Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life

Overview

From the age of thirteen Ray Harryhausen knew his future lay in special effects. Drawing inspiration from his mentor Willis O’Brien, creator of King Kong, Ray took the art and skill of stop-motion animation one step further, weaving his magic on dinosaurs, aliens and mythological creatures alike.

From early experiments with animating fairy tales in his father’s garage to creating groundbreaking effects for blockbuster movies, Ray Harryhausen shares the fascinating story of his ...

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Overview

From the age of thirteen Ray Harryhausen knew his future lay in special effects. Drawing inspiration from his mentor Willis O’Brien, creator of King Kong, Ray took the art and skill of stop-motion animation one step further, weaving his magic on dinosaurs, aliens and mythological creatures alike.

From early experiments with animating fairy tales in his father’s garage to creating groundbreaking effects for blockbuster movies, Ray Harryhausen shares the fascinating story of his “animated life”. The last great animator before the introduction of CGI, he takes us through the pleasures and pitfalls of sixty years dedicated to making movie magic.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It's mostly film buffs who will recognize the primary author's name, and they will rush out to buy this first-rate, heavily illustrated guide to the life and, more importantly, the work of arguably the premier special-effects master in Hollywood history. Harryhausen (b. 1920) is the undisputed master of stop-motion photography, the genius behind such memorable fabrications as the T-rex of The Valley of Gwangi, the giant ape of (the original) Mighty Joe Young, the fighting skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts and the giant crab of Mysterious Island. Harryhausen attributes his lifelong devotion to stop-motion to his initial viewing, at age 13, of King Kong ("I can remember every detail of that day quite clearly," he writes in the lengthy and deeply informative text that accompanies the book's hundreds of photos, b&w and color; "...I became obsessed with [the film's] magic"). This obsession led young Harryhausen to his first serious attempt at a movable model, of a cave bear, then to a teen friendship with Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman of Famous Monsters of Filmland fame, some mentoring by King Kong effects wizard Willis O'Brien and his first special effects job, with George Pal. The book, co-written with film historian Dalton, goes on to cover each of Harryhausen's major films in tremendous detail, with great attention to the technical side of stop-motion work, making this volume a must for special effects fans, despite the recent computer revolution (which, Harryhausen argues, makes creatures appear "too realistic" and lacking in an essential "dream quality"). Through his work, Harryhausen has brought magic to millions; this terrific book is a fitting capstone to his brilliant career. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Without sitting in the director's chair or writing a single word of a screenplay, animator Harryhausen made an enormous impact on film. While his stop-action "dynamation" is a stone ax compared with today's superbly realistic computer-generated imagery, all FX wizards still want to be Harryhausen when they grow up. In this first book-length treatment of his work, he details each of the features for which he performed FX-from Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts through Clash of the Titans-including background on the models, how the effects were achieved, and other fun insider information. The text is buttressed by more than 1000 color and monochrome storyboards, concept sketches, and pictures of the screen-used beasties. Smitten with King Kong at age 13, Harryhausen fittingly launched his career as the animator of Kong-esque Mighty Joe Young (1949). That success led to decades of steady work in numerous A and B sf/horror/fantasy movies through the 1980s. The book also sports an introduction by Ray Bradbury. Harryhausen is a geek god, and his memories make a multicourse fan feast. Highly recommended for film and sf collections.-Michael Rogers, "Library Journal" Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The king of stop-motion animation lays out his varied career. Like many kids, Harryhausen was enraptured by the incredible special-effects work he saw in King Kong (1933); unlike most kids, he turned that rapture into a lifelong calling. Back in the dark ages before computer-generated imaging made possible films like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park (at which Harryhausen takes a mild jab here), the best way to make monsters come to life on film was through the stop-motion animation, a complex, painstaking process involving small, incredibly detailed models, rear-projection filming, and matte shots that merged the models into shots with live actors. In this combination of coffee-table book and career summation, Harryhausen describes how he moved from watching King Kong to actually working with that movie's stop-motion master, Willis O'Brien, on another ape-gone-amok drama Mighty Joe Young (1950), and then to essentially taking O'Brien's spot in Hollywood. For the first part of his career, Harryhausen specialized in effects for films about rampaging monsters like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1952) and It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), pioneering examples of shlocky B-movie magic still enjoyed today. But he's best known for such films as Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), which mix and match elements from Greek mythology and Arabian Nights. (A scene showing the Argonauts clashing swords with reanimated skeletons is a Saturday-afternoon TV staple.) Harryhausen is not the most engaging writer; he tends to pull out reviews to attest to his films' success like an aged movie star mulling over yellowing clippings. But his body of work is interesting enoughto justify a thorough read, and his descriptions of unrealized projects offer tantalizing glimpses of what could have been. A must for special-effects aficionados and geeky fantasy addicts everywhere.
From the Publisher
It's mostly film buffs who will recognize the primary author's name, and they will rush out to buy this first-rate, heavily illustrated guide to the life and, more importantly, the work of arguably the premier special-effects master in Hollywood history. Harryhausen (b. 1920) is the undisputed master of stop-motion photography, the genius behind such memorable fabrications as the T-rex of The Valley of Gwangi, the giant ape of (the original) Mighty Joe Young, the fighting skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts and the giant crab of Mysterious Island. Harryhausen attributes his lifelong devotion to stop-motion to his initial viewing, at age 13, of King Kong ("I can remember every detail of that day quite clearly," he writes in the lengthy and deeply informative text that accompanies the book's hundreds of photos, b&w and color; "...I became obsessed with [the film's] magic"). This obsession led young Harryhausen to his first serious attempt at a movable model, of a cave bear, then to a teen friendship with Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman of Famous Monsters of Filmland fame, some mentoring by King Kong effects wizard Willis O'Brien and his first special effects job, with George Pal. The book, co-written with film historian Dalton, goes on to cover each of Harryhausen's major films in tremendous detail, with great attention to the technical side of stop-motion work, making this volume a must for special effects fans, despite the recent computer revolution (which, Harryhausen argues, makes creatures appear "too realistic" and lacking in an essential "dream quality"). Through his work, Harryhausen has brought magic to millions; this terrific book is a fitting capstone to his brilliant career. - Publishers Weekly

For the past half century Harryhausen has been the foremost practitioner of the craft of stop-motion animation, the cinematic art of meticulously moving models, frame by frame, to create an illusion of motion. Inspired by King Kong, still the ultimate example of the technique, at age 13, Harryhausen soon became the protege of Kong's creator, Willis O'Brien. He progressed to bringing dinosaurs and giant, mutated animals to life in several fondly remembered 1950s horror films and hit his stride in a series of 1960s and 1970s period fantasy films that pitted such legendary heroes as Sinbad and Jason against harpies, centaurs, and, most memorably, sword-fighting skeletons. The advent of Star Wars and other increasingly technologically sophisticated sf movies rendered Harryhausen's painstaking, "homemade" approach prohibitively expensive. Harryhausen's anecdote-filled account of his career offers loads of technical details for those fascinated by specialized minutiae and hundreds of rare drawings and photos from his personal archives. In the age of CGI and digital animation, Harryhausen may be old school, but his art retains its appeal. - Gordon Flagg Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780823084029
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/2004
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.98 (w) x 11.54 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Dalton is a writer and film historian who has known Ray Harryhausen for over thirty years. They met whilst Tony was working for the British Film Institute and have been close friends ever since. Tony has worked as a film publicist, television researcher and producer. Today, in addition to writing, he is a consultant to The British Academy of Film & Television Arts (Bafta). He is also curator of the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

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