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6 Influential Stop-Motion Movies From Ray Harryhausen

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Raymond Frederick “Ray” Harryhausen—who died today at age 92—was a pioneer and visionary in the filmmaking industry. Although he never directed a full-length feature film, his style of stop-motion animation special effects and his bold imagination directly impact nearly every genre movie from the 1940s to today. Harryhausen almost single-handedly kept the stop-motion animation technique alive for three solid decades before the advent of computer camera motion control and CGI.

He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005, while directors like Tim Burton, Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, and George Lucas pay homage to Harryhausen’s work in their films. Here are six of the most influential stop-motion Ray Harryhausen movies.

1. MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)

Ray Harryhausen’s work on Mighty Joe Young—which was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, one of the directors of the groundbreaking 1933 movie King Kong—contributed to the film’s Academy Award win for Best Special Effects in 1949. The movie is known for its elaborate action sequences and larger-than-life characters. Mighty Joe Young is seen as one of the best examples of what stop-motion animation can offer.

2. EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956)

The science fiction film Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers (also known as Invasion of the Flying Saucers) displayed an elaborate alien invasion that had UFOs crashing into a number of government buildings and monuments. Harryhausen incorporated military stock footage with stop-motion animation to bring the fictional event to life; his flying saucer design is the prototype for almost every alien invasion movie ever made. Director Tim Burton paid homage to Harryhausen’s work in his 1996 film, Mars Attacks!

3. THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was the first of three Sinbad movies released by Columbia Pictures. Harryhausen refined his stop-motion technique with a new system called “Dynamation," which incorporated stop-motion animation with lush and vivid color. It took him 11 months to complete the animation for the film, which features one of Harryhausen’s most iconic creations, the monstrous single-horned Cyclops. In 2008, the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

4. MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961)

Loosely based on Jules Verne’s novel, Mysterious Island was used by Shepperton Studios to showcase the high level of special effects the British movie studio could churn out and offer directors. Although the film was a box office disappointment, Mysterious Island is considered to be one of the finest examples of Harryhausen’s imagination and design.

5. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

Jason and the Argonauts is perhaps best known for the iconic sword fight featuring seven skeleton warriors, which took Harryhausen four months to complete. He considered Jason and the Argonauts to be his best film; it was nominated for the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Fantasy Films of all time. Director Robert Rodriguez paid homage to the skeleton sword fight scene in his 2002 film, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams

6. CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

When people think of the 1981 film Clash of the Titans, the creatures that immediately come to mind are Harryhausen's terrifying Medusa and towering Kraken. After the film was released, Harryhausen retired from filmmaking (special effects in Hollywood movies like Star Wars and Superman made the stop-motion animation technique seem old fashioned). Director Louis Leterrier's 2010 Titans remake—which starred Australian actor Sam Worthington as Perseus and Liam Neeson as the mythological Greek god Zeus—didn’t incorporate stop-motion animation, but Harryhausen’s influence can still be felt: The creatures were updated versions of his stop-motion creations.

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Chloe Efforn
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Animals
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

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entertainment
7 Famous Actors Who Starred in Obscure Short Films
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Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Well-known actors who can attract attention or lend prestige to film projects can often command significant salaries. Jack Nicholson, for example, reportedly made more than $50 million for portraying The Joker in 1989’s Batman after merchandising royalties were factored in. But performers don’t always opt for money—or even feature-length movies—if a filmmaker is persuasive enough. Here are several notable talents who agreed to appear in obscure short films for a variety of peculiar reasons.

1. HARRISON FORD // WATER TO WINE (2004)

Arguably one of the most successful leading men of the 20th century, Harrison Ford has always been candid about his criteria for film work. In addition to being intrigued by a role, he wants to be compensated. (“No, I got paid,” he told a talk show host who asked if he was nostalgic about returning to the Star Wars universe in 2015.) He apparently made an exception for Water to Wine, a 2004 amateur film shot by a group of snowboarders in Wyoming. Ford—who has a ranch in the state—accepted the role of “Jethro the Bus Driver” as a favor to the filmmakers, who were friends of his son, Malcolm. Ford’s sole request was that his name not appear in the credits.

2. BRYAN CRANSTON // WRITER’S BLOCK (2014)

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston was shooting the feature film Cold Comes the Night in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy interrupted production. Rather than sit idle, the actor told the movie’s production assistants that if they wanted to try writing a short film, he’d shoot it immediately. Winner Brandon Polanco came up with Writer’s Block, a 13-minute black-and-white mood piece about an author wrestling with a lack of inspiration.

3. BILLY BOB THORNTON // THE LAST REAL COWBOYS (2000)

Billy Bob Thornton broke into Hollywood with his 1994 short film Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade that he later expanded into a full-length feature. That DIY approach may have helped director Jeff Lester entice the actor to star in The Last Real Cowboys, a short that featured Thornton as one of two main characters sitting next to a campfire. The production shot for just one day 50 miles outside of Las Vegas. 

4. OSCAR ISAAC // LIGHTNINGFACE (2016)

A year after Star Wars: The Force Awakens crossed $2 billion at the box office, Oscar Isaac (who portrayed Poe Dameron) appeared in this eccentric short by director Brian Petsos. Isaac is Basil Stitt, a man who gets hit in the face with lightning and is convinced he will soon develop supernatural abilities. Isaac and Petsos previously worked on a feature film, Ticky Tacky.

5. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH // LITTLE FAVOUR (2013)

The BBC’s Sherlock helped make Benedict Cumberbatch a highly recognizable screen presence worldwide, which in turn helped this short film raise and exceed its $40,000 budget via the Indiegogo platform. Cumberbatch portrays a British intelligence officer active during the Iraq War who is contacted by an American spy to repay a favor. Cumberbatch, who was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for The Imitation Game in 2015, also produced the film.

6. MICHAEL FASSBENDER // PITCH BLACK HEIST (2012)

Two-time Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender co-stars in this tight heist thriller about two thieves who are forced to complete a job in total darkness. (Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones, co-starred.) Director John Maclean knew Fassbender before the actor broke out in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds and convinced him to take the gig. The two later worked on the well-received 2015 Western Slow West.

7. BILL MURRAY // A FILM ABOUT WALKING IN SLOW MOTION (2012)

The urban legends surrounding Murray’s puckish behavior are well-documented, from crashing karaoke parties to spontaneously tending bar. In 2012, Murray was filming a promotional video for a school in South Carolina attended by his son. Afterward, director David Smith asked if he could film Murray walking down a hall with crew members. He complied—and then kept walking, out of the building and into his car. 

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