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Hollywood Honors Legendary Special Effects Artist Ray Harryhausen - 2003-06-11


Hollywood has honored a legendary special effects artist, Ray Harryhausen, the creator of classic science fiction and fantasy movies.

The ceremony took place near the famous Chinese Theatre, where long ago a teenaged Ray Harryhausen saw the film King Kong. Now 82, the Hollywood veteran pointed across the street as he spoke to hundreds of fans who had come to see him honored.

"It's a pleasure to be here and to be part of this wonderful Hollywood Walk of Fame," he said. "And it all started there at Grauman's Chinese in 1933 when I innocently walked into that cinema, and I haven't been the same since."

And neither has Hollywood.

King Kong, a giant gorilla created by special effects, captivated the teenager and he set out to create his own effects in his father's garage. Using handmade models of prehistoric animals, he animated scenes by shooting frame by frame, moving the model slightly between frames to create the illusion of movement.

In 1940, he went to work for filmmaker George Pal, and during World War II worked with director Frank Capra to animate training films for the U.S. military.

In 1948, he was given the chance to work with special effects wizard Willis O'Brien, the creator of King Kong, on another film about a giant gorilla. Called Mighty Joe Young, it won an Oscar for its effects.

Mr. Harryhausen went on to animate the 1950s science fiction films Earth versus the Flying Saucers and It Came from Beneath the Sea, along with others.

"As you probably know by now, our city has suffered a disaster," he announced. "As a result, a marine monster is at large in this vicinity, perhaps even inside the Bay area."

His later work includes The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C. and Clash of the Titans.

Writer Ray Bradbury, author of the science fiction works Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, was on Hollywood Boulevard to see Ray Harryhausen honored.

"I feel as though you're honoring me too, because Ray and I have known each other for 65 years," said Mr. Bradbury. "We had an immediate friendship because I had dreams of writing screenplays about dinosaurs and Ray had dreams of animating dinosaurs. So our friendship began then and continued for the next 65 years. I've got a star up on Hollywood Boulevard here three blocks away. Some night I'm going to dig it up and bring it down and put it next to Ray's star."

Science fiction editor and collector Forrest Ackerman has also known the effects artist since Ray Harryhausen's high school days.

"I still recall, 1939, a little teenager came to visit me, and you gave me my first set of stills from King Kong. So Kong-gratulations, Ray," he remembered.

Director Frank Darabont, whose credits include The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, says Ray Harryhausen's work, painstakingly created, has inspired him and other moviemakers in Hollywood.

"He's the man. Known for making magic one frame at a time," he said. "You see, guys like me, we cheat. We keep the camera rolling at 24 frames a second and we just have actors walk around and talk That's the easy way. Ray did it the hard way. A single frame of motion picture film capturing a tableau of his own devising, peopled with characters created by his own hands. And then onto the next frame he would go, having moved those characters imperceptibly to the eye while the shutter was closed."

But the audience saw action: rampaging monsters, battling skeletons, and marauding flying saucers.

"Attention. This is a voice speaking to you from thousands of miles beyond your planet," the narrator started.

One speaker said the effects artist did more than special effects: He designed sets, created characters and breathed life into them. In the process, he perfected a genre that is popular today, and is seen in such recent films as The Matrix Reloaded. That science fiction thriller is now playing across the street from Ray Harryhausen's star, at the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

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