ffb: An Animated Life

this is the 182nd in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

HarryhausenAn Animated Life by Ray Harryhausen, Billboard, 2004 oversized hardcover, autobiography

This one is only eleven years old, but the contents cover things much older.

Ray Harryhausen took stop-motion animation to it’s zenith. I’ve always loved stop-motion films, from the original King Kong to Clash of the Titans, which was Harryhausen’s final film. I never believed the creatures he animated one frame at a time were real, as he may have hoped, but I thought they were very cool and got a huge kick out of watching the films. I still do and have his best on DVD.

This book begins with some early biographical information but the primary focus is on filmmaking, providing a film-by-film discussion of the plots, characters and mostly the effects and techniques Harryhausen used – and often invented – throughout his career. Here’s an example. Harryhausen is explaining how a scene from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was created.

“For the sequence in which Sinbad is ‘picked up’ by the foot and lifted out of the treasure room, we had Kerwin [Mathews, the actor playing Sinbad] hoisted up on wires during the location photography. This was then used as a rear projection plate for the animation with the Cyclops. In my studio I built a miniature boot that I inserted in the model Cyclops’ hand, carefully positioning it in front of the rear-projected image of the real boot. I then animated the model to follow the line of Kerwin’s real boot. The end result is the Cyclops appears to lift Kerwin. A traveling matt was used in the foreground to add depth.”

There are many stills, storyboards, sketches and drawings showing the derivation of scenes as well as accounts of the script changes made from initial concept to final shooting. A filmography and glossary are included. A fascinating (for me, anyway) look at the work of a man greatly revered for his ingenuity and creativity in the art of stop-motion animation, or “Dynamation” to use the term he coined.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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7 Responses to ffb: An Animated Life

  1. I grew up watching Harryhausen’s work. It was “state-of-the-art” for its time. Great stuff!

  2. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I agree, George. I loved Harryhausen’s work from MIGHTY JOE YOUNG on.

  3. Richard says:

    I have several of thee on DVD and watch them from time to time. Lots of fun.

  4. This looks interesting. I like certain kinds of biographies. Not usually about actors, but this is different.

  5. Richard says:

    Not an actor, Charles, so much as a animator-producer film maker. He pioneered stop-motion.

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