What follows is a resume only of Ray’s life and career but if you wish to find out more, please refer to all four of the Aurum Press books by Ray and Tony - An Animated Life, The Art of Ray Harryhausen, A Century of Model Animation and Ray Harryhausen's Fantasy Scrapbook.  Also available through our website will be the limited edition Ray Harryhausen: A Life in Pictures which contains many never-before-seen photographs of a young Ray and early tests for his early experiments and features.

See Collectables for more information.

Raymond Frederick Harryhausen was born on the 29th June 1920 in Los Angeles, California, USA, to parents Fred and Martha.

He had a passion, which has never abated, for dinosaurs and anything fantasy.

His parents both encouraged him to pursue what he wanted to, even if the chosen career wasn’t what they would have probably considered usual.  Ray commented, ‘My obsession with fantasy has been lifelong, growing during my formative years and being taken to new heights by novels, paintings and of course films, and I was always encouraged by my parents.  They nurtured this unusual passion in me by taking me to films and theatre, and later enthused about my experiments with marionettes, models and animation, eventually even helping me with productions.  They never tried to discourage me in any way from my obsession, and could just as easily have said, ‘Get out there and be a doctor or a lawyer or follow some other profession that is going to bring you in money’.  Fortunately, they didn’t’.

His favourite haunts as a child were museums, marionette shows, the ocean, local parks and movie houses.

It was whilst at Grammar school that he learnt how to make model miniature set pieces of Californian Missions.  This took him to the next phase in which he began to make three dimensional figures and sets that of course led him to make his own versions of prehistoric creatures. 

He discovered the LA County Museum where he marvelled at the murals of prehistoric creatures created by Charles R. Knight (1874-1953), particularly the one of the Le Brea Tar Pits which is still in situ. 

Knight’s visualisation of what dinosaurs looked like became the vision that Ray used throughout his career. 

When he was eighteen years old Ray entered a competition called The Junior Museum Hobby Show at the County Museum in March/April of 1938, submitting a diorama that included his stegosaurus (based on Knight’s paintings), which won first prize.

The Lost WorldThe Lost World (1925)

His parents took him to see The Lost World sometime in 1925, when he was barely five years old and there he witnessed what looked to be living dinosaurs.  It was a revelation.  His favourite scene was of an allosaurus fighting and then pushing a brontosaurus off the edge of the plateau where it lands in a lake of mud.


King Kong (1933)

Eight years later, in 1933, Ray would see another film that would not only inspire him but change his life.  The film was King Kong

Picture the scene of Ray, aged an impressionable thirteen year old, sitting in Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, with his aunt (who had acquired the precious tickets) and his mother. 

When he left the cinema Ray talked about what he had seen all the way home.   Questions came thick and fast, most of which his parents couldn’t answer so Ray had to look elsewhere for answers.  He wanted to know about the creatures and how they had been brought to life.  He knew they weren’t real but how were they able to move?

King Kong marionetteMarionettes

The young Ray began to recreate the images in Kong by using marionettes or string puppets. 

His first were inevitably Kong, a tyrannosaurus rex, a stegosaurus, a brontosaurus and a pterodactyl, which all featured Kong.  For a while he concentrated on designing and producing various marionette shows, including a short version of Kong but he knew that marionettes weren’t the answer.  Again that question, ‘How were they able to move’ in the film?

Learning about animation


He searched around to try and find out how Kong seemed to be ‘alive’ and came across a few articles, some of which proved to be inaccurate and he somehow knew this straight away.

Eventually he did discover articles that included information about something called stop-motion animation.

Simultaneously he visited an exhibition at the LA County Museum on techniques used to make The Lost World and King Kong, which enabled him to piece everything together.  Ray recalls, ‘As I continued to study and learn how the effects for Kong were achieved, I realised this was something I really wanted to try for myself and perhaps even be part of, so I began to construct my own miniature dioramas and crude models, which eventually led me to take the step in making larger moveable figures’.

Early Experiments

His first attempts were, of course, prehistoric and included a cave bear, a brontosaurus and a stegosaurus. 

To begin with, he used wooden armatures but they didn’t really hold their pose. 

Animating JupitarianNot daunted he borrowed a 16mm Victor camera and began shooting short experimental films using these wooden articulated models.  The Victor camera didn’t have a one frame facility so he gently tapped the button to get a frame exposure. This didn’t always give him the one frame he wanted.

His first studio was his parent’s garden but he soon realised that although there was plenty of light, the light moved. When his test footage came back from the laboratory, Ray realised that the sun had moved and caused the shadows, during his careful animation, to also become animated.  So he moved into his father’s garage.  This was much more practical even though his father had to park their car on the driveway. 

Collecting lights and purchasing a proper camera (a Kodak Cine II) that possessed a one-frame shaft, these enabled him to shoot smoother animation.

Ray then began shooting a series of experimental films that began to illustrate what he might be capable of as an animator.

Ray Bradbury and Forry Ackerman

Ray with Ray Bradbury and Forry AckermanIt was during this time that he met two people who would become close and lifelong friends.  The first was Forrest J. Ackerman (1916-2008), or Forry to his friends, whom Ray met when he borrowed some stills from King Kong.  Forry would go on to be a respected collector of movie memorabilia and publish Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The other friend would become a world famous author and screenwriter, Ray Bradbury (1920 - ).  ‘Ray and I soon discovered we had a lot in common, but it was our mutual tenacity in the pursuit of our chosen careers – he with his writing and my experiments in animation and photography – that would bind us together’.

Evolution of the World (1938-40)

In 1938, when Ray was just eighteen years old he began his most ambitious project called Evolution of the World, in which he planned to visualise the dawn of the planet to the end of the age of the dinosaurs. 

He designed and built a number of models including a tyrannosaurus rex, a triceratops, a brontosaurus and pterodactyl and began experimenting with mattes (a process which enabled images whether live action or not, to be integrated with another image).  In one sequence he had a brontosaurus emerging from water onto dry land that used a matte.

Sadly the project was way too ambitious and when Ray saw the ‘Rites of Spring’ sequence in Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia, he knew that the project was doomed.

Willis O’Brien (1886 – 1962)

Willis OBrienIt was during Ray’s work on Evolution that he met Willis O'Brien, the man who had created the dinosaurs and animated them for The Lost World and King Kong.

He called O’Brien at the MGM Studios where the master animator was working on a project called War Eagles.  Taking some of his own models, Ray made his way to the studio and once there was shown to the War Eagles production office.  ‘I walked in and my jaw just dropped.  The walls were completely covered with paintings and drawings for the project.  They were magnificent.  Some were by Obie (as Ray would come to know him), some by Byron Crabbe, Mario Larrinaga and Duncan Gleason.  It was breathtaking’.

Eventually Ray plucked up the courage to show Obie some of his own creations that he had brought with him.  Nervously he produced the stegosaurus, the one that had won first prize at the LA County Museum, and handed it to Obie.  Ray takes up the story, ‘I held my breath.  Obie looked at it for a few minutes and then said, ‘The legs look like wrinkled sausages.  You’ve got to put more character into it and study anatomy to learn where the muscles connect to the bone’.  I realised he was right’. 

That day was a turning point in Ray’s design and execution of a model and led to still further fluid animation as when he did get creatures anatomically correct, moving them seemed more natural.

Art and Film Making

Rays Early ArtworkTaking Obie’s advise Ray enrolled in art and anatomy night classes at the Los Angeles City College (LACC).

He had discovered whilst visiting Obie at MGM that drawings helped visualise what was in the imagination.  Without that visualisation people wouldn’t be able to understand what you were talking about.  So Ray learned that this was just as important a part of the process of animation as animation itself. 

Ray had been told by Obie that a huge influence on him had been the artist and illustrator Gustave Doré (1832-1883), and had used his style of light and dark areas in King Kong.  Along with Knight, Doré would become a major influence in Ray’s work.

Ray at Night SchoolStill later Ray realised that he needed to know about techniques of filming so he decided to attend night classes at the University of Southern California where he studied a number of disciplines including art direction, editing and photography.

At the same time he was gradually learning how to move his models, how to instil what seemed like life into them by giving them character or a personality.  It wasn’t enough that a creature simply stride into a scene, its build and makeup required that it reflect its body and character.

Over the next few years he would also make frequent trips to the zoo to study animals and see how they reacted.

George Pal and Puppetoons (1940-42)

PuppetoonsWhen he left high school Ray began to look around for work as an animator.  Obie was between jobs so when Ray noticed an advert in the paper asking for technicians with film and animation techniques experience to work on short films, he rushed over to a studio on McCadden Place and Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood.  There he was interviewed by a Hungarian film producer who had escaped the Nazis and settled in Hollywood, his name was George Pal (1908-1980). 

Pal was to produce a series of shorts to be called Madcap Models, which were later to become Puppetoons

Ray was one of the first animators to join Pal.

Pal’s European styled models were made of wood and each movement necessitated a separate set of legs and heads called the replacement stystem although quite often the arms were armatured.  This allowed the animator very little creativity, which didn’t really suit Ray.

As the production became more successful the staff increased and for a very short time, perhaps only ten days, Ray and Pal were joined by Obie.  Like Ray, Obie disliked the process of animating pre-planned models so left. 

After working on thirteen Puppetoons Ray also left.  He was reluctant to do so because he liked Pal but he had the feeling that he could do better.

Army (1942-1945)

Ray still in the armyWhen war was declared Ray designed and photographed a short film called How to Bridge a Gorge (1941) to illustrate how stop-motion animation might be used in propaganda or orientation films. 

When he enlisted in the Army in 1942 he was assigned to the Army Signal Corps and sent to Fort MacArthur for training.  Prior to his entry into the Army, Ray had shown How to Bridge a Gorge to one of the teachers and he in turn had shown it to the film director’s Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak. They were both impressed and Ray was assigned to the Special Service Division, in charge of which was Frank Capra (1897-1991), who had been made a Colonel.

Whilst there, Ray worked on many famous US propaganda films including the Why We Fight series for the US War Office. 

During this time he also made his second animated film called Guadalcanal but again nobody seemingly recognised the potential in animation.

Ray was honourably discharged at Fort Dix, New Jersey on the 7th February 1946.  He left the Army as a Technician Third Class with an American Sv medal, Good Conduct medal, World War II Victory medal and a certificate as a sharp shooter (Ray had never handled a gun before his entry into the Army). 

His discharge papers noted, ‘Served with the signal corps, in the capacity of a cameraman, making films for the Army Navy Screen Magazine and for orientation motion pictures.  Did some work with 3 dimensional and animations used on maps in orientation films.  Directed the activities of 4 assistants’.    

Mother Goose Stories (1946)

Mother gooseRay decided he would make his own short films.  Using some out of date 16mm colour Kodachrome stock he had acquired, and with the help of his father and mother, he shot a series of nursery rhymes that included Little Miss Muffet, Old Mother Hubbard, The Queen of Hearts and Humpty Dumpty

He used armatured models.  The ball and socket armatures were made by his father although based on Ray’s designs, and were clothed in tiny costumes made by his mother.  Each had a series of replacement heads, with extreme expressions and he would dissolve from one head to another to simulate reactions. 

When he had completed all of these stories he lumped them all together under the title The Mother Goose Stories (1946), which he distributed to schools with great success.

Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Joe YoungSoon after completing Mother Goose Stories Ray was contacted by Obie.  Merian C. Cooper (1893-1973) was planning another giant ape movie to be called Mr Joseph Young of Africa and Obie wanted Ray to work on it with him.  It was like a dream come true – literally.  To work on another ape picture with the very same people who had made King Kong.  What better opportunity for a budding young animator?

Ray worked with Obie on all the pre-production, helping with the presentation of Obie’s artwork to not only Cooper but also to the screenwriter Ruth Rose (1896-1978) and the director Ernest B. Schoedsack (1893-1979).

Whilst Obie busied himself with designs, planning and setups, Ray animated most of the scenes (around 90% of the entire picture) with fellow animator Pete Peterson (? – 1962) executing the remainder. 

Obie did do some animation on the roping and cowboy sequence and the orphanage sequence but other than that it seemed to Ray that Obie had lost that passion for animation.  He was content to let others do it and he saw Ray and indeed Pete, as worthy protégés.

Ray gave his animation model of Joe the name of Jennifer after seeing Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun (1946).  ‘It was the hands’, said Ray.  

Only one person congratulated him for his work on the picture and that was director John Ford.  One day after seeing the rushes for the lion cage sequence near the beginning of the picture, Ford came up to Ray and shook his hand, saying that he thought the sequence was magnificent.

The film cost a total of $2,285,575.14.  A phenomenal amount for the time because other overheads were added to the final budget. 

For Mighty Joe Young Obie was the recipient, on behalf of the production, of the Best Special Effects award at the 1950 American Academy Awards ceremony and was proudly accompanied by Ray.  That Oscar sat in Obie’s lounge until the day he died.

Valley of the Mist (1950)

This project was never realised even though Ray worked with Obie on the concept for some time. 

Ray executed three large drawings of a pterodactyl being roped by natives, an allosaurus (the proposed star of the project) attacked by a triceratops and the same allosaurus killing the triceratops and being attacked by natives.  Ray never showed these drawings to Obie for fear that he wouldn’t like them.

Valley of the mist 1   Valley of the mist 2   Valley of the mist 3

War of the Worlds.jpgWar of the Worlds (1949-50)

There were other failed projects with Obie before Ray sadly realised he had to go his own way.  He wanted to make his own feature film.

First he designed a whole sequence of drawings and storyboards for an adaptation of H.G Wells’ War of the Worlds.  He hawked them around to various Hollywood producers including George Pal, but nobody was interested.  It was thought that science fiction was out of fashion. 

He also executed one drawing for another Wells project, Food of the Gods but because nobody could see the value of a science fiction movie, he dropped the idea at the same time as War of the Worlds.

The Fairy Tales (1950-2002)

Fairy Tales - Little Red Riding HoodRay returned to shorts with an adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, which he called The Story of Little Red Riding Hood (1950).  Using the same methods as he used with The Mother Goose Stories the film proved another success with schools and so Ray set out to make what has since become known as the Fairy Tale series, although in fact not all were fairy tales.  The series included The Story of Hansel and Gretel (1951), The Story of Rapunzel (1952) and The Story of King Midas (1953), the last of which was completed after his first feature film project. 

In 1952 he began but didn't finish, an adaptation of The Tortoise and the Hare.  Fifty years later it was eventually completed as The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare in 2001/2 with Ray being assisted by two animators - Mark Caballero and Shamus Walsh.  As sections from ray's 1952 animation was used, the film probably rates as having the longest production schedule in cinema history.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1952)

Beast from 20000 FathomsIn late 1951 Ray was offered his first feature production that was originally titled The Monster From Under the Sea but famously became The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

The production company was Mutual Films which was run by Jack Dietz, who to Ray looked like Edward G. Robinson even down to the fat cigar.  Ray takes up the story, ‘Apparently, he was unsure of how to visualise the main element of the picture, the creature, and didn’t know whether it should be a man in a rubber suit or an alligator dressed up.  I rang Dietz and he came over to my house the next day to look at my models and drawings, and view sections on Evolution and Mighty Joe Young.  After he had seen what I had to offer, I then enthused about the advantages of dimensional animation, telling him that anything and everything he wanted could be done in the process.  I held my breath’.  Thankfully Dietz and the rest of the production team gave their approval for the use of stop-motion.

This was the first film that used a split screen technique to insert models into the live-action.  Later the technique became known as Dynamation.

Because he wanted to work on the project so badly, Ray’s woefully low budget for the effects meant that he made little or no profit from his work on the picture. 

The film was a landmark in cinema history and launched not only a series of similar monster-on-the-rampage movies but also the Godzilla series. 

The Beast, or the rhedosaurus as it was called, was a fictional dinosaur and some say the first two letters – rh – denote a bow to the man who created him.  Ray denies this.

Charles SchneerCharles H. Schneer (1920 - 2009)

By chance a young Columbia Pictures producer by the name of Charles H.Schneer, who worked in the Sam Katzman unit, saw The Beast and conceived of another monster-on-the-loose idea on which he wanted Ray to work.  Contacting Ray through a mutual friend, he related his story of a giant octopus that attacks San Francisco.  Ray wasn’t sure he wanted to work on another monster feature but went away to think about it.  He relented when he thought of pulling down the Golden Gate Bridge, albeit in miniature, and agreed to do all the effects and animation.

The relationship between Ray and Charles would last for well over twenty-five years and over twelve fantasy features.

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

Tentacle ArmatureThe model of the octopus had only six tentacles because of budget limitations, which in effect made it a sixtopus!  To disguise this fact Ray designed the animation sequences so that the model was always partially in the water at any one time. 

He also made three large articulated tentacles for close up’s.  These three armatures (partially covered in cotton) have recently been rediscovered in Ray’s LA garage along with the miniature submarine and torpedo. 

Octopus pulling down the bridge in It Came From Beneath the SeaThe live action wasn’t all plain sailing. Charles was careful to seek the approval of the San Francisco City Fathers to film on the Golden Gate Bridge but they turned him down on the premise that such a film might encourage a lack of public confidence in the bridge.  Charles laid plans to film surreptitiously.  Hiring a bakers van they filmed the moving shots of the bridge from a hole in the side (the toll gate attendants must have wondered why the van was going backwards and forwards all day) and for the rear projection walking shots he had a single cameraman walk across the bridge. Luckily there were no complaints when the picture was released.  Ray recalls, ‘After all this, the city, although never officially forgiving Charles, made no attempt to ban the picture, and it eventually played to capacity audiences in San Francisco with no apparent harm to anyone – including the bridge’.

The Animal World (1956)

Animal WorldThe Animal World allowed him to animate dinosaurs again and more importantly, work with Obie.

It was all tabletop animation and involved no live action and the dinosaurs were built in the Warner Bros workshop and were unfortunately not good.  As Ray would say, they lacked definition and were really quite plastic looking. 

In all, Ray and Obie spent about eight weeks on actual animation, the shortest amount of time Ray had spent on any previous animation work. 

Sadly this was the last time Ray was to work with Obie, although over the years he never lost contact with him or his wife Darlyne.

Earth Vs the Flying Saucers (1956)

Ray working on Earth vs flyingCharles was always cutting out stories from newspapers and in the mid-fifties there were a spat of flying saucer sightings.  Charles thought this phenomenon would make a good feature and so Earth Vs the Flying Saucers was the result. 

The design of the saucers was based on what most people would expect but Ray added an animated section into the top and underside that also had flutes in them so that people could see it was moving.

The various sizes of saucers (there are seven in total) were made from aluminium by Ray’s father and then anodised giving them a matt finish so they didn’t reflect light. 

Ray never liked the latex alien suits used in the film even though he designed them.  He would have preferred to animate models of the aliens but because of budget restrictions this was never possible.

Instead of drawing entire storyboards for the action, Ray used location photographs and executed rough sketches on them and then mounted them for storyboards.

As with The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, a great number of the rear project plates were stills.

For all the aerial model work Ray used old recording wire on which to suspend the saucers.

The miniatures sets – The Capitol and the Supreme Court buildings cost $1500 each and the Washington Monument cost just $500.  Compare those costs with today’s budgets.

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

20 Million Miles to EarthBecause Ray wanted to see Italy he changed the location of the story, called The Cyclops, which he had co-written with Charlotte Knight, from Chicago to Italy. It was eventually titled 20 Million Miles to Earth.

Charles wanted the picture to be shot in colour but Ray insisted it should be black and white because Kodak had just brought out a 35mm stock that eliminated the problem of grain when the rear projection image is re-photographed.  Ray got his wish but this was to be the last picture he made in black and white.

Ray designed and built one armatured twenty-inch high and one smaller and partially armatured model of the Ymir.  The Ymir no longer exists as it was cannabalised to make other subsequent creatures.

The rocketship was based on a combination of a Nazi V2 rocket and very early NASA designs.

The live action was shot in Sperlonga on the Italian coast, and in Rome at the Borghese Gallery, the Coliseum, around the river Tiber and in the Roman Forum.

The hatching of the Ymir from the ‘egg’ was perhaps one of the most touching moments in any of Ray's films, perhaps because the creature is at his most vunerable.

The ‘blood’ seen coming from the elephant at the end of the fight with the Ymir is made of theatrical blood, called Kensington Gore, and glycerine.  The glycerine helps to slow the ‘blood’ down for animation purposes.

In essence 20 Million Miles to Earth should be seen as Ray' tribute to Willis O'Brien and King Kong.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

7th Voyage SinbadAs with 20 Million Miles to Earth it was Ray who came up with the idea of using the Arabian Nights for a vehicle for dimensional stop-motion animation.  He wrote an early step outline which he called Sinbad the Sailor.  He had also executed key drawings for it, including the skeleton fight on the spiral staircase, in 1953, four years before it went into production.  The final title, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was again Ray’s idea.  The number seven has a mystical significance.

There was to have been five more sequences in the film but they were dropped.  (1) Sinbad and the Princess Parisa are chased by giant rats conjured up by the evil Sokurah but because Charles didn’t like rats, nor snakes, it was taken out. (2) Sinbad and his men are attacked by bat-devils. (3) A fight between two Cyclops. (4) Sirens with mermaid tails. (5) A giant serpent attacks sailors in a tree.  This again was dropped because Charles objected.

Charles had Ray’s hands insured for a million dollars.

This was Ray’s first feature in colour and it caused him many headaches because of the rear projection grain problem.

This was also Ray and Charles’ first feature using Spanish locations.

All the travelling mattes were done at the Rank Film Laboratories at Denham in England.

Sinbad's ship is seen to change shape throughout the picture and at one point, for the live action, it was filmed aboard a replica of Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria.

The storm sequence was shot in Barcelona harbour and during the filming Kerwin Mathews, who played Sinbad, was taken very ill with a stomach bug after swallowing some of the water thrown at him, which had been taken from the harbour.

The crossbow seen in the film is actually only thirty inches in length.

Only one complete model survives from the film, the skeleton, which was reused in Jason and the Argonauts.  Ray doesn’t remember which one it is out of the seven. 

The armature of the Cyclops still exists but missing the lower section of one of his legs. 

It was for this film that Charles came up with the name Dynamation.  Sitting in his Buick whilst waiting in traffic he noticed the word Dynaflow on the dashboard.  He realised that Dyna was perfect for Ray’s style of animation and so the word became a merchandising term for Ray’s dimensional animation.

Composer Bernard Herrmann wrote the music for this film and the subsequent films The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts.

The film cost a total of $650,000.

The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1959)

3 Worlds of GulliverOriginally The 3 Worlds of Gulliver was intended as a vehicle for Danny Kaye and was to have been a musical. 

The script, loosely adapted from Jonathan Swift’s novel, had already been written so Ray and Charles adapted it to accommodate Dynamation sequences, which included a curious squirrel and a fight with a vicious alligator.

The remainder of the film was a mass of effects created by Ray that included perspective photography and over 300 travelling mattes.

At the end of the film Gulliver and Elizabeth arrive back in England and when they ask where they are, a local tells them, ‘Wapping-by-the-Sea’.  No such place exists although there is a Wapping on the Thames in London.

This was the first film to be made entirely in Europe with the effects being executed in the United Kingdom.

Mysterious Island (1960)

Mysterious IslandNext to H.G. Wells and of course Ray Bradbury, another of Ray’s favourite fantasy authors is Jules Verne. 

Ray created a series of creatures that have been bred by Captain Nemo, the hero of Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  They include a giant crab, giant bees and two prehistoric creatures, the phororhacos (a prehistoric bird) and the nautiloid cephalopod (a prehistoric tentacled creature with a huge shell).  

Originally there was to be a dog in the plot but because dogs or any real animals are unpredictable and the production budget was small, the dog was dropped from the script.

Missing scenes were the discovery of ruins of Atlantis, a man-eating plant and a mechanical digger operated by Nemo.

The crab was bought by Ray in Harrods Food Hall and sent to the Natural History Museum in London to be humanely killed. The armature was then designed to fit inside the shells of the crab.  It was fixed to the animation table by wire and was supported on an aerial brace with wires. 

After Bernard Herrmann viewed the phororhacos sequence he joked with Ray that he would adapt ‘Turkey in the Straw’ as the theme. 

Although there seemed to be three giant bees there was only one.  Ray used mattes to make it seem as if there were three.

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)   

Jason and the ArgonautsThis is generally seen as Ray’s best picture.  ‘Everything seemed to fit and work so well’.

Ray began to think of adapting a story from Greek or Roman mythology in the early 1950s but he began to develop ideas for such a feature when he was shooting the live-action for Mysterious Island.

Whilst filing in Italy, where most of the live action was photographed, the production had problems with an olive grower who demanded that Charles pay him for the olives that the production vans had crushed by the side of the road.  Also whilst filming the long shots of Jason’s ship, the Argo, they mistakenly photographed The Golden Hind that was being used for a television programmme.  Charles shouted at the ship, ‘Get that ship out of here’.

The discus throwing competition between Hercules and Hylas was animated.

When Talos, the huge bronze statue, comes alive, Ray based the movement of the head turning to the camera on a Japanese film in which a woman’s head turns to the camera. 

Talos was based on the Colossus of Rhodes. 

Ray had to make the movements for Talos very laboured and slow to relay the sense of height of the statue.  In reality the model is about sixteen inches high.

Bill Gungeon, a Canadian actor who plays Triton the sea god, was chosen because he had long arms which enabled him to hold the ‘clashing rocks’ apart for the Argo to pass.

The seven-headed hydra was based on classical vase paintings, which went through many changes.  Ray takes up the story, ‘I finally came up with the idea of making it ‘serpent-like’ with a distinctive tail ending in a forked snake tongue. The seven heads were designed to resemble a dinosaur-like bird with curved beaks and two ear-like crests curving back, an image that would suggest a throwback to prehistoric times’.

The skeleton sequence in the film took four and a half months to photograph the animation scenes and the entire sequence runs for four minutes and thirty seven seconds.  It is estimated that Ray executed a total of 184,800 movements.

The film was a box office failure when first released but has now become one of the great classic fantasy movies.

First Men in the Moon (1964)

Ray being attacked by a MooncalfAt long last Ray got to make an H.G.Wells story.

Ray’s only film shot in widescreen, in this case Panavision, which caused him many problems.

After much debate and rewrites, British writer Nigel Kneale came up with the idea of topping and tailing the Victorian story with a modern expedition to the Moon.

Because Columbia thought that the story needed some female interest they insisted that the two men were accompanied by a woman, so the title should perhaps have been ‘First Men and a Woman in the Moon’!

Because actor William Rushton was unable to make the filming, actor Peter Finch stepped in to play the uncredited part of the writ server.

Missing sequences are a hatching gallery for the caterpillar-like mooncalves that includes a giant moth and a hibernation gallery for the Selenites.

Originally the design for the Selenites showed them with a concave chest. 

Everyone remembers the skeletons in  The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts but few remember the one skeleton (borrowed from Jason) of Martha Hyer in the x-ray chamber.

The huge, long staircase which Cavor ascends to visit the Grand Lunar, was influenced by the 1935 film She, when we see the queen at the top of a flight of steps appear from a wall of mist.

This was the last film for which Fred Harryhausen made the armatures.  He died soon after sending them off to Ray.

Frank Wells visited the filming of his father’s story.

One Million Years BC (1966)

One Million Years BCThis landmark film was the first since 1955 that was not made with Charles Schneer but for the UK based Hammer Film Productions.

It was based on a 1940 film entitled One Million BC or Man and His Mate about a caveman battling against prehistoric creatures.  The creatures in that first film were not animated but were lizards and baby crocodiles with fins stuck on their backs and even a man in a rubber suit playing the young allosaurus.  Ray could only improve on it.

The dinosaurs in the film include an achelon (a giant turtle), a young allosaurus, the pterodactyls, a triceratops, a ceratosaurus and a brontosaurus, which unfortunately only appears in the film in one brief scene.

The brontosaurus had been planned to have its own sequence in which it attacks the cave people in their dwellings, but the scene was dropped when it was thought to make the film too long.

In the scene in which the achelon appears one of the shell people shouts ‘achelon’.  Obviously the creatures wouldn’t have been known as an achelon then.

This was the only film in which Ray used real creatures (iguana’s and a spider)to supplement the dinosaurs. 

Ray once again used location photographs over which he sketched in the action for his storyboard.

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

Obie Storyboard of Valley of GwangiThe story was based on an idea and artwork (see image on right) by Willis O’Brien, which began pre-production in 1941 but was never realised.  Obie’s name does not appear on the credits because he was not credited on the original screenplay.  An oversight that Ray regrets to this day.

The film was originally to have been called The Valley Where Time Stood Still, which Ray prefers.

Ray always used a ‘monster stick’ when filming large creatures to help the actors ‘see’ what they couldn’t see.  On Gwangi he used a wooden pole with an eye at the top to help the actors during live photography.

Valley of GwangiFor the roping sequence in the film Ray used a jeep with a monster stick mounted on the back.  It was this that the actors roped.  When in his animation studio, Ray placed his model in front of the monster stick and animated the model and its miniature ropes to correspond with the live action ropes.

Ray and Diana’s five-year old daughter Vanessa, loved the model of Gwangi and used it as a doll.  One day when Diana was in Harrods with Vanessa in her pushcart, a little old lady wanted to see Vanessa’s doll and was shocked when she saw it was a hideous dinosaur and reprimanded Diana for her choice of doll.

The elephant seen in the picture is a model.  Originally Ray wanted a real performing elephant to be in the fight with Gwangi but when the elephant arrived in Spain, from England, it was far too small.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Golden Voyage of SinbadThe Valley of Gwangi was not a commercial success so Ray and Charles decided to return to the security of Sinbad and the Arabian Nights.

Ray wrote the step outline for the principle scenes and made some key drawings some years before it was made.  That first outline story would become The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.

Amongst the scenes that were never photographed was an introduction that was conceived by Ray.  The homunculus, on the errand of the evil magician Koura, makes his way to the Visier bedroom in the palace and throws acid on the Visier’s face. 

Another sequence that was never filmed was the Valley of the Vipers, which was again dropped because Charles really didn’t like snakes.

Since The 3 Worlds of Gulliver Ray had always wanted to create an homunculus, and he was able to in the picture. 

The glass painting of Marabia was painted by Emilio Ruiz del Rio.

The birth of the homunculus was a return to the birth of the Ymir in 20 Million Miles to Earth except it was far more appealing and tender.

Sinbad’s ship was built at the Verona Studios in Spain and was miles from the sea.

Because of their beliefs, Moslem’s would never have had a figurehead on the prow of their ships, let alone a female one, but Ray wanted to have an animated figurehead to delay Sinbad on his quest like Talos had done in Jason and the Argonauts.  There are two armatured models for the figurehead, one kneeling and one standing.

There were three golden masks made for Douglas Wilmer in the picture.  Ray has all three of them.

Orson Welles was to have played the Oracle of All Knowledge but because he had a difference of opinion about his fee with Charles, he was replaced by Robert Shaw. 

Shaw had some difficulties with his false teeth.  He found if very difficult to talk with them in because he kept spitting them out so the makeup people stuck them in.  Sadly when they were removed out came part of his own dental work.

The famous film composer Miklós Rózsa was commissioned to write the music for the film but was unhappy when Charles cut the orchestra down to less than half.

As with a great number of Ray’s creatures, the Cyclopean Centaur holds his arms back (see also the Cyclops).  This pose is a Harryhausen trait.  When asked about it Ray has said, ‘It was the best way to keep the arms occupied, it made it easy and it had the result of making such a huge creature more dramatic’.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Sinbad Eye of the TigerThere were several scenes that were not included including a fight on board ship with a worm-creature and a fight between Trog and an arsinotherium (a two-horned rhinoceros-like creature).  And there was to have been a sequence that showed how the Minaton was assembled with Shadowmen (zombie-like creatures) working a Frankenstein-like laboratory.

The gateway into Hyperborea was a tribute to the gates in King Kong.

All the live action snow scenes were shot on the island of Malta in temperatures in excess of 85 Fahrenheit.

There are two different sized baboons and two cages made for the animation. 

Zenobia’s boat almost sank.

The latex on the model of the Walrus was so thick that it wouldn’t hold its position so Ray had to cut sections away to allow for animation.  

The ice, which covers the tiger in the pyramid was made of cellophane.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

Clash of the TitansThere was concern about making a film about a character called Perseus as the name Percy might, at least at one time, imply an effeminate man.

Ray’s original key drawing of Medusa in her temple has her sporting a bra, or as Ray puts it, a boob tube.  This was thought to be too coy and for the film the Gorgon revealed all.  

It was largely through the influence of the screenwriter, Beverley Cross that a great number of the leading players, including Maggie Smith, Lawrence Olivier and Claire Bloom, agreed to take part in the production. 

Ray always says, ‘Who else could have played Zeus but Olivier?’

The close shots of Medusa that show shadows across her face were influenced by shots of Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (1945).

There was only one armatured model of Medusa that was used for close-ups as well as all other shots.

The movement that sees Medusa pulling herself along by her arms was influenced by a scene in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). 

Ray Bradbury called the Medusa sequence, ‘The best thing that Ray every photographed’.

For the first time since making Mighty Joe Young Ray had to commission the help of two other animators on the film.  They were Jim Danforth who Ray had met whilst working on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Steve Archer.

There are two main models of the Kraken.  The small armatured one and the large armatured upper torso only used for one shot of Pegasus flying in front of him.  There is a third, made from the original mould but only of hard rubber.  This was used for publicity before the film was released.

In the original screenplay Perseus was to cut Medusa’s head off by throwing his shield, Frisbee fashion, but when it came to the shoot, Harry Hamlin who played Perseus pointed out that a sword would work much better than an oversized Frisbee.

Lost projects 

There were many projects that followed Clash but none came to fruition.  Amongst these were two Sinbad movies – Sinbad and the 7 Wonders of the World (1981/2) and Sinbad on Mars (1982).  There was also a film that was to have been made with Michael Winner called People of the Mist (1983) [not be confused with Valley of the Mist], and another mythological adventure with Charles and Beverley Cross called Force of the Trojans (1984).


Ray has been honoured with awards from around the world.  Although his films were never nominated for an Oscar, with the generous help of fans and friends, including Ray Bradbury, he did eventually receive a special Oscar in 1992, presented to him by Tom Hanks.  In 2010 he was also awarded a special Bafta (The British Academy of Film & Television Arts) award to celebrate his ....unique contribution to cinema... and at the same time celebrate his 90th birthday.  In 2011 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award by the VES (Visual Effects Society) accepted on his behalf by Randy Cook and Dennis Muren.


Ray ’retired’ from dimensional animation in 1984 although he did indulge himself occasionally, to keep his hand in, on such projects as the UK television documentary Working With Dinosaurs (1999) and the completion of The Tortoise and the Hare, now called The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare (2001/2).

One of Ray’s quotes was ‘It is fine material but it rots’, which refers to both flesh and his models.  The latex from which his models were made often deteriorates and so, over the intervening years he cast a number of them in bronze (most can been seen in The Art of Ray Harryhausen).

His crowning achievement in this field occurred in 2004.  Because Diana Harryhausen is the great granddaughter of the missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, Ray designed and oversaw the casting in bronze of a one and half times life statue of the great man being attacked by a lion.  The statue can be seen in the grounds of The David Livingston Centre in Blantyre, Lanarkshire in Scotland.


Ray proudly stands in front of the huge bronze statue to David Livingstone in Blantyre, Lanarkshire with the sculptor Gareth Knowles.  Photo: The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

Ray was the father of stop-motion animation (he called Willis O’Brien the grandfather) visited by all the famous film makers of today.  Until his death on Tuesday 7th May 2013 Ray lived with his wife Diana in London and in recent years took an avid and enthusiastic interest in The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation.  The Foundation now owns and looks after his extensive collection of models, artwork, stills and miniatures, preserving and exhibiting the 50,000 + items into the future so protecting his legacy and his art.

© The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation and Tony Dalton.

The Official Ray Harryhausen Website