Ray Harryhausen’s Fantasy Scrapbook Review

Authors: Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton, with a

Foreword by John Landis (London: Aurum Press, 2011)

Pioneer of stop-motion animation, inspiration to filmmakers such as John Landis, Peter Jackson and George Lucas, and a sprightly 91 year old adopted Londoner with a more impressive back catalogue than any living animator on the planet – but do we really need another Ray Harryhausen book…?

You may wonder if, after four previous knockout volumes, there’s anything left in the archives to publish. It turns out there is. What you’d expect to be a scrabbling together of a few leftover bits and pieces for a money-making exercise is actually a treasure trove of mostly previously undiscovered artefacts recently found in Ray’s LA garage and published here together for the first time. A breathtakingly wide collection of visual artefacts spanning his entire life and career, beginning with his teenage experiments and ending with the proposed project Force of the Trojans, this volume is a real treat for fans. And the quality of the art reproduced here is admirable. The publishers haven’t stinted on space or supporting information, Harryhausen and Dalton being allowed ample room to lay out the material to satisfying effect and provide detailed insights and the sort of geeky info we all want to see in a book like this.

Material includes early concept drawing and storyboards, colour transparencies of Ray at work, letters and diary extracts, models from unrealised and well-known projects, publicity posters and even watercolours painted by the young blossoming animator. Most eye opening for me were the photos and treatments from his early animation work, including Fairy Tales and his prehistoric era work such as Cave Bear, Evolution of the World and of course, One Million Years BC. The photos of all the surviving original models are here and the description of how he achieved ‘Dynamation’ (a kind of early split-screen process to allow models to appear part of live action on film) is fascinating.

The book itself is put together beautifully. The chapters are well thought out thematically, with a delightful first section called Primitive Creatures which details Ray’s early experimental work with marionettes and basic animation. A major work during this period of the 30s and 40s was his attempt to reproduce King Kong, a huge inspiration for the young Ray, and later of course his Fairy Tales which was finally completed in 2002.

Moving on to his work in the prehistory genre we really start to get an insight into the early genius at work and also delightful personal tidbits such as the telegram he received from his friend Charlotte Knight after watching The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms praising his ‘believability and good taste’. The original drawings and storyboards for the infamous roping sequence in The Valley of Gwangi (where cowboys lasso a dinosaur!) are a real treat for Harryhausen fans, as are the numerous black and white photos of Ray on set. Growing up a dinosaur mad kid in the 80s, this section was a real delight for me and worth the cover price alone.

Moving on to his perhaps less well-known sci-fi work, we get to see a huge amount of previously unpublished material and detail from some of his unfilmed projects such as War of the Worlds and The Elementals. The artwork Harryhausen produced for War of the Worlds in particular is stunning and the descriptions of realised and unrealised scenes (and the tale of how the octopus had to have only six legs to save costs from It Came From Beneath the Sea) are all good fun.

The treatment of 20 Million Miles to Earth is impressive with details such as the plaster busts initially made for the cyclops and miniature sets sitting well alongside test footage and plot outlines. It made me really want to revisit the film again.

Finally the volume deals with his work in the myths and legends genre. Beginning with the Sinbad movies, this is perhaps the section readers who are only familiar with Harryhausen through his work on Clash of the Titans and Jason and the Argonauts will turn to first. It certainly doesn’t disappoint, although for fuller treatment of these films in particular I’d recommend consulting the other four Harryhausen books alongside this one. Despite this, the  treatment of his work on the Sinbad movies is comprehensive and impressive, taking each in turn and presenting the reader with beautiful original drawings and models alongside the usual storyboards and test shots. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger has some brilliant shots of Ray at work alongside a good collection of production and behind the scenes shots.

The section on Jason and the Argonauts is really something special. High quality photos of mechanical design drawing and the models themselves really add something to the treatment. My particular favourites are the photographs of the original design and model of the armature for the foot and heel of Talos and of his hand, which give a real insight into the high level of skill and craftsmanship that was put into each and every one of his pieces. There’s a high quality set of production photographs and a range of first-generation test images including shots of the Argonauts’ famous fight with the skeleton army (one of which appears blown up alongside the John Landis penned foreword and is easily the most exciting photo in the book).

Clash of the Titans stand-out features include more detailed armature drawings for both Pegasus and Calibos alongside beautiful initial sketches for Medusa and many of the models photographed on site at Ray’s studio at Pinewood and on set.

I have to say that this book is a total delight. You may find yourself yearning for more the witty and insightful prose to accompany the visuals and perhaps even more technical details once you’ve had this taster, but as a scrapbook spanning the whole 65 year career of a movie master, this doesn’t disappoint. The layout couldn’t be bettered, the quality of the visuals is amazing and the breadth and depth of the material unearthed from Ray’s garage is exceptional. For a fan, it’s not to be missed and for the interested moviegoer it’s an essential accompaniment to your enjoyment of the field of animation in general.

Claire Hyypiä

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