Ray Harryhausen: Biggest ever exhibition devoted to Hollywood special effects legend unveiled in Edinburgh

The biggest ever exhibition devoted to the creations of Hollywood special effects experts has been revealed in Edinburgh ahead of its long-awaited opening to the public at the weekend.

The skeletons used in Jason and the Argonauts are among the star attractions in the new exhibition.
The skeletons used in Jason and the Argonauts are among the star attractions in the new exhibition.

Models used by Ray Harryhausen in some of his most famous movies, including Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, have gone on display alongside rarely-seen photographs, posters, storyboards and illustrations at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

The exhibition, which has been in the planning for several years, explores how the work of Harryhausen would go on to inspire cinematic legends like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Peter Jackson due to his pioneering techniques in “stop motion animation.”

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Highlights of the show, tickets for which can be booked three months in advance, include Harryhausen’s original models of the iconic skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts, the Cyclops from the Sinbad films and Medusa from Clash of the Titans.

Visitors are also be able to see some of the first models ever made by Harryhausen, including a marionette inspired by the gorilla from King Kong, the movie which famously inspired him to try to enter the industry, and artwork from Mighty Joe Young, the film which launched his career.

The show looks at how the influence of Harryhausen’s work can be seen in everything from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to Jurassic Park and Wallace and Gromit.

The exhibition, which was due to run from May-October this year until the coronavirus pandemic forced its postponement, will now be getting an extended run until September of next year at the “Modern Two” gallery complex.

The National Galleries was approached over the possibility of staging an exhibition several years ago by the foundation which was set up by Harryhausen and his wife Dianna in 1986 to help look after his extensive archives and ensure they would be used to help promote the art of stop-motion animation.

Ray Harryhausen's daughter Vanessa has been overseeing preparations for the exhibition. Picture: Neil Hanna

The couple, who passed away within months of each other, were regular visitors to Scotland due to Mrs Harryhausen’s family roots – she was the great great grand-daughter of the missionary and explorer David Livingstone and a sculpture designed by the filmmaker has pride of place at his Lanarkshire birthplace.

Simon Groom, director of modern and contemporary art at the National Galleries, said: “Ray Harryhausen’s creative vision, and ability to realise scenes of enduring dramatic and imaginative power, are as relevant now as they have ever been.

"The exhibition promises to transport all visitors, young and old, into the amazing world of one of the greatest innovators of special effects in the history of cinema.”

Harryhausen’s daughter Vanessa, who has been in Edinburgh overseeing preparations for the exhibition’s opening, said: “It’s wonderful that we are able to display so much of dad’s collection.

This model was used to film the scenes featuring Medusa in Clash of the Titans.

“The space gives us great scope to display as many of his models and artworks as possible, as well as personal items which have never been exhibited before.”

“We’re thrilled to work with the National Galleries on displaying his collection and celebrating his legacy.

“We hope the celebrations and activities in Edinburgh will encourage fans of all ages to be inspired by his creativity.”

A model of Kali from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, one of Harryhausen's best known fantasy movies.
National Galleries director Simon Groom says Ray Harryhausen is 'one of the greatest innovators of special effects in the history of cinema.' Picture: Neil Hanna
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