stop-motion film circa 1965.

Ray Harryhausen, who died Tuesday in London at age 92, became fascinated with animation after seeing King Kong in 1933. He went on to create some of the most memorable monsters of old Hollywood, from dinosaurs to mythological creatures.

His monsters, however, were never completely divorced from the real world.

"I do a lot of research when I create a creature," he told Fresh Air's Terry Gross in 2003. "I like to make him logical. That's my theory: Is that if you make them too extreme, too exaggerated, you lose your audience because they're just a grotesque piece of whatnot. You don't know quite what they are. So I try to keep them within harmony of something they've seen."

Harryhausen, a pioneer of stop-motion animation, won an Oscar for special effects with 1949's Mighty Joe Young,about a girl who raises a giant ape.

He went on to create such memorable beasts as the pterodactyl that kidnaps Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. and the animated skeleton soldiers in Jason and the Argonauts.

While he said that he tried "not to have [them] because the others get jealous," in the end he did pick favorites.

"My favorite monsters," he told Gross, "are the more complicated ones. Like the hydra had seven heads, which you had to animate, and the seven skeletons took a lot of time and, of course, Medusa in Clash of the Titans. She was a fascinating image to animate.

"I had to keep 12 snakes in her hair, all animated to be moving in harmony with the rest of the body, besides giving her a bow and arrow and a rattlesnake's tail.

"So these more complicated images I find much more interesting to animate than the simple, normal figure, I suppose you'd call it."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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