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Science Museum Oklahoma presents an exhibit featuring the stop-motion models of film pioneer Ray Harryhausen

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Colossal monsters from classic movies and larger-than-life models that represent gargantuan efforts are approaching Oklahoma City in miniature.

Science Museum Oklahoma (SMO) opens its new exhibit Ray Harryhausen — Mythical Menagerie July 29. The museum hosts a gallery opening 6-9 p.m. July 28 in the smART Space gallery at SMO, 2020 Remington Place.

The museum is open 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Mondays- Fridays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays. Admission to Mythical Menagerie is included in museum admission (free-$25.95).

Scott Henderson, director of smART Space galleries at SMO, said guests can discern Harryhausen’s genius in the exhibit, which runs through Dec. 3.

“He’s kind of the grand master behind movie special effects and stop motion animation,” he said. “A lot of the influences in science fiction and fantasy films today were influenced by Harryhausen. A lot of people attribute him as their inspiration.”

Harryhausen’s methods and vision impacted the likes of James Cameron, Tim Burton and George Lucas. His work on movies such as 1981’s Clash of the Titans and 1949’s Mighty Joe Young shaped the future of the field of cinematic special effects.

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Henderson worked with The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation in Scotland to organize the exhibit. He first started thinking seriously about a science fiction movie exhibit over a year and a half ago.

“I started looking at movie posters and models and such, and I came across the (foundation) website, and it struck a chord in me because I remember as a kid loving these movies,” he said. “So I look at the website, and they are looking for potential people to exhibit the work. I reached out thinking they would probably just say no and that they weren’t interested, but to my surprise, they were very interested. That’s when the ball got rolling.”

The foundation did not have a complete collection prepared for exhibition when Henderson contacted them.

“I had to work with the collections manager there to put the show together,” he said. “It wasn’t something already formed. We had to go through all the inventory and select the specific pieces to put together, which movies we wanted to showcase. That was part of the longevity of getting it put together.”

Poring over the models Harryhausen used to pioneer techniques in stop motion was an arduous task, but one that will pay off in Mythical Menagerie.

“It’s never been shown to this degree in the United States as a complete collection,” Henderson said. “It’s usually shown around Europe — little pieces of it will travel to museums.”

A large-scale collection of Harryhausen’s work is an exciting prospect, though Henderson said that it almost didn’t come together.

“They had just posted this. Connor Heaney — he’s the collections manager for the foundation — when I contacted him, he wrote back. But he was just now putting the collection together,” he said. “[Heaney] had just been hired, so everything was kind of all over the place. He told me that if I had not contacted him when I did, it probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Mythical Menagerie will be shown in smART Space, a smaller exhibition room on SMO’s second floor. Henderson said the size of the space is an advantage for the models on display.

“These models, they’re not very large,” he said. “They’re minuscule in size, just because of how they had to be animated. I wanted to create a more intimate space so you can get up close and almost personal with the models. I’ve chosen a smaller area that’s going to wind you through so you can be up close.”

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Lasting impact

The exhibit brings together the history of film and beloved artifacts to showcase the stop-motion pioneer’s work.

“I think it’s going to be a fabulous exhibit,” Henderson said. “It’s historical, but it’s also going to show kids today who may not be familiar with Ray Harryhausen how his influence on cinematic history had influenced the movies they see, even CGI movies.”

Henderson expects to see Harryhausen devotees and novices alike at Mythical Menagerie. Though his name might be unknown to museum guests when they enter the exhibit, Henderson said his work speaks for itself.

“The people that may not know his name probably will recognize something in the exhibit that will strike a chord back to some recognizable event,” he said. “People that were born after 1990 probably won’t recognize them so much, but I hope they’ll find that relatable aspect.”

People who love movies with otherworldly monsters and scenery will find something interesting, as well.

“I think it will speak to a lot of people, but he does have a following,” he said. “Film historians and film lovers are definitely going to be here — fantasy movie lovers, people that love science fiction.”

Fantasy movie buffs will recognize some of the pieces Henderson is most looking forward to exhibiting.

“I’m really excited about all of them, but there are a few on the top of my list,” he said. “That’d be the Medusa model, the Bubo model from Clash of the Titans — that was a movie that I watched over and over as a kid — then from Jason and the Argonauts, there’s the original Cyclops armature, which is very cool. And then a slew of others, of course; there’s the centaur from the Sinbad movies and the Pegasus is really cool.”

Visit sciencemuseumok.org.

Print headline: Mythical creatures, A smART Space exhibit explores the work of special effects genius Ray Harryhausen.

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