He made dinosaurs the old-fashioned way: all by hand, all by himself. And maybe that’s why, in a post-Jurassic Park world where teams of computer- graphics artists will generate movie beasties in ever-more-photorealistic detail, there’s still such charm and power in the films of 74-year-old Ray Harryhausen. He was never a feature director, yet he’s an idol to Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and James Cameron, who consider him as much an auteur as Hitchcock for having designed such ”stop motion” creatures as the pterodactyl that plucked up a fur-bikini-clad Raquel Welch in 1966’s One Million Years B.C.
An expatriate American who moved to London in 1960, Harryhausen speaks in the sort of stately, measured, ”one does this, one does that” cadences you’d expect of someone patient enough to manipulate tiny figures incrementally while ”locked inside a dark room” for so many years. Since his retirement after 1981’s Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen says, home video has created a whole new breed of fans whom he sometimes finds a bit too animated when it comes to learning the mechanics behind every last effect. ”Now even the very young fans analyze everything right down to the grain of the film stock,” he says. ”They write and tell me, ‘I stopped one frame and saw a pair of pliers in the picture.’ So it does destroy a little of the magic.”
Though Harryhausen deplores the graphic violence in a lot of sci-fi and fantasy movies today, he found the grisly Jurassic Park ”beautifully put together, most enjoyable.” Even so, he’s glad he’s not starting his career now. ”All I needed in my day was me,” he says. ”But these shots take 50 men and access to multimillion-dollar computers.” Which means, alas, that Harryhausen’s brand of solo craftsmanship has gone the way of his best-known creations.