Dinosaurs, Dragons & Drama – Pt 2: The Siege (2015) – By Philip Smolen

 

There is an old saying bantered about in tinsel town that Hollywood eats its young. This phrase could be a perfect analogy for the career of visual effects artist Jim Danforth. A talented stop motion animator, an amazing craftsman and an unparalleled matte painter, Danforth (who worked on movies and TV shows from the 1960s up until CGI took over the visual effects universe in the late 1990s) understood how visual effects contributed to the overall impact of a motion picture. But far more importantly, he also understood how important the visual effects artist was to contributing to the total design of a film. Jim also placed a lot of importance on honesty, integrity and accountability and unfortunately, it cost him. Throughout his almost 40 year career in special effects, Danforth constantly battled unscrupulous producers, back stabbing studio executives and insecure co-workers who made it difficult for Jim to work within the Hollywood system.

Now Danforth is back with the second part of his CD-ROM autobiography – “Dinosaurs, Dragons & Drama – Pt 2: The Siege.” Beginning in 1970 this volume picks up Jim’s life when he returned from England after completing the visual effects for Hammer’s “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” (1970). Nominated for a visual effects Oscar for his efforts, the young Danforth was still naïve enough to believe that producers would be lining up to secure his talents. When that didn’t happen, Jim rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He found employment as a matte painter (he learned from several of the best including Albert Whitlock), visual effects designer and stop motion animator.

This CD-ROM book is a remarkable look into the nitty gritty of filmmaking. Danforth lays his soul bare. He holds nothing back and doesn’t sugarcoat. Jim even goes into great detail about his personal life and his three marriages. He explains why he resigned from his Hollywood union when Dino De Laurentiis’s awful “King Kong” (1976) won a special Oscar for visual effects. He also goes into painful detail about two failed projects that he invested years in; “TimeGate” (which Jim was supposed to direct) and “Caveman” (1981). Thankfully, he also describes in great detail some of the fun assignments that he had including working with Ray Harryhausen on “Clash of the Titans” (1981) as well as setting up his own effects house with his wife Karen.

The book’s payoff is that for each of the films that he worked on, Jim describes in incredible detail what he did and how he did it. There are amazing behind the scenes photos of stop motion puppets being constructed, matte paintings being created as well as details on all of the equipment that Jim used to complete his assignments. If you love reading about the intricacies of movies, this CD-ROM book is a goldmine of information, trivia and precise details of how specific visual effects were accomplished.

This is a dense book. It covers about 12 years of Jim’s life and encompasses all of the films he worked on during that time, including the original “Flesh Gordon” (1974). The main text runs 773 pages (although hundreds of the pages are illustrations). There is also an incredible amount of supplementary material that can be accessed with just a click. This book is eye opening in its truthfulness. After devouring it, I can only say that if they ever created a special Pulitzer category for truthfulness, Jim Danforth’s “Dinosaurs, Dragons and Drama” would win hands down.

The CD-ROM is available from Archive Editions. To purchase it or to read more about it, please visit: http://www.archive-editions.com/jimdanforthvol.2.html