It is 1933, and 13-year-old Raymond “Ray” Harryhausen is sitting through another viewing of “King Kong”, wondering how the movie makers managed to animate the big ape and various dinosaurs that appeared in the film. Driven to understand what would become known as stop-motion animation, young Harryhausen tinkered on the technique himself and began a lifelong career in film special effects. He sought out Willis O’Brien, the model animator for “King Kong”, who gave Harryhausen some advice on getting properly trained. Harryhausen kept working at his craft and during WWII, worked under Colonel Frank Capra making films for the U.S. armed forced. (Capra, of course, would go on to become a legendary filmmaker in his own right, particularly for “It’s a Wonderful Life.”)
After the war, Harryhausen worked with O’Brien on “Mighty Joe Young”, a sequel of sorts to “King Kong”, for which O’Brien won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Special Effects. “King Kong” was re-released in 1952, kick-starting a monster movie craze that gave Harryhausen his first big solo project—“The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.” The story was based off a short story called “The Foghorn” by fellow science fiction enthusiast (and lifelong friend) Ray Bradbury. “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” was a commercial success, and a string of other monster-movie classics would follow, including “It Came From Beneath the Sea”, “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers”, and “20 Million Miles to Earth”. His work on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts marked the high point of his career, and to this day, both films enjoy widespread critical and popular appeal.