I’m a little surprised, honestly, that I can only name two movie tributes to him, though they’re good ones. The restaurant in Monsters Inc. is one that many people noticed. I suspect fewer people noticed that the piano in Corpse Bride is also a Harryhausen. It’s appropriate, too, because Corpse Bride is stop motion, the medium in which Harryhausen himself worked. I can understand that Aardman might not be as strongly influenced by his work, but if I were working at Laika, I’d probably try to sneak more references to him into the movies.
Sometimes, what it takes is a single movie. Oh, he’d already made a few dioramas of the La Brea Tar Pits. But he saw King Kong and realized he could make them move. Fortunately for him, a friend’s father worked for RKO and told him how it was done. Thirteen-year-old Ray Harryhausen was set on his life path from there. He started a sci-fi club with fellow members Ray Bradbury and Forrest Ackerman, too, so there’s that.
He said that part of the problem was that studios thought his work was expensive. I suppose it probably was. But you can definitely see the money in the work. Stop motion is difficult and time-consuming. What’s more, good stop motion is honestly exhausting. It takes meticulous effort. A slipped hand can create a ton of work for the animator. Even then, it can be noticeable in the finished product. This isn’t simply just doing another drawing.
Harryhausen has one of those careers that’s impossible to have a certain count on IMDb, because they don’t know where to list him for everything he did. It is true, though, that his influence is far out of proportion to his actual output. He made barely more than a dozen movies, but he’s listed as inspiration for people all over the industry, not just in his own field. I wonder how many people repeated his King Kong moment but with Jason and the Argonauts. I believe Stephen King specifically references his work on Earth vs. the Flying Saucers in Danse Macabre.
I will also say, though, that the unrealized project I long for most is one that doesn’t appear on his Wikipedia page. According to IMDb, he and Bernard Herrmann had discussed making a movie in the vein of Fantasia, with Herrmann supplying the music and Harryhausen supplying the animation. That would have been a thing of beauty. It’s a crying shame we never got it.
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