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Interview with David Allen,
King Kong Builder and Animator

Photo: David Allen NOVA: How did you come up with your design of King Kong?

ALLEN: Well, the original King Kong was built by Marcelle Delgado, a prop man who was hired by the effects director for the original picture, Willis O'Brien. And King Kong has a very characteristic look to him that is, I've found, difficult to capture. I've tried to do it a number of times, and I think this is probably the best replica that I've done so far. I haven't really done it in many years, but it was quite a challenge to go back to trying to capture Kong again.

NOVA: How many Kongs were in the original movie? Were there a number of versions?

ALLEN: Well, that's a question that's hard to answer with certainty, because I've heard from different people who worked on the picture, most of whom are no longer alive. I've heard anywhere from two models to six models were used. And I have seen the jointed armature for two different King Kongs, both the same size. And I would assume that they would have had more than two. But I don't know for a fact that they had any more than those two models.

NOVA: How can you move his fingers and elbows, and what kind of structure is inside of him? How do you control the way he's going to move?

Photo: David Allen moving kong ALLEN: Where you're going to want very controlled in between displacements of the model from one position to another, you usually want to have a specially built armature, which is a term that's taken from clay sculpture. Except that what this armature is is a system of ball joints and hinges and swivels.

NOVA: How does he move?

ALLEN: Well, the elbow is a hinged joint. There's swivels and sleeve joints in the shoulder so that you have a lot of different range of motion. In the neck there's a ball joint, two ball joints actually so he can shrug his neck and still look in the same direction, that kind of thing.

NOVA: Is this fun?

ALLEN: Well, that's a question. I would say that it's an awful lot of work and it's sort of a big drain on your nervous energy because there's a kind of paranoia that hangs over the whole process, because you're in a time lapse world and you don't want anything to go wrong over a period of many hours or even days. And so you're worried that everything is building upon itself, one frame at a time, although there are nowadays frame checking systems that arePhoto: David Allen moving kong available that didn't used to be. But you could put in many, many hours of hard work, send the film to the lab and not be sure that it would be OK. So that part of it was never fun. But when the film comes back and if it's successful and you can watch it in the moviola or on the screen, it's very satisfying and I think it makes everything else worthwhile.

NOVA: Are you using real fur on Kong?

ALLEN: No, it's not. I use real fur sometimes, but this is a synthetic fur that comes from Germany. And I have used real pelts before, but I think this looks quite authentic. It has simulated guard hairs and different colors of browns and things in it. And I think it's going to work out real good for us.


Photo Credits: (1-3) copyright 1996 WGBH Educational Foundation.

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