Interview with author MIKE HANKIN
By Neil Pettigrew

Think 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:

  • A thrilling battle with seven living, sword-wielding skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
  • A horde of dinosaurs menacing Raquel Welch in a fur bikini in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.
  • A terrifying encounter with the slithering half-snake Medusa in CLASH OF THE TITANS

Ray 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. 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.

Neil Pettigrew: I understand the book will be in three volumes. Why is that?

Mike Hankin: 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 370 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.

NP: I’ve heard that the first volume to be published was Volume 2. Isn’t that going to confuse people?

MH: 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.

NP: When will the follow-up volumes be published?

MH: Volume 3 is available now. The best way to stay informed is here on the Archive Editions website. One can sign up on the mailing list to be kept up-to-date via e-mail Newsletters.

NP: Before I ask you about the book in more detail, would you tell us how you first got interested in Harryhausen’s films.

MH: The first film of Ray’s that I saw was MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, released in England in 1962. Like most kids, I’d always


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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 every day.
nnnnOf 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 on you.

NP: 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 published?

MH: 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 people don’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.

NP: What about people who were involved with the technical side of things?

MH. 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 stories.
nnnnFor 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 Katharine Hepburn.
nnnnA 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.
nnnnOthers 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 B.C.), Hammer Films’ Kit West, and Gene Warren Sr.
nnnnAlso, 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 SINBAD.

NP: I 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 you are particularly pleased that you located.

MH: 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.
nnnnI 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.
nnnnOthers 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.

NP: What about the cameramen who worked on Ray's films?

MH: 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 andONE MILLION YEARS B.C. 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 Cooper for THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

NP: Did you interview some of the actors as well?

MH: Among all of the leading men in Ray’s films, the best


Above: Director Sam Wanamaker and actress Jane
on location in Malta during production of
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger in 1976.


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 many stories and I’m so glad I was able to talk to him.
nnnnOther 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.
nnnnOther actors interviewed throughout the entire 3-volume book include Caroline Munro (shown at the top of this page during production of
THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD), Honor Blackman (JASON), Gary Raymond (JASON), Paula Raymond and Paul Christian (THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS), Douglas Wilmer (JASON), Robert Brown (ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.), Sherry Alberoni (GULLIVER), stunt directors Enzo Musumeci-Greco and Ferdinando Poggi, and many others.
nnnnOf course, there were a few I just couldn’t reach but I have been very lucky in that there are a couple of people in America who had conducted interviews that were never used, and they have kindly let me include them in the book.

NP: Getting back to “the good stuff”— what about photos and other visual material?

MH: 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 to dig into their collections and find things that no one has seen before.

NP: How many stills are we talking about? Fifty...? A hundred...?

MH: 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 baby 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. 

NP: Did Ray invite you into his home while you were compiling the book? Did you get to see his models?

MH: I 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.
nnnnThe 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 on Ray.

NP: And has Ray allowed you to handle any of his models?

MH: I have been in his wonderful study at the top floor of his home many times, where he has display cases full of


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 full of models around for him. At certain times during his talk and interviews I would hand the models over to him. For some reason I was always reluctant to let them go...!

NP: Didn’t you once get him to a do a bit of animation for you?

MH: 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-up of 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.

NP: Do you discuss the publicity material for Ray’s films such as the posters and the various promotional articles that appeared in magazines?

MH: 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.
nnnnFor example, John Ballantine, the premier 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!

NP: Thank you, Mike. The book sounds like a genuine labour of love and I for one can’t wait to see it!

Neil Pettigrew is author of THE STOP-MOTION FILMOGRAPHY, a major 850-page book about all feature films that have used the process.A newly re-issued two-volume soft-cover edition is available from McFarland ( or from


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