Tag Archive: Ray Harryhausen


In a normal year for San Diego Comic-Con, we at borg would be taking photos and checking out the new products, panels, and movie trailers, and trying to share as many as possible.  But first we’d go through the badge line and get our annual, over-sized haul bag, which we’d probably keep folded up anyway because it makes it difficult to move around.  But with that bag is the annual “Comic-Con book,” which is not a comic book, but an official book about half of a medium-sized city telephone directory (what’s a telephone directory?).  The book would be full of discussions about anniversaries of comic and pop culture events and salutes to individuals who have gained some portion of iconic status for fanboys and fangirls everywhere.  But you never read this during con week.  Why?  You’re too busy trying to cram in all you can before the show is over.  Sometimes you don’t even find this book until two months after you get back home after the con and are revisiting your swag.  This year, the SDCC staff has made it possible for everyone to download a copy of that book.

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last Odyssey

Fans of James Rollins novels will be happy to hear the 15th novel in his Sigma Force series has arrived.  Billed as a thriller, The Last Odyssey finds Rollins piecing together obscure and fantastical elements from the writings of Homer with his fictional version of an Illuminati.  Think Knights Templar, the Holy Grail and other lost artifacts of lore, Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code or the secrets of Nicolas Cage’s character in the National Treasure movies.  Rollins pulls in Leonardo da Vinci as a character, but his ideas are something more out of Erich von Däniken’s pseudohistory and pseudoscience or Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of–taking some of the most unlikely and untenable of possibilities from real history and connecting them together into an action/adventure story.

Coincidence after coincidence, characters there at the right time every time with knowledge of the most obscure data point necessary to move the characters to the next locale–for fans of Rollins’ brand of storytelling, it just doesn’t matter.  The zanier the ideas the more they come back for more.  And they’ll likely be pleased with this next installment.

The novel starts off well, with a promising opening act.  Rollins presents a group of people who uncover a medieval ship inside a far-away Greenland iceberg.  It contains Renaissance era and even ancient artifacts, items you might find in a roleplaying game or video game story like Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider, and you get the feeling this will be a romping fantasy quest.  The reader is teased with the concept of the Earth opening up with Ray Harryhausen or Clash of the Titans adventure via a glimpse of a mythical creature and extrapolations of ancient technology in the form of automaton robots.  But is that really what is going on?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As in any creative industry, as much as Hollywood is rife with successes, far more projects barely make it past the idea stage.  Others make it through preliminary steps only to get left behind, most never heard of again.  Decisions are made, offers are given, and you move forward.  The fact that Tom Selleck rejected the role of Indiana Jones is a famous footnote to movie history.  Most recently Amanda Seyfried recounted rejecting the role of Gamora in the Marvel films.  A Mouse Guard movie made it through pre-production before getting stalled.  For every successful project, how many others are left behind?  If you’re as iconic as filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, you might have even more projects left in the discard pile than others.  Those might-have-been projects, rejected ideas, and even scenes that made it beyond mere idea to concept art come together in John Walsh’s new look at the auteur and father of stop-motion creatures, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies

Ray Harryhausen’s creations were cutting edge for the first century of cinema, their creator a special effects visionary who found his niche in fantasy worlds, via films like One Million Years B.C., Clash of the Titans, and Jason and the Argonauts.  Documentarian John Walsh met with Harryhausen, who died in 2013, to film a documentary about the filmmaker, and along the way he chronicled 70 projects Harryhausen considered but did not go through with, including script and concept art material.  Some of these are projects he was asked to participate in and couldn’t find a fit, or films he passed up for other projects, including films anyone could see translated by Harryhausen, like Conan, Tarzan, King Kong, Moby Dick, John Carter of Mars, and Beowulf.  Then there are those surprises fans could only dream about, like Harryhausen’s take on The Empire Strikes Back, The Princess Bride, Dune, or X-Men.  Harryhausen: The Lost Movies provides fans with a glimpse into Harryhausen’s involvement in these projects, some with photographic clues of how his input might have resulted in very different films.

Pulling together some never-been-seen-before artwork, sketches, photos, and screencaps of test footage from the Harryhausen Foundation archives, Walsh creates a scrapbook of sorts, an artist’s sketchbook.  Harryhausen considered every other major classic fantasy and fairy tale to utilize his brand of special effects storytelling.  He created test footage for H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, but his letter to Orson Welles was not answered.  His alien designs from that footage are in this book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Image Comics is giving the celebrated Eisner and Harvey Award-winning series Battlepug a giant hardcover collected edition this month.  Written and illustrated by Mike Norton, Battlepug: The Compugdium collects all five volumes of the brilliant webcomic.  A series of humor-filled fantasy/adventure tales with the look and vibe of One Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights, Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian, Godzilla, and Ray Harryhausen movies, Battlepug is epic and unique.  Following stories told of the last Kinmundian as he rides his giant pug into the next town and next battle, Battlepug represents the best of the comic book and fantasy worlds.

With 336 pages in all with big 8.5 x 12 inch layouts, this is a book you’re going to keep returning to, fun for all ages.  Battlepug: The Compugdium includes Blood and Drool (the dreaded harp seal and Witch Toad!), The Savage Bone (meet Gil and some underwater types), Sit. Stay. Die! (a skull monkey and a host of giant underground beasts await), The Devil’s Biscuit (encounter a giant turtle spirit!), and The Paws of War (face the giant koala!).

Fans who have already gobbled down the five stories will still want to take a look at the Compugdium, as it includes plenty of great additional content: a gallery of 36 pages of Battlepug art from various artists, 15 pages of sketches, including some Norton layouts and early character images, plus cover art prints from the series.

Here are some great pages you’ll find in Battlepug: The Compugdium:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For a generation of film fans, the words “Hammer Horror” are synonymous with the first color horror movies and studio stars Peter Cushing and David Prowse, who would go on to find real fame in Star Wars, and Christopher Lee, who would be the go-to guy in the 21st century for dark, imposing characters in Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien movies, James Bond, the Star Wars prequels, and much more.  Before these blockbusters, these British thespians made movies for a London film company called Hammer Film Productions, and they were instantly recognized as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, and Count Dracula.  These aren’t the famous monsters of Universal Studios fame, but thanks to Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures’ distribution, their take on these classic horror characters gained their own international fan following.  In time for Halloween, Telos Publishing has released a new information-filled guide for fans of Hammer’s horror legacy, writer Alistair Hughes’s Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror.

As for the “graphic” in the title, it’s a bit of a play on words–think infographics, charts, diagrams, illustrations, and maps connecting the often intertwined fantasy world inside the Hammer films.  The titles to the studio’s Dracula and Frankenstein sequels provide an idea of the absurdity film goers were in for, with a list that makes the Planet of the Apes pile of sequels seem pretty short: The Brides of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Kali–Devil Bride of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Dracula Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Horror of Frankenstein, The Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Frankenstein Created Woman, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.  Hammer also made monster movies set much earlier than the 19th century.  The most famous starred Raquel Welch in Ray Harryhausen’s One Million Years BC and Ursula Andress in She.  Steven Spielberg would later provide a nod to Hammer films at the end of Jurassic Park.  The words on the banner falling in the final sequence with the T-Rex was an homage to the Hammer film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. 

One diagram in Infogothic recounts the 30 most famous actors to portray Dracula.  In others Hughes pieces together family trees based on information from the films for the Van Helsings and the Frankensteins.  A chart shows the number of adaptations of Frankenstein movies by decade (the 1970s wins with nine, and there has been 51 in all so far as we bask in the character’s 200th year).  Need to locate the story locations for each of the Hammer monster movies?  Hughes provides maps for that, too.  And Frankenstein’s monster and the Count aren’t the only monsters Hammer featured–the book includes interconnections of the several mummy movies and other creature features Hammer produced (The Gorgon, The Reptile, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Plague of the Zombies, The Abominable Snowman).  Hughes also includes details of lesser known and unproduced films throughout his book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The Cyclops, the bronze warrior Talos, the large dinosaur Rhedosaurus, a giant gorilla, a barrage of battling skeletons with swords, Raquel Welch as a cavewoman, the horrifying Medusa–whatever the first image that comes to mind, generations of movie audiences have an instant picture that comes to mind when they hear the name Ray Harryhausen.

The 1949 King Kong-inspired film Mighty Joe Young and the 1981 Greek myth-inspired adventure Clash of the Titans represent two ends of a major chapter in the history of movie visual effects and how filmmakers viewed fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films.  Each film represents different generations (each a film my father and I would see in theaters when we were about nine years old), and each bookends the career of famed special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.  With his trademark Dynamation and later Dynarama stop-motion filmmaking advances, Harryhausen set himself apart from other filmmakers.  The result?  Just like The Beach Boys and The BeeGees have their singular styles among popular music, Harryhausen films are instantly recognizable and identifiable, films that could have only been produced by the mind and the hands of a single visionary.  And hands-on creation was key to Harryhausen’s various film techniques, but it was often expensive and slow, requiring the better part of a year to painstakingly film thousands of images for only a few special effects sequences in a film.  The sixteen films Harryhausen is known for are the focus of Richard Holliss’s deluxe hardcover chronicle, Harryhausen: The Movie Posters, first previewed at San Diego Comic-Con this summer and now available this month to fans everywhere for the first time.

Of the same stylish quality and presentation as another 2018 publication, Clint Eastwood–Icon (reviewed here at borg), Harryhausen: The Movie Posters also sees its auteur from the vantage of the myriad movie posters that advertised his films.  Holliss takes an additional step that students of film should be drawn to, providing a film-by-film account of Harryhausen’s development of each film along with the posters, a view on his groundbreaking techniques including stop-motion animation via miniature models, stop-motion combined with live-action footage, background plates, storyboarding, combining location footage, miniatures, split-screen, and rear projection, using painted backdrops, multi-camera shots, full sound stages, backtracking from stop-motion to actors in costumes when finances warranted, creating steel ball-and-socket armatures under sculpted creatures of foam rubber, paint and latex, using blue-screen shots to combine actors and miniature stop-motion models, incorporating traveling mattes and matte paintings, and in-camera effects like forced perspective, and Harryhausen’s own sodium vapor effects system.

Where we saw in Clint Eastwood–Icon an evolution of the movie poster over time, reflecting changes in art styles and design movements, changes across posters advertising Harryhausen’s movies were more subtle.  The studios seemed to prefer a palette of design concepts that could let audiences know this was a new Harryhausen film, with sweeping fantasy landscapes and key creatures and characters as bold centerpieces drawing-in the eyes of potential audiences.  The posters represented aren’t only those styles seen by audiences entering American movie theaters.  These include many variations that appeared in theaters across the globe, some by artists whose names are lost to time, with decade-appropriate type styles and language to match.  In Harryhausen: The Movie Posters you’ll find artwork from obscure artists to more familiar creators, including Gene Widhoff, Luigi Martinati, Wik, Alfredo Capitani, Gustav Rehberger, Anselmo Ballester, V. Lipniunas, Vonderwerth, Jean Mascii, Charles Rau, G. Meyer, R. Kanz, E.A. Ubis, M. Copizzi, Roger Soubie, Tom Chantrell, Jack Thurston, Bodhem Butenko, Paul Tamin, Enrique Mataix, Raymond Elseviers, Picchioni Franco, Frank McCarthy, Olga Fischerova, Jacek Neugebaur, Brian Bysmouth, Mort Kunstler, Birney Lettick, Miloslav Disman, Roger Huyssen, S. Gorga, Bruno Napoli, and Greg and Tim Hildebrant.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In that niche area of dystopian dog movies (that’s the adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and his Dog and… ?), Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs not only soars to the top of the list, it’s a great film in all sorts of categories: it’s new, yet a classic children’s story, it’s a timely political allegory, and it’s a solid movie about dogs.  We knew Anderson had a grasp on animals in his surprisingly good Fantastic Mr. Fox, but audiences will soon learn he also understands dogs and dog behavior.  The trailers don’t really prepare moviegoers for what lies ahead.  Sure, it’s about an island of exiled dogs so of course audiences are in for a bleak ride, complete with at least one dead canine, lots of dogs in peril as well as many mutilated and diseased.  Yet Isle of Dogs is surprisingly grand in scope, thought-provoking, and even heartwarming.  And epic–don’t be surprised if you start thinking about the closest Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick movie while you’re glued to the screen.  Despite some witty dialogue in places from Anderson’s smart script, this is less comedy and more drama than his past efforts.

The dystopian world is better realized, bigger in scope, and yet more personal than typical futurist visions, beyond that dismal hopeless doom of Mad Max, The Postman, Escape From New York, Twelve Monkeys, Snowpiercer, Looper, Logan’s Run, and District 9.  Isle of Dogs is probably closer to WALL-E and Planet of the Apes in feel.  Isle of Dogs is gloomy and dark and bleak, but it offers a ray of hope for the future from a 12-year-old Japanese boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) and a freckle-faced, high school exchange student named Tracy from Ohio (Greta Gerwig), both out to defy an autocratic government’s ban on dogs.  That’s thanks in major part to the vivid, eye-popping world of future Japan filmed by celebrated Aardman Animations stop-motion cinematographer Tristan Oliver (A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers, Chicken Run), and the encompassing sounds from this year’s Oscar-winning composer for The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter series, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Golden Compass).  As to the stop-motion, audiences can marvel at how far Hollywood has come since the Ray Harryhausen era.  The film follows Anderson’s design choices first seen in his Fantastic Mr. Fox and only continues to add to the unbelievable magical movements carried forward by Aardman’s achievements.  And instead of a typical Romantic, programmatic score, Desplat’s best choices can be found in his use of loud, almost frightening Japanese taiko drums, Fumio Hayasaka’s haunting theme from Seven Samurai, the more celebratory bits from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije, and a simple recurring dog whistle.

Anderson offers up admirable tributes to Japanese culture and film, everywhere from costume design to modern TV reporting stylings, to Hayao Miyazaki themes and Akira Kurosawa landscapes, to traditional imagery like beautiful ukiyo-e on walls and cherry blossoms floating by at the right time.  Isle of Dogs finds a firm footing on the children’s classics shelf of your film library, alongside Roald Dahl’s Mr. Fox but also his Willy Wonka.  It also has much in common in tone with Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.  The political allegory is thick and layered, a mix of the nuanced and the obvious, a mirror reflection of society that you’d have found years ago in a Frank Capra movie.  Science is mocked, scorned, and worse.  Experts are traitorous and immigrants are exiled.  It’s also graphic in parts at a baser level, showing an animated meal from a dumpster with creepy crawlies that may make your stomach turn, plus an open chest surgery, bloody, torn body parts, and dogs with missing eyes and open wounds.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Oscar-winning filmmaker Nick Park is back with his next entry in Aardman Animations’ ingenious world of classic stop-motion animation.  The family comedy Early Man takes audiences back to the city of Manchester, England, at the dawn of the Bronze Age.  In this slapstick look at history, cave men created football (American soccer) from a fallen meteorite.  The sport fell out of favor, but was picked up again and embraced in the early Bronze Age by a city of moderners, but the cave men are still around and have one chance to save their world if they can only beat the Bronze Age team at the game.  Unfortunately it’s a group of bumbling early humans who must learn the sport and take on a group of arrogant professional players.  But it’s in the genes of the cave men, so amid a non-stop volley of sports metaphors, tropes, and jokes, the cave men have a go at it.

Leading the team and the story is Dug, voiced by Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), along with his companion, an eager early-era wild boar named Hognob, voiced by the film’s director Nick Park.  The duo make for a solid homage, albeit a prehistoric incarnation, of Park’s famous Wallace & Gromit.  The villain in the tale is Bronze Age leader Lord Nooth, lover and hoarder of all things bronze, especially bronze coins.  He’s voiced by a nearly unrecognizable Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok) playing an over-the-top, snooty opportunist in full-on Monty Python comedy style.  Game of Thrones and Doctor Who actor Maisie Williams offers her own voice acting talent as Dug’s new friend Goona, and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series, Alice in Wonderland, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams) is Dug’s good-natured and encouraging leader, the firmly about the old ways Chief Bobnar.

Little kids will laugh at the silliness of the characters and adult U.S. anglophiles will understand most, but probably not all, of the British comedic references.  And there are many.  Soccer fans will pick up on references to the sport, to Manchester United, zebra crossings, and puns that will work for fans of any sport.  Want to see why Stonehenge was built?  Ever seen the genesis of the electric razor?  The film has already opened to positive reviews in the United Kingdom, but does not arrive in theaters in the States until later this week.

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Jeff Bridges in Seventh Son

How can you get any cooler than Jeff Bridges’ hacker/video game mogul character of Flynn in Tron?  As The Dude in The Big Lebowski?  Two new trailers will no doubt elevate even diehard Jeff Bridges fans’ views of this singularly awesome genre actor.

We already previewed the first trailer for next week’s release R.I.P.D. here at borg.com R.I.P.D. adapts the Dark Horse Comics paranormal cops series and stars Ryan Reynolds as Nick Walker and Bridges as Roy Pulsipher, a gun-toting badass that makes Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn from the True Grit remake look like a wimp.  This new trailer for R.I.P.D. relies heavily in its attraction on the coolness that is Mr. Bridges.  Add to it that mammoth revolver and this movie looks like a guaranteed summer blast.

Just check out Bridges in this cool new trailer for R.I.P.D.:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you ever had an inkling to go to film school, if you are going to film school or if you teach film courses, Richard Rickitt’s Special Effects: The History and Technique should be required reading.  Not only is it a comprehensive work about the history and craft of special effects, it is a detailed account of the history and progress of film, and could serve as a college textbook to a master class in film technique.  And it is also a history of science and technology in its own right.

Rickitt’s Special Effects is a well-reviewed work, which is why it was purchased for me as a gift.  It is used as a college text in film schools and for good reason.  It has seen several printings since its first printing in Great Britain in 2006, including a reprint as recently as 2011, and it is as current as a nearly 400-page volume can be, including new effects technologies employed as recently as the Lord of the Rings films and X-Men 3.

Because of its price, Special Effects may not be for the casual movie enthusiast–but only because of price–as it can cost $40 for older editions and up to $230 for the most current edition.  Yet if you are really interested in behind-the-scenes cinema, it is probably worth saving for, and if you’re a college student, just slip it into your current semester’s $800 book purchase (at least that’s what I spent on each of my last few semesters for books and I can’t imagine prices have dropped–plus this book is actually a fun read you’ll hold on to).  It’s breadth is enormous, with both general and detailed coverage of landmark people and technologies from George Melies to Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen to Industrial Light & Magic to Pixar and Weta.  Although it purports to cover merely Special Effects, in truth it covers the beginning of film and every technology that was created since, building upon each discovery and new invention to bring us to the complex CGI technologies of today.

This is far from a quick read, and will likely serve as a reference work or one you pull off the shelf from time to time when you need something exciting to read of the non-fiction variety.  I mentioned college text–Rickitt is a good teacher, clearly explaining in terms anyone can understand not just the “what” but the “why” and “how” of benchmarks in film with visuals and diagrams, including explanations of the role and use of technologies like the zoetrope, the parts and functions of the modern movie camera, the history and types of film recording materials, matte film, blue-screens, film printing, optical and digital compositing, the A to Z of film projection, post-production techniques like image interpolation, the use of mirrors, forced perspective and miniaturization, pyrotechnics, cloud tanks, models, motion-control photography, digital and procedural modelling, texture mapping, special effects animation, rotoscoping, 3D technologies, motion blur, digital skin, performance capture, particle systems, high dynamic range images, match moving, rendering, the A to Z of matte painting, props, make-up, prosthetics, animatronics, sculpting, inner mechanisms, performance systems, digital make-up, atmospheric effects, breakaway effects, sound recording, sound effects mixing, foleying, dialogue replacement, and the future of film technologies.

A diagram from Rickitt’s Special Effects: The History and Technique

The author uses hundreds of photographs and provides real-use examples from movies to explain techniques.  Detailed analysis is used for movie benchmarks Rickitt has identified, including The Abyss (1989), The Birds (1963), Aliens (1986), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Blade Runner (1982), Citizen Kane (1941), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), Destination Moon (1950), Earthquake (1974), The Exorcist (1973), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Forbidden Planet (1956), Forrest Gump (1994), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Jurassic Park (1993), King Kong (1933), King Kong (2005), The Last Starfighter (1984), The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), The Lost World (1925), The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003), Metropolis (1926), Mighty Joe Young (1949), 1941 (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), all six Star Wars films (1977-2005), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), The Thief of Baghdad (1940), Things to Come (1936), Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Tron (1982), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The War of the Worlds (1953), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Willow (1988), and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985).

You’ll learn about ambient occlusion, beam splitters, cannon cars, color separation, depth of field, diffuse reflection, dissolves, dubbing, edge detection, emulsion, extrusion, fluid dynamics, go-motion, introvision, the Lydecker technique, morphing, NURBs, plates, ray tracing, squibs, time-lapse and time slice photography, wipes, zooms and zoptics.

An early edition of Rickitt’s book–note that earlier versions will not have the most up-to-date coverage of current technologies. The version shown at the top of this review is the most recent edition.

And along with the “what”  and “why” Rickitt profiles a “who’s who” of landmark film creators, including Georges Melies, Mack Sennett, D.W. Griffith, James Whale, Alfred Hitchcock, George Pal, Roger Corman, Irwin Allen, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson, Dennis Muren, John P. Fulton, Linwood Dunn, Richard Edlund, Dennis and Robert Skotak, Arnold Gillespie, Theodore and Howard Lydecker, Gordon Jennings, John Dykstra, Steve Gawley, Lorne Peterson, Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Phil Tippett, John Lasseter, Norman O. Dawn, Albert Whitlock, Peter Ellenshaw, Lon Chaney, Jack Pierce, Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Ken Ralston, Cliff Richardson, Michael Lantieri, Jack Foley, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, and the Carboulds.

But you don’t need to look at Special Effects: The History and Technique as a dense book of facts.  Pick it up now and then and enjoy reading the book in 4-5 page stints and you’ll become an expert in film in no time, or just be amazed at how the magic of film works.

Special Effects: The History and Technique has a forward by Ray Harryhausen and an appendix, including a glossary of film terms and awards.