VFX Pioneer Phil Tippett on Ray Harryhausen: 'The Guy That Everybody Was Inspired By'

Ray Harryhausen In Action - H 2013
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Ray Harryhausen In Action - H 2013

There's a direct line between Willis O'Brien, who created the stop-motion marvels of King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, to Ray Harryhausen, who created the mythological creatures that populate The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, and Phil Tippett, who masterminded the holographic chess game in Star Wars.

In the following tribute, Tippett, a VFX pioneer in his own right and now principal of Tippett Studio, praises Harryhausen, who died Tuesday at age 92, for both his creativity and for the guidance he freely offered the next generation of animators and visual effects artists:

"Ray Harryhausen's passing signals the end of a very special era in filmmaking. He was the guy that everybody was inspired by to do visual effects work. He was the singular creative person, so he inspired a lot of singular artists. A craftsman who shaped all the movies he worked on from cradle to grave, he was there on the set making sure everything was shot the right way, and then saw it all to the finish. He was a total filmmaker that had his hands in everything.

STORY: Hollywood Pays Tribute To Ray Harryhausen

"He was also a mentor. He was important to me, in my life as an animator and an artist, but he also taught me the value of mentorship itself. He made himself accessible. He didn't just say, ' Ok, now that I'm a 'pioneer' or a legend or whatever, I'm just gonna sit in an office or a studio somewhere because I'm too important to be bothered.’  He wanted to be part of forming the next generation of artists and visionaries. And he did. Willis O'Brien did it for him, with King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, and he did it for me, and now I'm doing it every day in my own studio because I believe in that.

"With me and Ray, it was building puppets and stop-motion, making things, trying stuff and failing and trying again until it worked. Now most who create visual effects do it with computers, but the lessons are the same. Just having someone look at the dreadful mess you just made and say, ‘Yeah, I've done that before ... here, try it this way. Don’t give up.’ The tremendous value of having someone like that in your life to help you and inspire you and just to share creative space together ... I learned that from Ray. He’s touched so many people in so many ways.

"Nobody else has done anything like that. Or had such an impact. He will be missed."