A tribute to stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen, whose spellbinding science fiction and fantasy special effects continue to amaze.

Groundbreaking visual effects designer Ray Harryhausen refined and elevated stop-motion animation to an art. His Dynamation technique of matting animated creatures into live-action settings revolutionized the use of stop-motion animation in visual effects.

Arguably, Ray Harryhausen's creations aren't the most realistic in the realm of special effects, nor will his films ever join the ranks of cinema's classics. Yet Ray's touch can be instantly recognized. His creations are absolutely alive; in each frame his creatures move, twitch, breathe, act with a personality and pathos that can only be ascribed to a direct connection to Ray.

I vividly recall my early encounters with Ray's creatures. I can't admit to ever being convinced that any of Ray Harryhausen's creature animations were actually real. They were better than real, hyper-real, and their performances still remain riveting in spite of today's advances in special effects. Few other low-budget monster movies of the time match the technical competence and respect for the subject as Ray's films. Ray is clearly behind each character, manipulating each frame to present on a movie screen what had previously existed only in his imagination.

Ray was a master of his medium, applying skills as diverse as sculpture, illustration, painting, optics, history, and acting. Take any of his best-known creatures - The sword-fighting skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, the Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, or Clash of the Titan's Medusa, for example. Ray conceived and designed each shot; sculpted, cast in latex around an articulated metal armature, painted and detailed the stop-motion puppet; staged and lit a miniature set of his construction; and infused it with poetic animation. Lacking any practical pre-visualization tools, he knew if a shot succeeded only after the film was developed. He executed his shots single-handedly, working months at a time, in tiny converted storefront studios.

Beyond the sheer spectacle of his films, Ray never lost sight of the realities of commercial filmmaking. Shot in exotic (and cheap) locations with local crews, his techniques were tailored to deliver effects on time and on budget. His business sense led to scripts both visually rich and commercially viable, and kept him consistently employed from 1953's The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms until his retirement after 1981's Clash of the Titans.

The Ray Harryhausen Creature list emphasizes Ray's work in feature films. Not included are his early ; test reels and unrealized projects; and some stop-motion effects shots (such as the discus toss in Jason and the Argonauts), live-action effects (like the Iguana stand-in dinosaur from One Million Years B.C.), miniatures (including the Mysterious Island balloon), makeup & prosthetics, and animated replacements for humans caught in creatures' clutches. Ray Harryhausen deserves further credit for his groundbreaking work in composite effects, demonstrated to great effect in The 3 Worlds of Gulliver.