Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen on set during the making of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012

Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen on set during the making of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 2012

© AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo

My teenage years were fuelled by a desire to do exactly what Ray Harryhausen was doing – create a new world populated by new creatures, and bring them to life with the magic of stop-motion. While my classmates were going out with girls, learning to drive, listening to music, I was the solitary kid; an only child who rushed home from school to build rubber monsters and imagine using something mystical called foam latex. At the weekends I would animate them, bringing my creatures to life one frame at a time. I remember the day Elvis died, but only for one reason – it was the day I saw Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger!

I was driven by a dream that one day, if I was good enough, I might become Ray’s apprentice, just like he had worked with Willis O’Brien on Mighty Joe Young.

As the years went by, I eventually did become a filmmaker, taking the low-budget horror movie route into the industry, sneaking a little stop-motion in where I could. But the arrival of science-fiction films into mainstream cinema, led by Star Wars, and the computer technology that followed, meant that the fantasy genre became unpopular for a while. Ray retired... and I finally got to meet him, first as a fan who queued for hours at a London bookstore to get his autograph. Like so many people who ask for my autograph today, my hands were trembling. Later we were fellow guests at a fantasy film festival in Germany.

Ray Harryhausen working on the model of Medusa during the making of Clash of the Titans, ​​​​​​​1981

Ray Harryhausen working on the model of Medusa during the making of Clash of the Titans 1981

© Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

It seemed as if the world of cinema had moved on from fantasy, but not for me. In 1996, while I was building up a computer visual effects facility in Wellington, New Zealand, I still wanted more than anything to make a movie just like the films that inspired me throughout my life. I wanted to make my ‘Jason’, or my ‘Sinbad’. My partner Fran Walsh and I toiled for a while on original fantasy story ideas, before settling on the idea of adapting The Lord of the Rings instead. The Lord of the Rings is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie’. Without that life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling, it would never have been made – not by me at least.

In fact, sitting right in the middle of the first of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, is my ‘Harryhausen scene’ – the fight with the cave troll in Balin’s tomb. I wanted that monster fight to contain all the gags and moments I enjoyed seeing in Ray’s films: people dodging the monster, throwing rocks and spears at it, the climactic moment when the hero jumps on its back, it’s all there in that scene. I was finally fulfilling a childhood dream. I never got to become Ray’s apprentice – not in the literal sense – but his passion for fantastical storytelling, for taking a wondrous journey into the reaches of the imagination, fuelled me as I made The Lord of the Rings.

Sketch of Charybdis by Ray Harryhausen for the unrealised film Force of the Trojans, ​​​​​​​1984

Sketch of Charybdis by Ray Harryhausen for the unrealised film Force of the Trojans 1984

© Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Peter Jackson is a film director, screenwriter and producer. He is the producer for Mortal Engines due for release in December 2018.

The Art of Ray Harryhausen, Tate Britain, 26 June – 19 November 2017.