NOVA: How did you make this model of King Kong?
ALLEN: When I made this model of King Kong the process was maybe a little different than it might be if you were making a creature from your imagination. But as far as the sequence of events and the making of the model there was not a design phase so much because we determined fairly early that it was going to resemble the original King Kong. So then the jointed structure that all of the animation is built on was constructed at a machine shop. Then once I had the armature in hand I mounted it to a base, and began to put a non-drying clay, a plastacene, or plastilena clay on the armature, trying all along through the process to keep my eye on the reference photo so it would look like Kong. You know, the same kind of thing that I'm sure artists at the Wax Museum or any of these kind of places do. And after the sculpture was finished and approved, I made a two-piece mold in plaster of this sculpture. And then all of the clay comes off of the armature at that time. And the armature is then placed back inside the hollow mold, and a natural foam rubber is blended up in mixers and was injected into the back of the mold, filled and then it gels. Then it's put into an oven and baked for six or eight hours to vulcanize the rubber, so the sulfur will give the rubber memory, you know, so it springs back. Then, after that the mold is cracked apart and bolts are loosened and then it's lifted out. And of course it has a lot of webbing, what's called flashing, where all the seams are like you see on toys and stuff. They always grind those down. So of course, I cut the flashing off, and the next point, which I haven't come to yet, is the affixing of the fur and the painting of the foam rubber. I have to mix up color which is compatible with the color of the hair, not necessarily the same color but something that coordinates with it. And put in the eyes, the teeth, which we looked at, and do all the final touches which usually take about as long as all of the stuff that I described. You know, the last ten percent takes another 100 percent of the time. So it's a lot of bench work in these kinds of creatures.
NOVA: So how many hours could you put in to a creature like that?
ALLEN: Well, I didn't take a real hard count of my manhours on the model, but I've been working on it pretty steadily for, well, what? Six, seven weeks, something like that, I think.
NOVA: You've been able to realize doing something for this movie that you might have dreamed of as a kid when you saw Kong initially. Would you have any advice for anyone wanting to be in the film business?
ALLEN: When I talk to people who wanted to work in model animation, and nowadays, I might advise someone interested in animation, if they aren't specifically inclined because of some particular movie that inspired them say like King Kong was for me or some of the later Ray Harry Hasen (?) films, "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," pictures like this all use model animation. And they were very important in keeping my interest jazzed as I went through my early years. But I think nowadays, probably the future is in computer animation, and I think that if I were talking to a young man in high school or college, although it's very unclear at this point in time, it's difficult to be an accurate futurist and know what is going to happen with this kind of work such as was done for the original "King Kong." But certainly films like "Jurassic Park" have changed a lot of people's thinking about how realistic virtual reality actually can be. So I think that dimensional model animation where an actual figure is manipulated in space on a real set and photographed with a film camera—these days probably are going to end. I don't know exactly when. And it may go on in a diminishing capacity for another 30 years because it is a look of its own. And we see like with "Nightmare Before Christmas," for example, and the new "Mars Attacks" movie that's being made, and "James and the Giant Peach," that's being produced, all with model animation and there are still active devotees, Tim Burton, a very strong champion of this kind of art form. But things like the Pillsbury Dough Boy that I started out doing with model animation are now done in computers. So is Mrs. Butterworth. These are fairly, with characters like that, fairly logical... that's a very logical supplanting of what was a technique, maybe not perfectly suited to what it was trying to do. And I think probably computers are better. But model animation, I would say this, it has a kind of an inner vitality and an energy that in trying to approach reality I think many people looking at it find it very effecting. And even if they see there's some distance between absolute reality and the model animation, for example, I think their heart in a way kind of goes out to it. And I think that they can appreciate the hands of an artist involved, and they can relate to it. And relate especially to the effort and to the creative effort that had to go on behind the scenes, and in the minds of the person who had the idea. I think the idea of the shot is, in the end, what the model is doing is much more important than the technology that you elected to use in making it happen. And that's the only cautionary note I would say is that I think we want to all beware of too much science getting into the future of this work.
Photo Credits: (1-3) copyright 1996 WGBH Educational Foundation.
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