Jim Danforth: Stop-Motion Legend

In the world of stop-motion special effects animation, the name Jim Danforth is as big as the towering dinosaurs he brought to life in the fantasy classic When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. In films like The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, he created some of the silver screen’s most memorable images and has earned his place in the visual effects legacy that began with Willis O’Brien. Furthermore, his work on Clash of the Titans proved that he is in an elite class of stop-motion animators worthy of the master himself, Ray Harryhausen.

Danforth has become a fixture at www.stopmotionanimation.com, where he shares his knowledge and experience with other animators. He is also busy writing his memoirs for publication and we’re honored that he took some time to be one of our “Animated People.”

1) ‘I realized I wanted to be a professional animator and filmmaker when:

I was fifteen. Earlier I had ‘made some crude 8mm films; then two of my junior high school friends and I made a twenty-minute’ 8mm ‘epic’ we called ‘Snag of Time.” Some of the films that inspired me were: ‘Destination Moon,’ ‘King Kong,’ the Flash Gordon serials, ‘Beau Geste,’ ‘Lives ‘of a Bengal Lancer,’ Tarzan ‘films, ‘The Thief of Bagdad,’ ‘Jungle Book,” ‘The Son of Kong,’ ”20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,’ and ‘It’ Came From Beneath the Sea.’

2)’ When I was a kid I:

Played in the forest that surrounded our home in rural Illinois; I made marionettes and hand puppets; I practiced ventriloquism; I animated using my dad’s regular-8mm Keystone camera (with no single-frame release).

3)’ My parents wanted me to be:

Anything except a filmmaker ‘ preferably following in their academic footsteps.

4)’ My first job (of any kind) was:

Delivering newspapers.

5)’ My first big break in animation was:

Earning enough money to buy a 16mm Bolex camera.’ Professionally, my first breaks were working with Art Clokey and then getting hired as an animator on ‘Jack the Giant Killer.’

6)’ My career in animation was most influenced by:

Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Walt Disney, George Pal, and Jiri Trnka.’ Beneath it all was the solid training in editing I got from Art Clokey and his USC-graduate employees: editor Woody Smith and cameraman/animator Ralph’ Rodine.

7)’ I’m most proud of:

Having done stop-motion animation before I saw any of Ray Harryhausen’s work; of having completed the effects for ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’despite many difficulties; and of writing a feature screenplay entitled ‘Willybu.’

8)’ One thing I would change about the animation business is:

That stop-motion animators and trickfilmmakers were considered by ‘Hollywood’ to be technicians rather than performers, or artists, or filmmakers.

9)’ The animated character I’m most like is:

Peter Pan because I have never grown up (but I can’t ‘fly, darn it).

10) What I’d most like to be doing in ten years is:

Exactly what I have wanted to be doing since I was fifteen ‘ making films.

11)’ My favorite cartoon is:

‘One Froggy Evening,’ because it isn’t slapstick, features great old songs, and has that wonderfully-perverse frog character (who has now become an icon).