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May 9, 2013

Ray Harryhausen, special-effects legend, dies at 92

Restaurant named for him in Rockport director's movie

Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion animation legend whose work on “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” “Jason and the Argonauts” and other science fiction and fantasy film classics made him a cult figure and an inspiration to later generations of filmmakers and special-effects artists, has died. He was 92.

Harryhausen died Tuesday in London, where he had lived for decades, according to his Los Angeles attorney Kenneth Kleinberg.

In the pre-computer-generated-imagery era in which he worked, Harryhausen used the painstaking process of making slight adjustments to the position of his three-dimensional, ball-and-socket-jointed scale models and then shooting them frame-by-frame to create the illusion of movement. Footage of his exotic beasts and creatures was later often combined with live action.

Working with modest budgets and typically with only two or three assistants—if any—to keep costs down, Harryhausen created innumerable memorable big-screen moments.

In “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” (1953), a dinosaur thawed out by A-bomb testing in the Arctic goes on a Big Apple rampage in which it devours a New York cop before meeting its demise at Coney Island.

In “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963), the mythological hero Jason, played by Todd Armstrong, slays a seven-headed hydra guarding the Golden Fleece, then Jason and two of his men battle seven sword-wielding warrior skeletons that spring from the hydra’s scattered teeth.

In “The Valley of Gwangi” (1969), a group of turn-of-the-20th-century cowboys on horseback attempt to lasso the movie title’s namesake, a 14-foot Tyrannosaurus rex, to capture it for a Wild West show.

And who can forget the prehistoric flying reptile that scoops up and carries off Raquel Welch, clad in an animal-skin bikini, in “One Million Years BC” (1966)?

The fantasy world of Ray Harryhausen inspired Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron and many other filmmakers, some of whom have paid cinematic homage to the special-effects maestro.

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