The Ray Harryhausen Film Awards: Pioneer of Moving Monsters

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, photography by Brian Robertson, National Galleries Scotland

What do dinosaurs, skeletons, a giant octopus, and a phorusrhacos have in common? Ray Harryhausen’s legendary hands zapped life into all of them!

Since the 1950s, Ray Harryhausen has been hypnotising audiences world-over with his unprecedented stop-motion special effects. After seeing King Kong (1933), teen Ray Harryhausen was awe-struck and discovered a new life-long love for creating stop-motion creatures and bringing them to life. Harryhausen quickly became Hollywood’s go-to guy when it came to physical effects for live-action film, making beastly characters for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films. He’s best known for his work on 20 Million Miles To Earth, Clash of the Titans, and Jason and the Argonauts. Ray’s career spanned three decades and created a strong foundation for future animators and model makers to build upon. His work combined so many skills and merged technicality with creativity in a way that created entire new worlds! Always innovative, he created a new animation/special effects technique called ‘Dynamism’. To quote a critic from The Guardian, ‘This is not just special effects, this is art.’

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, Vanessa Harryhausen’s book, ‘Titan Of Cinema’.

In order to continue his legacy and inspire future generations of stop-motion artists, The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation have set up an awards programme that will be open to entries soon. I’ve spoken to John Walsh from the foundation to learn a bit more about The Ray and Diana HarryHausen Foundation and their exciting new awards programme!

Tell me about Ray Harryhausen’s impact on the film industry. 

Ray Harryhausen was an expert exponent of visual special effects through stop-motion animation. This involved moving a puppet in front of a camera one frame at a time to create the illusion of movement. Other people had been working in this field before Ray, notably Willis O’Brien on King Kong (1933), but Harryhausen would break new ground and influence generations of filmmakers to come. From Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron. On his death in 2013, George Lucas said, “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars.”

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

What is the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, and how can people get involved?

Ray and Diana set up the charity in the 1980s to protect the vast collection, estimated at 50,000 items, and educate other animators in Ray’s working practices. We are active on social media and have exhibitions. You can find our website here and details of our current and most extensive exhibition to date here. We have an active social media presence and an award-winning podcast series too. 

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Can you describe for us the new ‘Ray Harryhausen Film Awards’ programme?

Ray Harryhausen’s influence on cinema past and present is truly titanic. I devised these awards in Ray’s name to recognise new standards of excellence in the growing field of animation. I hope the awards will promote Ray’s legacy and identify new talent coming into the industry. More information will be released on the Awards website in the coming months. 

Vanessa Harryhausen © The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Is there anything, in particular, you’ll be looking out for in your award entries?

Innovation and technique, of course, are critical for any judging panel. However, the quality of the films in that category is crucial in awarding the best examples. It is a case of surprising the judges and hoping you get recognised. I have been on the other side as an award recipient and nominee on numerous occasions, so I know how much an award or even a nomination can help a career. 

© The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, Ray & John Walsh with Kraken.

How do you hope these awards will influence emergent filmmaking talent?

Animation can be a solitary experience for a filmmaker, so the awards will act as a network and a chance for other filmmakers to discuss their work. It is also part of any filmmaker’s development to see what their peers are working with or even struggling to achieve. In any creative field, growth is the key to success. Sometimes that can be a frustrating and challenging road to travel but satisfying when you arrive at your completed project ready to show the world. 

John Walsh is a trustee of The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation. Watch his documentary about Harryhausen’s life and work, and follow him on Twitter.

If you fancy reading more about Ray Harryhausen’s career and seeing some magic from behind the scenes, the books; Harryhausen The Lost Movies by John Walsh and the award-winning Ray Harryhausen Titan of Cinema by Vanessa Harryhausen are highly recommended.

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