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Stop-motion guru Ray Harryhausen left a legacy of unforgettable movie moments

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, May 15 2013 5:35 p.m. MDT

Ray Harryhausen visits the Empire State Building in New York in 2004.

Mike Appleton, AP

Enlarge photo»

With the passing of Ray Harryhausen on Tuesday, the film community lost a legend.

The stop-motion guru whose pioneering techniques are still used today arguably contributed more to the advancement of special effects than anyone in the pre-digital age, setting the groundwork for everything from "Star Wars" to “ParaNorman” to “Avatar.”

But Harryhausen left behind a legacy of unforgettable movie moments.

In chronological order, here’s a sampling of some of the best scenes from his long and influential career.

Joe the Gorilla vs. Primo Carnera from “Mighty Joe Young” (1949)

The defining moment in Harryhausen’s childhood, he often said, was seeing Willis H. O’Brien’s special effects work for “King Kong” in 1933. It’s easy to imagine his excitement when, years later, he got a call to work with his idol on another movie about a giant gorilla.

Although only credited as “first technician,” roughly 90 percent of the actual animation in “Mighty Joe Young” was reportedly done by Harryhausen while O’Brien supervised.

In one particularly impressive scene, Joe, a 10-foot-tall gorilla, wins a tug-of-war match against Primo Carnera, the real-world heavyweight boxing champion. After pulling Carnera into a pool of water, Joe picks him up above his head and playfully chucks him into the audience.

With scenes like this, Harryhausen demonstrated early on an impressive ability to blend live action and animation to an extent no one else had done, making it look like his creations were actually interacting with the real world.

The destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge from “It Came from Beneath the Sea” (1957)

The filmmakers’ initial request to shoot part of the movie’s climactic scene on the San Francisco landmark was rejected by the city fathers, who worried that seeing a movie with a giant mutated octopus destroying the iconic bridge might make citizens less confident in the bridge’s structural integrity.

Thanks to Harryhausen’s miniatures and some guerrilla filmmaking that involved hiding a camera in the back of a bakery truck and secretly filming while driving back and forth across the bridge, the scene came together and remains one of the most memorable monster attacks from B-movie history.

Eagle-eyed viewers, however, might notice that the octopus is really a “sextopus." To cut down the amount of time it took to prep each shot, Harryhausen only gave his cephalopod six tentacles, not eight.

The Cyclops from “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958)

Having already destroyed New York, the Golden Gate Bridge, Washington, D.C., and the Coliseum in his earlier sci-fi monster movies, Harryhausen and producer Charles H. Schneer decided to try their hand at fantasy.

No longer bound by the limitations of contemporary settings, Harryhausen’s imagination ran wild.

In “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” this culminated with an epic, knock-down-drag-out battle between a Cyclops and a giant dragon.

But these aren’t quite the terrifying monsters audiences would expect. Unlike a lot of modern CG spectacle, Harryhausen managed to imbue his creatures with a remarkable amount of personality — so much so, in fact, that it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for the loser in this fight.

The skeleton battle from “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963)

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