For three decades, Ray Harryhausen thrilled cinema audiences bringing fantastical creatures to life using his unique gift of stop-motion animation. From the exciting skeleton battle in 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts to the chilling death rattle of Medusa fighting Perseus in 1981’s Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen was the master who made special effects very special indeed.
Now, as he reaches the age of 90 (he celebrates his milestone birthday today), Harryhausen has opened up his personal collection for all to see. The special exhibition takes places within the London Film Museum and is not to be missed. It’s not big, but the three rooms are filled with wonders.
The first room is devoted to his early life, and the huge influence that King Kong creator Willis O’Brien had on the young Harryhausen (there’s a neat display to the ground-breaking 1930s classic), while Leonard Nimoy narrates a documentary on the animator’s techniques.
Passing cabinets filled with Harryhausen’s early efforts, including his 1950s Fairy Tales and the actual models used in my favourite Earth Vs Flying Saucers, and through Medusa’s Lair (listen out for her death rattle), you enter the Creature Room.
It’s worth taking your time as each cabinet tells a story (by the end you really appreciate the meticulous attention to detail Harryhausen spent on his creations).
The skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts are here of course, with George Lucas commenting, but it’s the lesser-known items that really surprise. Did you know the squirrel used in The 3 Worlds of Gulliver was from a taxidermist? Its insides were replaced with metal armature (how very Wolverine). That was the same for the giant crab from Mysterious Island. It was bought from the Harrods Food Hall, but Harryhausen had to have it humanely put down by someone else before he could weave his magic.
In an age where computers now do all the talking, this exhibition shows off a truly dying artform (hands-on animation) and is a wonderful tribute to the legacy of a truly legendary animator.
Ray Harryhausen: Myths and Legends
London Film Museum, SE1
From Tuesday 29 June.