In the prehistoric days before the advent of a thousand digital channels, DVD’s and VCRs, my local television channel would run a Sunday Afternoon Matinee. My brothers and I would sit, enthralled, watching Godzilla stomp Tokyo into smoky rubble, or some slithery beast ooze out of a bog and chase down some hapless passerby, or watch, as some wooden-voiced actor bounded about the screen improbably fighting a dozen skeletal swordsman or a towering bronze statue.
More often then not, we were watching the uniquely detailed work of Ray Harryhausen.
Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life is a glorious, fascinating and fun meander through the life, films and career of one of Hollywood’s pioneering special effects masters. Harryhausen’s magical beasts and evocative stop-action special effects were a source of inspiration for dozens of today’s directors and directly led to the current state-of-the art work of such luminaries as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (although Harryhausen himself notes that despite the exquisite detail of today’s computer-generated special efffects, he still prefers models and stop-animation for their “soul”).
Harryhausen’s highly illustrated book traces his roots in the special effects industry, his mentors Willis O’Brien and George Pal, and the various film influences (King Kong naturally enough)that shaped and impacted his work on such films as Mighty Joe Young, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Valley of the Gwangi, Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans, and, my personal favorite, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.
An Animated Life is fundamentally a book for a film buff, so temper any expectations of a detailed or seamy insider look at Hollywood in the 50’s and 60’s. You will however love having the curtain pulled aside on how Harryhausen and his cohorts pulled off much of their cinematic sleight-of-hand. For someone infected with the romance of the pulp films of the era, An Animated Life is a fabulous book but…
If however you really don’t care for silver screen derring-do, the deep background on the Rhedosaurus, foul monsterous creatures from the depths or magical mythological beasts.. well, …what the heck is wrong with you? Get a life.
Check out this tribute to Harryhausen (with special guest appearance by He-Man’s Skeletor), its just plain…surreal.
Check out this online explanation of Dynamation that gives you a good overview of how Harryhausen brought his intricate creatures to life or visit the Stop-Motion Animation site for some lessons on how you can develop your own stop-motion film.
Now I have to go, my six-year old son and I have to snuggle up, eat popcorn and watch The 7th Voyage of Sinbad… love that cyclops.
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