of fantasy films and think of the 1950s, 60s and 70s and one name looms very
large – that of Ray Harryhausen, the legendary stop motion animator. Over a
forty-year career, Harryhausen created such iconic images as :
thrilling battle with seven living, sword-wielding skeletons in JASON AND THE
horde of dinosaurs menacing Raquel Welch in a fur bikini in ONE MILLION YEARS
terrifying encounter with the slithering half-snake Medusa in CLASH OF THE
Harryhausen is now the subject of a major three-volume book published in the United States
by Archive Editions, RAY HARRYHAUSEN - MASTER OF THE MAJICKS, the first volume
of which will be out in September. British author Mike Hankin, a longtime fan
and friend of Harryhausen, has had access to information and visual material
never seen before. As a big Harryhausen fan myself, I was keen to find out more
about this tantalising project and I interviewed Hankin in June, 2008.
understand the book will be in three volumes. Why is that?
Originally it was going to be a normal, single volume but over time we found we
had such a mass of information that it kept getting bigger and bigger. And we
were thinking ‘We’re going to have cut some of this out’. But we didn’t want to
cut anything! There was so much good material that we didn’t want to discard
anything. Volume 2 has ended up being 404 pages alone! So, a decision was made
to break the book up into three volumes. Thus—
Volume 1 will start at the beginning: Ray’s birth, through his early life and
up to around 1947, with a slight overlap into the 1950s, during which time he
started his first professional work on George Pal’s Puppetoons, and also his
own series of 16mm Fairy Tales.
Volume 2 covers the feature films MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, THE BEAST FROM 20,000
FATHOMS, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, THE ANIMAL WORLD, 20 MILLION MILES TO
EARTH and Ray’s final American feature film, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD in 1958.
Volume 3 continues at the point when Ray moved to England for various reasons
and covers THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, JASON AND THE
ARGONAUTS, FIRST MEN ’IN’ THE MOON, ONE MILLION YEARS BC, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI,
THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, and CLASH OF THE
I’ve heard that the first volume to be published will be Volume 2. Isn’t that
going to confuse people?
Several people who read early versions of the manuscript for fact-checking
purposes all said that even though the first chapters are full of all sorts of
fascinating material, they just couldn’t wait to get to “the good stuff” —the
feature films. It’s the feature films that most people are really interested
in. So we’re starting off with a bang with Volume 2 and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG in
1949, the film that won an Oscar® for special effects. Volume 3 will
follow, because again, this will cover the classic films including JASON AND
THE ARGONAUTS and VALLEY
OF GWANGI and the others.
And then finally Volume 1.
When will the follow-up volumes be published?
Volume 3 should be out at the end of this year, and Volume 1 will come out the
early part of next year. The best way to obtain them is through the publisher,
Archive Editions. There is plenty of information about the books on the website
(www.archive-editions.com) and one can sign up
on the mailing list to be kept up-to-date via e-mail announcements.
Before I ask you about the book in more detail, perhaps you could tell us how
you first got interested in Harryhausen’s films.
The first film of Ray’s that I saw was MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, released in England in
1962. Like most kids, I’d always been interested in fantasy films. I saw the
trailers for MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and it looked like a great adventure film full
of monsters, plus it was on a double-bill with a pirate film, PIRATES OF BLOOD
RIVER! When it opened, I went to the first showing. I arrived at the cinema at
one o’clock in the afternoon and didn’t leave the cinema until 11 o’clock that
evening! That got me into trouble with my parents, but I just wanted to see the
film over and over again. Despite the ticking off from my parents, I went again
the following day, and I went every day that week, watching it at least twice
Of course in those days, I had no
idea how all the effects were done. The jungle, the giant crab, the bees —to me
it was all wonderful stuff. And my interest in music started there, too. I had
no idea that it was by Bernard Herrmann, but I knew that I liked it. I was age
13, exactly the same age that Ray was when he first saw KING KONG, which hugely
influenced him. So 13 must be the key age in terms of films having a big effect
There have already been a number of magazine articles and books about Ray
Harryhausen before. How does your book differ from what has already been
Most people write about Ray and his films from a distance, but I have been
lucky enough to get to know him as a friend. I counted up all the interviews I
have done with him since it all began and I have in excess of three hundred
hours! But I have also tracked down the people who worked with Ray, and beyond
Ray’s own book which is from his own personal perspective, I’ve been able to
present a broader overview of the productions and the times in which they were
made by talking to actors, directors, composers, technicians as well as family
and friends. Many of these peopledon’t
normally get a mention in articles about Ray’s films. His wife, Diana, is
interviewed. His daughter, Vanessa, is interviewed. The directors get their
say, including Nathan Juran, Sam Wanamaker, Desmond Davis and Gordon Hessler,
and recall their experiences of what it was like working on a Harryhausen film.
Many actors’ recollections are in there, too, including stories about how they
managed to make their scenes convincing even though they were reacting to
creatures that they couldn’t see.
What about people who were involved with the technical side of things?
Yes, I have interviewed people who did the floor effects, the physical effects,
people who supplied Ray with materials and props— they all have their own
For example, one thing that will be
of interest to diehard Harryhausen fans is that I got to talk to someone who
was involved with the creation of a system called the sodium light traveling
matte process. Most people who have seen Ray’s films from THE THREE WORLDS OF
GULLIVER up to JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS notice that the quality of the traveling
matte effects is somewhat better than in later films. Traveling mattes have
been used since early days of filmmaking to combine two pieces of film. It’s
usually a large blue screen in front of which the actors would perform. It was
a wonderful system, but if not done right it can look shoddy. An example that
springs to mind of a film with a scene with inferior blue-screen work is THE
AFRICAN QUEEN. There is a scene where the boat is carried along by a raging
river and there is a blue halo around the heads of Humphrey Bogart and
A good example of the superior
sodium light traveling matte work in Ray’s films is a scene in THE THREE WORLDS
OF GULLIVER when the giant Gulliver is in the sea and tows away several ships.
In one shot he rises up behind a boat, and even the lines of the ship’s rigging
are perfect, there are no fringes or spill, and this is because of the yellow
sodium-backing process. In my book I have an exclusive interview with someone
who was directly involved in the development of the process, and who also
explains the fascinating reason why this system dropped out of use, despite it
being so much better than the blue-backing process.
Others on the technical side of
things who are featured in the book include model-maker Wah Chang, sculptor
Arthur Hayward, Jenny Holt (assistant editor, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS), costume
designer Carl Toms (ONE MILLION YEARS BC), Hammer Films’ Kit West, and Gene
Also, I was thrilled to have Academy
Award-nominated stop motion animator Jim Danforth write the Foreword to the
book. Later in the book Jim describes in detail the time he first met Ray back
in 1958 at Ray’s studio during the final animation work on THE 7th VOYAGE OF
know you’ve managed to track down and interview a number of people who have
never been interviewed before. Maybe you could mention one or two people who
are you are particularly pleased that you located.
There are a few people who have always been reluctant to give interviews.
Perhaps it was because they have always been too busy working on other
projects, or perhaps it just comes down to shyness, or they didn’t think it
important enough. Or perhaps they were never asked. One person I was pleased to
talk to was the late Roy Field, a special effects man who was involved with so
many things and yet never seems to have given many interviews. It was one of
the most fascinating interviews I ever conducted because he had such a deep knowledge
of so many films. He worked on SUPERMAN and many others. For Ray, he worked on SINBAD
AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER and CLASH OF THE TITANS. He related one particularly
good story which will surprise many of Ray's fans.
I also interviewed Sam Wanamaker, the
director of SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, a film that many people were
disappointed with for various reasons. He tells his side of things – the fact
that he really didn’t want to be brought onto the project, that it wasn’t his
type of film, and that it was chiefly as a result of persuasion by producer
Charles Schneer that he took the job. I interviewed Wanamaker in London at the Globe
Theatre [the replica of the 17th century Shakespearian theatre], where he was
heavily involved in its construction, and quite probably one of his main
reasons for taking on EYE OF THE TIGER was that it helped to finance the
building of the Globe. The sad thing is that he was suffering from cancer when
I interviewed him, yet was still gracious enough to grant the interview and
showed me around the partially-built Globe. He died shortly afterwards.
Others on the production side
include detailed comments from producers Hal Chester (THE BEAST FROM 20,000
FATHOMS), Charles H. Schneer (the producer of many of Ray’s films),screenwriter Bernard Gordon (EARTH VS. THE
FLYING SAUCERS) who was blacklisted by the House Un-American Committee in the
1950s and who relates that whole experience in detail, screenwriter Brian
Clemens (THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD), writer Henry Slesar who authored the
“novelization” of 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, and many more.
What about the cameramen who worked on Harryhausen’s films?
Talking to Wilkie Cooper was especially interesting. He photographed several of
Ray’s films: THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER, MYSTERIOUS
ISLAND, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, FIRST MEN ‘IN’ THE MOON and ONE MILLION YEARS
BC. It’s not commonly known that he also worked briefly on VALLEY OF GWANGI.
He happened to be in Spain
working on another film at the same time that GWANGI was being made and he was
recruited to helped out on a few shots. Cooper had an amazing career that
started out with a Buster Keaton film called THE INVADER (1935) and he was an
assistant cameraman on THINGS TO COME (1936). The film that brought him to
prominence was THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON, which was the film that Charles Schneer,
the producer of many of Harryhausen’s films, viewed before choosing his
cameraman for THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD.
Did you interview some of the actors as well?
Among all of the leading men in Ray’s films, the best remembered is probably
Kerwin Mathews, who died recently. He and I struck up a friendship through our
letters. He just loved the fact that he was involved with Ray’s films. He
enjoyed making them and given the chance he would have made many more. He made
two: THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD and THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER. I was also
fortunate to meet and interview John Philip Law, the second Sinbad, on two
separate occasions —he died just a short time ago. He had a lot of stories and
I’m so glad I got the chance to talk to him.
Other actors who appeared in Ray’s
films, but who perhaps are not so well known, include Tim Piggott-Smith who
appeared in CLASH OF THE TITANS. He had some wonderful stories to tell. He is
well-known on British television, usually playing the ‘nasty’ but anyone who
meets him knows he is quite the opposite. He tells a story that during the
scorpion battle in CLASH he was actually directed by Ray, so we learn what it
was like to be directed by Ray Harryhausen for a stop-motion sequence.
Other actors interviewed throughout
the entire 3-volume book include Caroline Munro (THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD),
Honor Blackman (JASON), Gary Raymond (JASON), Paula Raymond & Paul Christian
(THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS), Douglas Wilmer (JASON), Robert Brown (ONE
MILLION YEARS BC), Sherry Alberoni (GULLIVER), stunt directors Enzo
Musumeci-Greco and Ferdinando Poggi, and many others.
Of course, there were a few I just
couldn’t reach but I have been very lucky in that there are a couple of people
who had conducted interviews that were never used anywhere, and they have
kindly let me include them in the book.
Getting back to “the good stuff”— what about photos and other visual material?
Readers are going to discover a lot of stills they haven’t seen before. In
fact, a large number of the stills in the book have not been published anywhere
before. Many came from private collections held by people all over the world. A
lot of people have graciously given up a lot of time and energy to dig into
their collections and find things that no one has seen before.
How many stills are we talking about? Fifty...? A hundred...?
How about over three thousand stills across the three volumes! Many of those
have never been seen before. For example, there is a series of colour stills
that were taken back in 1959 when two fans went to visit Ray to give him a copy
of the Max Steiner’s score of one of Ray’s favourite films, SHE, and they were
allowed to take photos of themselves with the models from THE 7th VOYAGE OF
SINBAD. Wonderful colour shots of the dragon, the roc, and so on. We also have
many on-set production stills, including some on the set of the early films
such as IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH that have
never seen before, as well as many candid stills of Ray at parties, talking to
fans, Ray’s models at Forry Ackerman’s “Ackermansion” in the 1960s, and many
others of that nature.
Did Harryhausen invite you into his home while you were compiling the book? Did
you get to see his workshop and his models?
met Ray for the first time in 1980. I visited his home for the first time a few
months after that, when I filmed an interview in his study. Some time later I
actually asked Ray if he would be happy for me to go ahead and write a book
about him. Believe it or not, I started writing it way back in 1986! What
really kick-started it was when I spent nearly two days in Ray’s home looking
through his scrapbooks. For every film that he’s made, he has a bound volume
that includes the script, photographs, continuity sketches, even newspaper
reviews. I sat there, on his floor, with these amazing books all around me,
looking through them one at a time.
The first meeting came about because
I had been working on a project all about Willis O’Brien [creator of the
original KING KONG in 1933] and had filmed an interview with Bessie Love [who
starred in the 1925 version of THE LOST WORLD] around the same time.
Unfortunately it wasn’t long afterwards that she died. I have been able to use
some of the things that she said in the opening chapters about early influences
And has Ray allowed you to handle any of his models?
have been in his wonderful study at the top floor of his home many times, where
he has display cases full of his models, and artwork and his many awards on the
walls. In a room off to one side is his quite small workshop, where he built a
lot of the models and sculpted the original designs. I have held several of the
skeletons, the Kraken, Talos, the bee from MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, the wasp from SINBAD
AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER and several others. True seventh heaven for a
Harryhausen fan! I once chaired a talk with Ray at a film festival in Leeds in 1986, and I carried his suitcase case full of
models around for him. At certain times during his talk andinterviews I would hand the models over to
him. For some reason I was always reluctant to let them go...!
Didn’t you once get him to a do a bit of animation for you?
Yes, it was when I was working on making a film about Willis O’Brien. I’d got
to know O’Brien’s wife Darlyne and corresponded with her for four or five
years. Ray worked with O’Brien on several occasions. One of his first jobs was
working with O’Brien on the Puppetoons made by George Pal. Later, Ray worked on
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and much later on they both worked on THE ANIMAL WORLD where
O’Brien designed the dinosaur sequences and Ray animated the models. So Ray was
naturally a person I needed to interview for my film on O’Brien. I wanted a
demonstration of how animation is done, so Ray animated the larger half-model
of the Kraken from CLASH OF THE TITANS. This was in 1985. We had one set up, a
wide shot where you could see Ray walking backwards and forwards, moving the
model into position and stepping away so that a frame of film could be taken.
It was done exactly like it would have been done if he were making a film. Then
we had a close-upof the Kraken, with Ray
animating it a frame at a time So you saw Ray animating, and then you saw the
Kraken suddenly burst into life! It’s among the last pieces of animation that
Ray ever did, apart from a couple of documentaries where he animated a skeleton
and the work he did when they completed the TORTOISE AND THE HARE fairy tale.
But they didn’t show Ray in the act of animation, moving in and out of the
frame, like I did. I’ve still got the footage on Super-8.
Do you discuss the publicity material for Ray’s films such as the posters and
the various promotional articles that appeared in magazines?
Yes, we try to give a complete overview of Ray’s career and he was directly
involved in the publicity for some of his films. We have included images of
many posters, including rarely-seen foreign versions, print ads, photos of
publicity events, advertising art, and promotional items. In addition, there
are supplemental Appendices such as comprehensive cast & crew credits &
production details, filmographies, and other reference material.
For example, John Ballantine, the
premiere fantasy/sci-fi magazine collector and co-author of The Monster
Magazine and Fanzine Collectors Guide, has compiled an exhaustive list of all
magazines that have anything to do with Ray from 1938 to the present, and both
a chronological and alphabetical version of this index will appear in our
Volume 1, illustrated with 128 of the Harryhausen-themed magazine covers
themselves. So, theoretically, if you have the time and the money, you could go
back and collect every magazine that was ever published about Ray Harryhausen!
Thank you, Mike. The book sounds like a genuine labour of love and I for one
can’t wait to see it!
Pettigrew is author of THE STOP-MOTION FILMOGRAPHY, a major 850-page book about
all feature films that have used the process. It has just been re-issued in a
two-volume soft-cover edition, and is available from the from from the publisher McFarland (www.mcfarlandpub.com)