All four of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-motion creatures to appear on film in 1961 were modeled on actual animals; living and extinct. Except for size, Harryhausen’s models for Mysterious Island were exacting reproductions of real species. In the film, Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison camp in a hot-air balloon and end up crash landing near an island where Captain Nemo is performing growth experiments on the local fauna. One by one, the castaways encounter and battle with Nemo’s freakish test subjects.
The Giant Crab was not only modeled after, but created from, an actual crab. The crab was bought by Harryhausen in Harrods Food Hall and sent to the Natural History Museum in London to be humanely killed. The armature was then designed to fit inside the shells of the crab. It was fixed to the animation table by wire and was supported on an aerial brace with wires.
The Phorusrhacos is one of Harryhausen’s most endearing and goofy creations. Based on an extinct predator also known as a “terror bird” the animal was meant to appear as frightening as the other creatures in the film. The result, however, resembling a giant deranged chicken with mange, provides the film’s one moment of humor. The composer thought the scene was so funny he jokingly threatened producer Harryhausen that he would score it to “Turkey in the Straw”
The Giant Bees were a lot more fearsome. Although there seemed to be three giant bees there was only one. Harryhausen used mattes to make it seem as if there were three. The set design with the giant honeycombs behind the actors did much to convince the viewer that these creatures were enormous.
The Giant Cephalopod resembling a prehistoric ammonite (or, depending on who you ask, an octopus in a snail-shell) was the final creature featured in Mysterious Island, although the original script also called for a giant man-eating plant.