THE ART OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN by Ray Harryhausen

THE ART OF RAY HARRYHAUSEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A collection of drawings, storyboards and photographs of models crafted by the stop-motion animation expert.

Billed as “cinema’s greatest master of fantasy” in an appreciative preface by Lord of the Rings director/King Kong remaker Peter Jackson, Harryhausen was already making puppets in junior high, shooting short animated films in his late teens. (Mom made the costumes and Dad built the sets for his early efforts.) He apprenticed with Willis O’Brien, legendary animator of the original King Kong, but after WWII found ways to adapt Obie’s expensive techniques to the lower-budget films that were becoming the fantasy norm. His brief but informative text frequently notes compromises made to reduce costs: Cerberus having two heads instead of three, photos used instead of hand-painted backdrops for Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and One Million Years B.C. Wistful references to never-made projects, including War of the Worlds and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, remind readers how often a movie artist’s dreams go unrealized. Harryhausen had a better track record than most, partly because he knew how to sell an idea; many of the dramatic charcoal and pencil drawings handsomely reproduced here were created for pitch sessions with the money men. Though drawings predominate, fans will particularly relish the less frequent color photos of the intricate models—usually latex rubber covering a metal armature, supplemented by a few bronze casts—of Harryhausen’s most famous monsters: the snaky Medusa in Clash of the Titans, the many-armed Kali and the giant Cyclops from two of the Sinbad movies, the hydra and the amazing skeleton warriors in Jason and the Argonauts. The organization is thematic rather than chronological, putting all the aliens in one chapter, dinosaurs in another; a marvelous section entitled “Masks, Mayhem & Monsters” features a hilariously creepy photo of 21-year-old Harryhausen, wearing a Mr. Hyde mask he designed himself, flanked by a heavily made-up girlfriend with a rope around her neck.

A nice companion piece to Harryhausen’s autobiography, An Animated Life (2004).

Pub Date: March 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-8230-8400-0
Page count: 240pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2006