Friday, October 30, 2009

Animator Ray Harryhausen on Orson Welles and The War of the Worlds

Here is a beautiful excerpt from an interview conducted a few years ago with master animator Ray Harryhausen, in which he discusses his attempt to interest Orson Welles in making an animated film of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds (1898), and how he came close to working with Welles in Spain:
Lawrence French: In the book [Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life (2004)] you talk about trying to interest Orson Welles in the test animation -- you shot of the Martians from H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds.

Ray Harryhausen: Yes, I had heard Orson Welles famous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds back in 1938 and the H. G. Wells book had always been one of my favorite stories. So right after finishing Mighty Joe Young in 1949, I made ten big sketches and took them around to all the studios, but I couldn’t peddle it. Paramount owned the rights to the book and I took it to Jesse Lasky and he was interested, but he had difficulty in raising the money for it. I even went so far as making a test in 16mm [YouTube, 1:07 min.] to show what the Martian creatures would look like -- all based on H. G. Wells' descriptions. Today, I think I might change the concept, because the octopus-like creatures that come out of the tripods might get a laugh. I also showed the test footage to George Pal, long before he made his version of the story. Pal made his picture as an up-to-date, modern version, while I wanted to keep it in the Victorian period, because you run into this problem in the present day of using the atomic bomb. Then you destroy everything and there’s nothing left to photograph. But I finally wrote a letter to Orson Welles, because I thought maybe he’d like to make the movie and I wanted to show the test footage to him. But I never received an answer. Later on, we were going to get Orson Welles to do the voice of the Oracle in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), but at the last minute he doubled his fee. At the time, we were fortunate that Robert Shaw was vacationing in Spain and under contract to Columbia, so he agreed to do it instead of Welles, and on very short notice. I thought he did a very good job -- it was very effective.
Lawrence French maintains Wellesnet, “the leading internet source of information about the life, career and works of Orson Welles.”

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