NOVA: Will your method of animation differ from the original Kong animation style?
ALLEN: I like the way the original Kong, the approach they took to the animation—it is, of course, not very smooth, but there's a lot of very good acting in it. And I don't want to do that style of animation. I think it's probably too hard on the eye, and people nowadays, I think, would find it just unacceptably jerky. But I think that the fact that we're using stop motion at all will suggest the original just as the sculpture is trying to do. There are certain subtle adjustments in this sculpture that are maybe a little more refined than the original, although I haven't changed the head at all as far as I could capture it. But his legs are a little longer, his head may be a little smaller in terms of overall proportion to his height, and things that might make him look a little less doll-like than the original one. Although I think they did an awfully good job in those days with nothing to work with. The rubber technologies and the mold and foam rubber, none of those things were available. So it was made out of just almost like native materials: cotton and cloth and rabbit furs, and really they did an amazing job. You have to take your hat off to those guys. They were terrific. So anyway, I think fans of the original picture when they see this puppet in motion will probably feel that somebody who cared about the original film was involved somehow. I hope so, anyway.
NOVA: Can you move his fingers?
ALLEN: Mmm-hmm. They're all jointed. Sometimes these are made in wire, on the simpler models. But (in this model) they're completed jointed. The only wire on this is the lips, which have aluminum wire running across them so that he can snarl and so forth.
NOVA: Can he breathe?
ALLEN: Yes, but I would take so long you wouldn't see it. There's a mechanism, a drive screw in the back that will expand his chest.
NOVA: What's unique about stop motion in IMAX?
ALLEN: I think that to do stop motion in the IMAX format, which I have never done before and I don't know of anyone else who has done puppet animation in this enormous film frame before, it puts an extra burden of care on the animator because you have such a high resolution of detail that if you miss the point where the model should be moved by a slight amount I suppose that the error may show up more obvious than it might in a regular motion picture. So the obligation on me is to be especially careful in the manipulation of the puppet from one frame to the next. I don't think anyone's expecting it to look exactly real, 100 percent. I think if there's a certain amount of the jerkiness that the original King Kong had that may be part of the character of recreating the experience of seeing him again, and I don't think it would be wrong. But I'm going to try to put that... that sort of forgiveness quotient kind of on the back burner, and nevertheless try to do it as well as I can. And I think that what we end up with should be highly interesting I hope so.
NOVA: In a sense you've been working like a film archaeologist in a way. You are picking back with your little instrument back into the past wondering how they did it, what materials they used.
ALLEN: I would be misrepresenting my approach to say that I'm duplicating this model using the same building materials that they used. I think in a lot of cases probably some of those materials don't even exist in the same form nowadays. We find all the time, just as a quick digression, that one of the problems in model building is that you just no sooner get comfortable with some kind of material and then it no longer is available. Maybe because it has problems with the Environmental Protection Agency or whatever it may be. But in any case, I didn't try to duplicate the materials of the original Kong, but I was always looking at reference pictures of him, going over the movie, trying to catch him in different angles and capture as many of the sculptural nuances and the attitudes and the form of him, as I could. I had to sort of filter that through the request from the effects director to maybe take some of the, how can I say the... clumsiness out of the sculpture in some ways. Where I think of how a gorilla looked was sort of only vaguely understood at that time. And I think that's one of the reasons Kong doesn't look like an absolutely real gorilla, because I don't think they had any way of really studying them in those days. They weren't able to keep them alive until the '40s in zoos and circuses and things. So they, I think, based it a lot on Victorian great ape art, and certainly speculative illustrations and things. And so he has more of a monkey-like quality than an anthropoid, great-ape quality in some ways. And actually, I think that worked to the advantage of the picture because he has a simian quality, but it's kind of a Hollywood gorilla, and he has his own look. Which, I think if you were to try to make him look like a real gorilla you'd probably have been better off to use a man in a costume or something, even back at that time.
Photo Credits: (1-3) copyright 1996 WGBH Educational Foundation.
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