Ray Harryhausen carved out an all-but-unique niche for himself in movies, from the 1950s through the 1980s. In an era in which actors commanded the lion's share of public attention, with directors taking most of what was left, Harryhausen acquired a worldwide fandom as the creator and designer of some of the most beloved fantasy films of all time. He is usually identified as a special-effects designer and, more specifically, a master of stop-motion animation, but Harryhausen's role goes much deeper than that. He is the originator of most of the movies with which he is associated, and his special effects determine the shape, content, and nuances of his movies down to the script level, much more so than the directors of the movies, who often had little more to do than move actors around and run the crew.
Harryhausen began devising his own models and puppets, eventually putting his skills to use working in an army-training film unit during World War II. After the war, he went to work for producer George Pal on a series of stop-motion animated short films called Puppetoons, and eventually went to work for Willis O'Brien. At the time, O'Brien was working on a joint production with Merian C. Cooper (the co-producer of King Kong), making a fantasy film about a giant ape entitled Mighty Joe Young (1949). As it worked out, O'Brien was so heavily involved on the production side that 80 percent of the animation in the movie was Harryhausen's work.