Interview with author Mike Hankin and publisher Ernest Farino
by David Canfield
Twitch Film (click HERE for original website posting)
The opportunity to interview the author and publisher of the Ray Harryhausen - Master of the Majicks series was not something I took lightly. I've waited nervously for each volume, knowing that in the high stakes world of publishing a lot of different things can derail even the best projects. If completed, this huge three-book set would easily be the most comprehensive look ever offered at Ray Harryhausen and his career and, as they have been published out of sequence, the upcoming Volume One would be the last one. Volumes Two and Three were amazing but are long since sold out and routinely go for prohibitive prices on the secondary market. To miss out on Volume One would be simply unthinkable.
A happy day indeed for lovers of fantasy and stop motion animation. Author Mike Hankin and publisher Ernest Farino of Archive Editions have even more good news for fans. But to find out what it is you'll need to keep reading.
How did the project come to be associated with Archive Editions? Had you known each other previously?
Mike: When the book project originally started around 1986, the fans wish for Ray to write a more detailed book than his 1972 volume Film Fantasy Scrapbook was falling on deaf ears. At that time Ray was reluctant to reveal any of his animation secrets, despite offers coming in from publishing houses. I actually asked Ray if he would collaborate if I began writing a book on his career, to which he 'reservedly' agreed. He gave me free access to his scrapbooks, which were bound volumes covering each individual film, and I gradually began to coax more detailed explanations of some of his methods. It was Ray that put me in contact with a publisher who agreed to take on the book. Right from the beginning I wanted to include interviews with people that worked with Ray, as well as cover anything and everything connected to Ray and his films. As part of this approach I contacted Ernie Farino to find out how the FXRH fanzine came about, and during the course of this correspondence Ernie loaned me some rare photos to use. To cut a long story short, Ray began to think along the lines of producing his own book, so cutting off my supply of photographic material, and then my publisher ran into difficulties and I was left stranded. I was too far along to give up, so as part of the process of asking the many people who had loaned me stills if I could hang on to them until I found a new publisher, I was thrown a lifeline by Ernie. He had been thinking along the lines of getting more involved in publishing, and he thought my book was worth taking on.
Ernie: During the latter part of the 1990s I had started to think about establishing my own publishing enterprise. I had co-published the Harryhausen fanzine FXRH back in the 70s, and since then was never far away from graphics work in my professional film career, mostly involving the design of main title sequences for various films. So, with the advent of personal computers and desktop publishing software, self-publishing was becoming a very do-able proposition. As it happened, I was in Melbourne, Australia, for six months working as Visual Effects Supervisor and Second Unit Director for an NBC-TV miniseries called Noah's Ark when Mike contacted me to say that his publisher had decided not to do the book. So it was good timing— the mechanism was then set in motion, and about 10 years later the first volume of Majicks came out.
What DIDN'T make it in?
Mike: Ultimately, we couldn't compete with Ray's own book in regards to his personal archive, so we often had to take an alternative approach. I think that is why our books shouldn't be viewed as competitors to Ray's own books, but as companion pieces. One of the many things that Ernie brought to the project was his own experiences in the film industry, his own knowledge of the subject matter and his many contacts. From the moment Ernie took on my book it was obvious it was going to grow from the original single volume. Collectors were willing to open up their personal archives and the amount of interviews more than doubled. Once the first book appeared this aspect of the project snowballed. I can honestly say, that the only reason anything that didn't make it in was only because we received it too late to be included in that particular volume.
Ernie: I can add that, as publisher and designer of the books, I not only did not cut anything, but kept adding material. Right up to the last possible minute I would be revising layouts to include the latest photos, interview material, or other text. In fact, the interview with Gila Golan, star of Ray's 1969 film Valley of Gwangi, came in just after Volume 3 had been sent to the printer. I was able to revise that chapter to include her interview comments, but that's why all of the quotes from her are in photo captions and not in the body of the text (that would have required considerable re-working of the page layouts, whereas photo captions were easier to manage).
Does your curatorship of the Harryhausen legacy end here? How will it continue?
Mike: On each book we have worked up until the very last moment to include newly discovered material. I am in constant contact with Ray, and he is one of those people who has the knack of occasionally saying something unexpected completely "off the cuff" that he had never mentioned before. Our chats these days tend to be on subjects completely away from his films, although with Ray's deep love of many subjects they are always interconnected. I have made it a habit to always carry along a small digital recorder with me on my visits, not to conduct formal interviews, but normally to record the little gems of information as a reminder once I leave his house. I hasten to say, that Ray will often make a point of saying part of the conversation was for my ears only, which is a trust I will never break. Any addition information I have learnt since the publication of the book will be included in any reprints.
Ernie: Since our Volumes 2 and 3 sold out, many people have discovered the books and regret missing those volumes. To that end, after the upcoming Vol. 1 is sold out, I plan to try and produce a special "box set" edition of all three volumes. These new editions will be updated and revised to include all of the new information that has come in since the originals were printed, as well as upgrades of some photo images, and corrections of typos and other purely technical errors. But half of that print run will be put aside for sale as individual volumes so that interested readers need only buy the volume they're missing and not feel "forced" to buy the whole box set. In addition, I plan to publish a magazine-style compilation of the additions and errata so those people who have the previous editions can add that to their set.
Were there myths you felt the books would help debunk about unfinished Harryhausen works or stop-motion animation in general?
Mike: I think "debunk" is too strong a word. We went to great lengths to ensure that everything we talked about, including stories that had been told before, were checked out as thoroughly as possible. The old saying of "Chinese Whispers" often proved to be true, because tales became distorted or embellished as time went on. We didn't trust anything and tried to verify each statement through a number of sources, even making the point in print in several cases.
Was there a spiritual aspect to Ray's work that became evident during the research? Many regard him as the grandfather of their imaginations and his projects have often embraced the hero's journey.
Mike: Ray once told me that he made the films for himself, so if you mean that spiritual is seeing into Ray's soul, then his films are an extension of that. Any artist will do his best work if it is something he loves and believes in. Ray put his heart into every project and somehow managed to survive the cut-throat world of filmmaking to see many of his projects come to fruition. It was a long time before film people began to realise the dedication that went into making these films, and for Ray truly a lifetime commitment.
Do you feel that the history of stop motion animation has been adequately covered? It would seem that Marcel Delgado and Willis O'Brien are still not as celebrated as they should be.
Mike: Model animation in all its forms is an enormous subject, and there are and have been many talented practitioners in the world whose work and skills have gone unheralded. The recent Ray Harryhausen/Tony Dalton book, A Century of Stop-Motion Animation, while a good overview barely scratched the surface. Looking from my own point of view, my next book is about George Pal and his Puppetoon® films, a single subject that will fill a book on its own. I have been working on this book on and off for nearly ten years, so really it is finding the people dedicated enough to spend the time to go into the subject deeply.
Ernie: Since Willis O'Brien's work, and King Kong in particular, played such an important role in shaping Ray's interest in stop motion early in his life, we have included a lengthy chapter on O'Brien and Kong in the upcoming Vol. 1 of Majicks. In fact, this chapter alone came in at over 90 pages by itself, and includes some rare and never-before-seen material. In the course of working on that, it became clear that a definitive work on O'Brien, Merian C. Cooper, and the others involved in those films would be very possible and quite exciting. But, as Mike said, it's a question of getting someone to spend the time researching and writing such a book, which would be a considerable undertaking.
Has anyone established a permanent archive of Ray's remaining armatures and artwork for posterity?
Mike: Yes, Ray set up the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation in 1986, its sole purpose to preserve and restore Ray's models, artwork and other items in his huge collection. It is presently being catalogued and will eventually be housed in its entirety at the National Media Museum in Bradford, England. From there they will organise loan-outs for displays in various museums.
Have you spoken to Ray about the newer spate of stop-animation movies like Coraline, The Corpse Bride and Para-Norman?
Mike: I have often talked to Ray about new films featuring model animation, and he has always said that this type of filmmaking will always survive. Film Historian Christopher Frayling makes a valid point in the upcoming Majicks book, when he talks about students at the Royal Academy of Art in London who rebelled against the current trend of computer animation. They were happier with the hands-on feeling of creating something on film with a solid figure. While this feeling survives, so will the art-form.
Are there any plans to make greater use of the internet as a repository of information about Ray and his art and work of stop- motion animation?
Mike: There have been a number of websites that have dedicated themselves to the work of Ray Harryhausen. At present, Ray Harryhausen.com is the official site for nearly everything Harryhausen
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