by Ray Harryhausen



304pp/$50.00/March 2004

Ray Harryhausen:  An Illustrated Life
Cover by Jim Burns

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 2002, an illustrated biography of Ray Bradbury was published by Jerry Weist.  Now, in some ways a companion volume has been published by Ray Harryhausen, an autobiography of the stop-motion animator who has long been close friends with Bradbury.  Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton have written an absorbing autobiography of Harryhausen in Ray Harryhausen:  An Animated Life.

Harryhausen's descriptions of his work of numerous films, from his early days creating his own test films through "Clash of the Titans," provides a look at the way the world of stop-motion animation evolved and dealt with the rise and fall of other technologies which threatened to eradicate the methodology Harryhausen perfected.  Many of the illustrations show not only the finished models Harryhausen used, but also the initial sketches and the armatures Harryhausen built to fit inside the models and provide them with their life-like movements.

Although the majority of the book is concerned with Harryhausen's professional life and advancement, he does provide the reader with some insight into his personal life, although much of this is in off-hand references to his wife, Diana, or his friendships with people like Ray Bradbury, Forrest Ackerman, or Willis O'Brien.  While these brief touches add to Harryhausen's personality, they are far from the purpose of the book.

The book concludes with a lengthy section describing the various projects Harryhausen considered, or even began, which never made it to fruition.  This section is quite interesting, especially when the reader can compare the notes made by Harryhausen about films he never had the opportunity to make and their subsequent creation by other film-makers, often in different formats, such as "The Princess Bride."

There are some books which cry out for a companion DVD, and this is one of them.  As Harryhausen describes his work on a variety of films, as well as the films that inspired him, the reader has the desire to watch snippets, if not all, of films such as "King Kong," "The Lost World," "Clash of the Titans,"  "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," and more.  Such is the infectiousness of Harryhausen's own delight in these films.  Fortunately for the reader, many (although not all, "King Kong" has not yet been released) are available on DVD for purchase or rental.  Nevertheless, a DVD included in the book would have been a very welcome addition and worth any additional cost.

Ray Harryhausen:  An Animated Life is an exceptional autobiography and look at not only the life of one of Hollywood's special effects wizards, but also of the evolution of special effects before filmmakers could rely on the use of CGI (Computer Generated Images).  Harryhausen showed how essentially a one-man operation could use ingenuity to overcome difficulties and make special effects films using only camera tricks and models.  After reading Ray Harryhausen:  An Animated Life, you'll want to rush out and watch not only his own works, but those of Willis O'Brien as well.

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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