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Stop-motion thoughts on Ray Harryhausen’s 90th birthday.

Stop-motion thoughts on Ray Harryhausen’s 90th birthday. (photo)

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29 years ago, Ray Harryhausen unleashed the original Kraken in the 1981 “Clash of the Titans.” Then he walked away from Hollywood filmmaking, annoyed that his work had been written off as mere “technical achievements.”

Today is Harryhausen’s 90th birthday and the man’s still going strong. His monsters are being archived in museums — an exhibition of his work opens today at the London Film Museum.

Harryhausen didn’t invent stop-motion, but he practically branded it. His monsters, skeletons and mythical creatures have become associated with the medium more than, say, Willis O’Brien, “King Kong” creator and Harryhausen mentor. O’Brien made many technical breakthroughs, but Harryhausen was his own auteur. At his ’50s and ’60s peak, you came to his movies solely for the creatures rather than the men opposite them.

Harryhausen’s creations are beloved outside of the movies they emerged from: “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and “Jason and the Argonauts” have their passionate defenders, but even if you’re only looking at Harryhausen’s contributions, snipped out of context, they don’t suffer one bit. Harryhausen actually had more control over the surrounding content of his movies than most “mere technicians.”

“I’m not just handed a script,” he told Damien Love in Bright Lights 2007. “I work with the writer on the scripts, and I’m associate producer, sometimes producer, and direct some of the sequences that involve my work.” He never did get to direct the whole movie, and sometimes regretted it: “I think I could have done better than some of the directors we had.”

Harryhausen’s creatures were almost invariably more expressive than the actors who did battle with them. His fascinations — dinosaurs, Greek mythology, antiquarian sci-fi from H.G. Wells and Jules Verne — performed the unlikely feat of using progressive technology to leap back in time mentally.

His work became increasingly less viable commercially, not just for tech reasons, but because he wasn’t at all interested in using his formidable knowledge and technique to enter the present day. (It’s no surprise he was a little ambivalent about Tim Burton’s loving tribute in “Mars Attacks!,” a far more acerbic and less benign work than anything he ever did.)

While his work remains incalculably influential (and a standard-bearer for anyone arguing for personality-laden analog effects over soulless sturm-und-drang CGI), it’s become as embalmed-in-time as Verne and Wells. What’s fascinating about stop-motion animation is that it’s got some of the highest work-to-success ratios around. It’s such a ridiculously time-consuming and difficult process that it can’t be dashed off in the same way as crappy traditional cel animation or bargain-basement CGI.

A stop-motion animation short or feature is almost invariably a cut above, and more personal than most, in its very nature. To engage in such a time-consuming process generally means you have something to express that hasn’t been expressed before.

In that sense, looking back at Harryhausen’s legacy means acknowledging that though his influence upon the fantasy-inclined is massive, his influence upon his medium is less pervasive. Big names working today, like Jan Svankmajer and contemporary uber-technician Henry Selick, owe nothing to Harryhausen’s sensibility. He locked up all the possibilities for mythology and dinosaurs. People will continue to look at and love Harryhausen’s work, but no one’s going to be his successor.

[Photos: “Jason and the Argonauts,” Sony, 1963]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

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Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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