Radio Drama
Science Faction

Volume #1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006

The Thunder Child: Interviews
Roy Webber, author of The Dinosaur Films of Ray Harryhausen (2004)
Interview by Caroline Miniscule

The Writing of the Book [continued]

I tried to use a number of rare photos in the book. McFarland were a little bit pensive about photos because of the copyright issue. Most of the photos I had gotten permission for, or were from my personal collection; there are a few studio stills here and there in the book. The great preponderance of the photos are from my collection or from people who leant them to me.

See some rare photos from the Dave Massaro Collection.

I found out a lot more about the movies in the process of researching. I had a dialog going with Ray Harryhausen since the early 90s. I first met him in 1992, and about the time I first met him I'd call him periodically and ask him questions about his films. Most of the questions I actually asked were about his dinosaur films because that's where my greatest interest lay. I didn't have in mind to write a book about dinosaurs, I was just asking for my own information. So I'd ask him a number of things and he gave me a number of very interesting answers. Also I'd been buying books, buying magazines, doing research, reading, watching programs as they came out. Obviously my knowledge of Rays' films, special effects had been snowballing since the early 90s.

So obviously by the time I decided to write a book I already knew quite a bit, but I knew I needed to find out a number of other things, too, facets of his films that I hadn't looked into as much like locations and other things. Then I went and asked questions of Ray in these areas, plus did more research into other areas of production.

Valley of Gwangi
I found out a lot about his locations, about the film music that he used, special effects. For example, I didn't know until I asked Harryhausen about the spearing of the styracosaurus in The Valley of Gwangi, that was done with ..I knew it was obviously a real spear and the model was positioned to cover the real thing being speared, I thought it was a wooden backstop...I knew it was could see a little bit of the element in the frame image, below the model there's an artifact there, but what Ray remembers it to be a stack of bales of hay.

Another thing I found out was how they did the roping sequence. Basically they used the optical printer. They filmed the two halves, and basically that way they eliminated the jeep, and put the Gwangi model in. You look closely...I look at these real closely and you can see the ropes don't line up perfectly, and all this sort of thing, but still for the year that film was made the effect is very well done. The only way it really shows is in the long shots when the horses are on both sides of Gwangi, look really close you can see extra ropes and stuff in there, extra artifacts, but the effect is still so good that the casual viewer is not going to notice these little details. They are in actual terms very trivial and show what a master of the craft Ray was. And of course he has a number of closeups during the roping sequence where everything's in miniature and that looks really wonderful, too.

So of course I learned a lot of information about his films. Though I knew a little about his "experiments", so little had been written about that, I really delved into that. Made an effort to go through, looking into his early experiments in Evolution, because so little had been written about that. One of the biggest sources of course was the Ted Newsom career article in Cinefantastique.

The Animal World
Another area I wanted to concentrate on too was The Animal World. That's also a fairly unknown movie, and very little had been written about that, too. In part one of Ted Newsom's career article there was a little bit written about it - actually that was one of the best sources of information for a long time. And a sprinkling of information came out here and there, and we've even seen recently in Ray's own An Animated Life, the section on The Animal World was very very short. So I'm proud that I gave...I did a lot of research on this movie, and of course I couldn't turn up everything, but I added a lot of new information that hadn't been published before.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
So that was my aim, to talk about certain things like these, about his lesser known dinosaur projects, try to shed more light on them and give them more discussion. Another thing I tried to do was talk specifically about his technical effects. For example in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms section, I discuss the static matte rear projection composites. I try to describe in great detail how they'd been done. I use the illustrations, and I tried to illustrate it very well. I was able to use the books that were in the S. S. Wilson book Puppets and People, which was published in 1980. Puppets and People was probably the first book that really ever exposed how these static matte rear projection composites were actually done, and it describes them in a very well in the back. I was able to get permission from Wilson to use these stills in my book to illustrate my description of how these static matte rear projection composites were composed, or as they're called, popularly, Dynamation.

One Million Years B.C.
I'm real proud of how I described how these effects were made. In the One Million Years B.C. section, I also talk about traveling matte. Traveling matte is an even more sophisticated process to describe technically. I go and describe it in a fair amount of detail. I would think the average reader would probably have to read it twice to really pick up what I'm saying, but I do include a number of illustrations also, which are from Puppets and People.

All this sort of stuff does take a lot of research. It's always a learning process. When I came in to working on this book, I'd already accrued a fair amount of knowledge, but, writing it, you have to find out a lot more information. Research, interviewing, whatever means you have available. There's always a learning curve going on.

Even when Ray's own book came out, there were a few things in there I didn't know before, that was news to everybody else as well.

I would like to write a second edition of this book a few years down the road, because I have already acquired a number of little bits of information that I would like to work into it. I did talk to McFarland about it and they did seem receptive to the possibility, with new information, that they wouldn't just republish the book in softback that they do with a lot of books.

That's always the thing about being an author, is trying to learn more things of which you're writing about, and even when a book is published not giving up, still trying to find out new little bits of information, and combing through what you wrote about previously and seeing if anything needs to be revisited.

The Use of Synopses for Each Movie
I thought it was very important to have a synopsis of each film at the beginning of the chapter. This was done in the book From The Land Beyond Beyond, and I think its very important that while a synopsis obviously shouldn't dominate the chapter of the movie you're writing on, it's important that, a description is given about what's going on the film, if you're dissecting it later, talking about certain sequences and certain effects, it at least gives the reader a kind of reference, they can go back and read the basic plot of the movie and figure out exactly where in the movie this is taking place.

Otherwise, if you eschew doing a synopsis of the book and just dive right into the movie itself, then the reader might be confused if he or she doesn't know the movie very well, they might be confused and have to go back to the movie itself (assuming they've got it.) To look into exactly what is going on. So I thought it was important to do a synopsis or storyline for each of the films that I wrote about. Of course for Animal World I only discussed the dinosaur sequence, and actually felt the rest of the movie was just a hodgepodge of shots and not worth discussing.

Film Credits
I had to watch the credit sequences of all those films because I wanted to do a listing when I did my appendix on the film credits. I basically wanted to use the release print itself for the master source of what the credits were. Now of course there are online sources like the IMDb and other things that list credits, and obviously I referred to them too, but basically I wanted to use the actual release prints credits on the film as a template for that. If something is not listed in the film credits, then it's listed in the back of the book as 'uncredited.' I tried to do it in the proper order as best as possible.

Arthur Hayward
I think that part of the book turned out pretty well, and I did mention a number of things in the credits that weren't in the film, for example that Arthur Hayward was the sculptor for One Million Years B.C. and The Valley of Gwangi when of course his name never appeared in the credits for either film.

Fans have noticed that Hayward was never credited by Ray Harryhausen. In his scrapbook he did mention Haywood'that he'd done a good job making the models for him.

One has to remember that back in that era, a lot of people in supporting roles were not given film credits. Nowadays when we see when a movie ends, everybody and their second cousin gets a credit, which goes on for minutes and minutes. Back in that era, credits were much more limited, and you had to have a much larger role to be listed on a film credit. So that's probably part of it right there. Also maybe Hayward didn't really want credit. Although he partnered with Ray not only on the dinosaur films but also on every 1960s film from Three Worlds of Gulliver to The Valley of Gwangi, his 'real job' was as an exhibits preparator at the Museum of Natural History.

Someone told me that Ray looked at Willis O'Brien, who would credit everybody and treat them like equals - so O'Brien was never able to become the dominant figure the way Harryhausen had - and that might have been the problem with O'Brien getting film projects. Ray looked at Willis O'Brien, saw the mediocre success, and wanted to be a one-man band, a star in my own right, so people would seek him out. He hooked up with a great producer, Charles H. Schneer - he didn't have to go freelance very many times. That's a more practical point of view.

Then, in 1967 Hayward made his own dinosaur film, and he later described his problems getting his dinosaur film off the ground in the August 1969 issue of Animals magazine. There he used a lot of Harryhausen models which had been commissioned for One Million Years B.C. to illustrate the piece, with a different version of Gwangi also gracing that issue's cover. Apparently, whether it was the studios or Schneer complaining about these sculptures' appearances here and in several paleontology books, Hayward was consequently relieved of his duties.

The Mixture of Dinosaurs Harryhausen Used
In One Million Years B.C. he chose a ceratosaurus and a triceratops to do battle. And those two dinosaurs were probably separated by about 50 million years. Of course, you have to remember that the general public really doesn't know what dinosaur was in what era, plus if you had different dinosaurs in your movie you didn't really want to repeat yourself and so I can see the logic of him having a triceratops and a ceratosaurus, because now you have a meat-eating dinosaur with a horn on its nose, instead of a dinosaur like the allosaurus.

In The Valley of Gwangi, Gwangi is supposed to be an allosaurus albeit it has a lot of tyrannosaurid-type features, a 3-fingered tyrannosaurus. Most of the others were Cretaceous. The eohippus is from the Tertiary period, it's from the post-Cretaceous era. That was the one oddball thing about The Valley of Gwangi. It does seem to work well...a little horse living in a valley of dinosaurs.

In the original version planned by O'Brien - he had wanted to film Gwangi in 1942 - they did find some miniature horses in a remote area of the Grand Canyon.

There were dinsoaurs from different eras, in Evolution -he has a battle between a triceratops and what I thought was an allosaurus, because it looks like the allosaurus later from One Million Years B.C. that enters the Shell camp. So for years I thought he was having this triceratops fight this allosaurus. And supposedly this was a documentary type film so this was kind of a glaring inaccuracy, why have two dinosaurs from different eras duking it out? But then I noticed in his book, when he came out, that he called this dinosaur a tyrannosaurus. Now I thought that was very curious, until I remembered that this film was made in the late 1930s and at that time they thought tyrannosaurs had three digits on each hand. We have to remember in King Kong, the tyrannosaurus had three digits on each hand, too. So, actually, Ray designed his tyrannosaurus, although it was very graceful, it wasn't a thick-bodied tyrannosaurus like we commonly see, but actually had it in 3 fingers, by the 1940s at least they assumed they had 3, instead of 2 like we know now.

The Animal World is supposed to be a documentary, too, and the dinosaurs are all in the right era, but in that case, the tyrannosaurus is the same as the allosaurus, and there's a slightly modified ceratosaurus. A lot of the information they give about the dinosaurs is inaccurate. The size of the ceratosaurus was way inflated for the movie, 20 feet tall and 8 tons, I believe the narrative says. A ceratosaur was nowhere near that size. But the allosaurus and the tyrannosaurus are the same, I can�t see any difference except the allosaurus looks a bit more lethargic, but no physical difference between the two models.

The Making of The Author [continued]

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

One of the next dinosaur movies I saw was probably The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. That was probably the second Ray Harryhausen movie I saw, I saw that in the early 1970s. It was definitely on a "Creature Feature" type show or a Saturday morning matinee. I remember for sure it was a Saturday morning matinee monster movie I saw it, I believe it was out of a Detroit TV station. I saw that movie and I thought wow, this is a full movie, of course it was in black and white, and you had this giant dinosaur rise up out of the ocean and all this and attack New York City and then the great, spectacular finale on the roller coaster, and I thought, wow, what a wonderful movie this is, I was really awed and inspired by that film.

A movie that I always wanted to see was called The Valley of Gwangi...and it was always on a [TV] station that we didn't get. So I saw this movie on a couple, three times and I couldn't see it! So I was really stymied. And from there we had moved, I was living in Michigan at the time, we moved to Ohio, and then saw The Valley of Gwangi was on again, and they had a listing for it on a local station, so I stayed up and watched it, it was on a Friday night, and I thought 'my god this is a wonderful movie'. I remember the roping sequence, and the eohippus, and everything else, I was really floored by this movie, I was probably more floored by Gwangi than I was by One Million Years B.C. or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Poster, The Valley of Gwangi

And a little funny anecdote to that story: I remember I was at school and I was talking about the movie, I don't even think I'd seen it yet, and I was talking about it with somebody in class. The next day I was at my locker in junior high school, and felt a tug in the back of my shirt, and this girl walked up to me and said 'Oh, I saw that movie you were talking about and I thought it was really neat.' So that was kind of a cool little story, this girl, I didn't talk directly to her but she overheard me talking, and apparently she stayed up and watched it and she liked it. So I thought that was kind of neat. So I thought that was kind of a cool little thing, somebody saw this movie that I'd been talking about in class and stayed up and saw it too and thought it was really neat.

So the first three movies I saw of Ray Harryhausen's were the first three main dinosaur movies that he did. I didn't see The Animal World until many years later, and the first time I saw The Animal World dinosaur sequence footage...part of it was in the movie Trog. I saw that...actually I didn't even see Trog until the early 80s, and it was some time after that, some years later that I saw a bootleg copy of The Animal World. Of course by that time I'd seen many, or most of the Harryhausen movies, and became a big fan of Ray's work across the board, from Jason to the Sinbad movies to 20 Million Miles to Earth.

Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans I saw in a theater when it came out, I saw Jason and the Argonauts in its re-release in a theater. I became a big Ray Harryhausen fan, but I always had a special love of his dinosaur films, as I'd loved dinosaurs since my earliest childhood and those were the ones I'd first seen.

Roy's collection
The focus of my collecting has been on magazines. I have collected books, a few stills, and a few other things - models and toys. Actually, I've not been collecting magazines so much for the last few years - I was going through a phase in the early mid-90s where I was collecting a lot of magazines and books. Probably the biggest gem in my collection is all four original FXRH magazines, which was published by Ernie Farino and Sam Calvin. FXRH stands for Special Effects by Ray Harryahusen. (FX = Special Effects).

These - they were designed as a fanzine and they ran from 1970 to 1974, they came out roughly about one a year. They pulled the plug on it because expenses were running high, as they stated in issue 4. It's actually a shame because it was one of the earliest and best things, really, exclusively on Ray Harryhausen that was published. If you look back at the FXRH run you can look through and you can pick at a little bit of this and a little bit of that because there are some inaccuracies in it about things, but you have to admire it for what it was and for the time frame that it came out in. It was certainly the only thing out in the era, and it still remains one of the best and most desirable publications out about Harryhausen.

[Ed. note: In 1971, Ernest Farino and Sam Calvin teamed up to create and publish the first fanzine devoted entirely to stop motion master Ray Harryhausen. Named for Ray's on-screen credit, "Special Visual Effects Created by Ray Harryhausen" (or FXRH) it made its debut in the form of a 26-page offset publication, side-stapled, with an original print run of only 300 copies. Issues 2 - 4 of FXRH had increasingly larger print runs, but the 300 original copies of FXRH #1 have long made it a sought-after collector's item. Average condition copies have been known to sell on eBay and at conventions for from $400-$600.]

I do have one book on Ray Harryhausen I would call a gem. It's called Puppets and People, by S. S. (Steve) Wilson, who was the writer of the movie Tremors (1990). He was very much into special effects, and he wrote this book, which actually gave some of the best information at the time it was published in 1980. It really for the first time tells the public how Harryhausen does his Dynamation effects. Before then there had been several books, including the FXRH series, where all the information about his static matte rear projection composites were described inaccurately, and actually a lot of the sources basically thought that Ray exclusively used an optical printer to put his monsters together with the background, and actually he just did it all in camera, and this book explains that. It's an excellent book. Even when I bought it in the early 90s I paid a hundred dollars for it. Now it's probably up to $200 dollar range now. Very hard to find.

I have other stuff - fair to fair to middling rarity, nothing quite in the league of the other two.

The 2005 DragonCon and a lost opportunity
At DragonCon, I was going to be on a panel sitting beside Forry Ackerman, which would have been a great thrill. He was one of Harryhausen's peers, knew Harryhausen from the very beginning, and obviously a legend in science fiction. I know some people might not really care for Forry for various reasons, he still is an icon in the science fiction field.

I first met Forry Ackerman in 1994, I went to his house, the Ackermansion in suburban Los Angeles. I was visiting the city and a friend of mine took me over there. We went through his rooms, and I was just in awe at the stuff that he had, and of course we zoned in on the stop-motion related stuff, which included a lot of King Kong memorabilia. Of course, now, a lot of the stuff has either been sold off, a lot of big old latex was cut up, and sold piecemeal on Ebay, but as for pertaining to the armatures, Peter Jackson of the Lord of the Rings fame and upcoming King Kong movie, has acquired much of the remaining King Kong material, and I guess he's going to open his own museum in New Zealand.

So that was a thrill. I also met him at the Monster Bash in 1998, which was also a great thrill. I don't know if he remembered me that well, because he knows so many people, but the idea of sitting with him at the panel at DragonCon was really a big thrill. But then when I heard of his accident Scotland, that was really a great disappointment. He would have been a great MC, he would have ran the panel, he would have done a great job with all the stories, he would have been on the forefront of the panel, definitely the rest of us would have sat around probably listened to his stories more than talking. So, that was really a shame, and I don't know if I'll ever sit on a panel with him again."

Did you ever inspired to try stop motion animation?
"No, never tried stop motion animation as a kid. I'm not the most mechanically inclined person to begin with. I had a kind of intellectual interest in the whole thing, but going and doing it, no, it just seemed like too much work! Kudos to Ray Harryhausen that he bothered to go and follow up and do this and do all the classes, but in my case, no, I just remained a normal child, I guess, I didn't quite follow the path Ray did.

Behind the scenes at a paper mill
Indeed, when he's not writing or spending time with his family, Roy works in the pulp mill of a paper mill. Next year he'll celebrate his 25th anniversary. It's a union shop and he's worked his way up the ranks so that now he's a digest operator. That's someone who takes the raw wood chips, loads them into a big pressure cooker, and adds steam and a strong caustic substance called white liquor, which reduces the chips into a mushy pulp. The pulp is taken from there, with pressure built up into the digester, "basically you open a valve and the vessel relieves itself into what they call a blow tank. This raw stock, very black looking, is pumped up to a system of washers and screens to clean out the liquor, to wash it and remove all the little specks of wood that didn't get broken down in the digesting process. That's a very superficial view - it's a very interesting process."

"That is the number two job on the line of progression. I'm also spare on the top job, which is a bleach plant operator. That takes the stock that's just been washed and screened - which is a light brown now instead of being almost black when it comes out of the blow tank, it has lots of shives and knots in it - now its been screened and washed and is of homogenous quality. This stock is run through a bleach plant where we use oxygen, carbon dioxide, acid, and caustic to bleach and extract the pulp, so it ends up as the white pulp you're familiar with as wood pulp. This ends up on the paper machines, where it's coated, wound, rewound, polished, cut up, and shipped out the door."

Marx dinosaur set photo courtesy The Dinosaur Collector. All photos retain their original copyright and are presented here for reference and review. See photo credits here.

Unless otherwise acknowledged, All photos are copyright Roy Webber and reproduced with his permission.

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