by Ray Harryhausen & Tony Dalton



230pp/$50.00/May 2006

The Art of Ray Harryhausen
Cover by Ray Harryhausen

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

While Ray Harryhausen:  An Illustrated Life served as an excellent introduction to Ray Harryhausen's work in stop animation and his life story.  Harryhausen has followed that book up with The Art of Ray Harryhausen, which is a more intimate look at the craft he perfected over many years after seeing the work of Willis O'Brien in the original "King Kong."

Although Harryhausen's name is synonymous with the sort of stop action animation he did throughout his career, he makes it clear that his art is much more complex with that.  He notes that one turning point was a "concept drawing of Sinbad fighting a skeleton on the top of a ruined spiral staircase."  This drawing is so important to Harryhausen's career that it graces the front cover of the book.

The book covers the entire creative process for stop animation, from the initial drawings to the final armatured miniatures.  At times, this flow is weakened because Harryhausen doesn't use the same project to show all of them steps, most notably on the spread covering pages 14-15, which covers nine different projects in the 11 steps it illustrates.  However, even for this minor drawback, the book presents insight into the various steps which result in the images seen on the screen.

The Art of Ray Harryhausen makes it very clear that Harryhausen's art is not confined to the final figures, but also includes drawing, painting, sculpture and a variety of other skills.  The detailed sketches of the creatures he would eventually make demonstrate his knowledge of biology and the sculpturesshow how delicate and detailed the final work was.

In addition to highlighting his own artistic ability, Harryhausen includes some paintings which served as his own inspiration.  Just as Willis O'Brien's work on "King Kong" inspired Harryhausen's own work on "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" or "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," so too did the painting of Joseph Michael Gandy and Gustave Doré inspire the look of Harryhausen's work.

The text accompanying the myriad pictures in The Art of Ray Harryhausen clearly spells out the thought process which went into Harryhausen's work.  He discusses working his way from a basic inspiration, such as using ants for the Selenites in "First Men in the Moon" to the finished version of the creatures as they appeared in the final film.

Harryhausen not only discusses the methodology used in the creation of the figures he would use for his stop animations, but also the means by which the miniature sets were made and the action filmed.  The wealth of information in the book provides a fascinating look at an art form which isn't as dead as computer animation might suppose, given the recent success of the stop-animation success of Aardman Studios.

The Art of Ray Harryhausen is an essential work for anyone who is interested in the animation used for films from the original "King Kong" to "Clash of the Titans" to "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."  The fantastically detailed reproduction of Harryhausen's paintings, sketches, and models serve to bring the text alive and permits the reader to relive the fantastic moments of Harryhausen's films.

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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