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KING KONG

Filming Kong
For Jackson and the majority of his New Zealand-based team, shifting into "Kong mode” was a continuation of the intensive work to which they had long been accustomed—the finished King Kong would feature more total effects work than the entire Rings trilogy combined.

He elaborates, "In some regards—in terms of our production infrastructure and the logistics—Kong was like a fourth Lord of the Rings film. And so we were able to keep everybody and all of the pipeline intact, which has been wonderful for the movie. During the year that we did the post-production on Return of the King, we were doing animatics [broad-stroke, animated storyboards] for King Kong, like the Tyrannosaurus fight, where that sequence was being created. And then we were immediately able to finish off Return of the King and start shooting the jungle shots for the T. rex sequences with the miniature team. And so it seemed that it was much more sensible, really, to just keep production rolling.”

So, long before cameras rolled (principal photography began in September of 2004), a group of more than 450 visual effects artists were busy at work, developing and creating the range of practical and digital art and effects necessary to ultimately render King Kong as a seamless, fantasy-filled whole. Early digital conceptual renderings (long gone are the days of executing in acrylics, oils, pastels and graphite) were completed by Gus Hunter and Jeremy Bennett, who worked closely with Jackson to realize his vision. By the time the film reached post, both men had completed an estimated 2,500 renderings apiece. Some of the high-resolution elements from the concept artists (a stormy sky, for example) were used directly by matte painters and compositors, making the end result much closer to the original concept illustrations.

One of the biggest differences between filming The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong was the use (or lack of use) of practical location as setting. Jackson says, "When we were starting Kong, I think everybody was assuming that New Zealand was a great location. We've got sort of rain forests here, but at the end of the day, when you go into these forests, they just look like Hawaii or anything else you've seen a million times on film. We had some wonderful conceptual art done—beautiful renderings—with these huge, over-scale, twisted, deformed trees and rock bridges and endless chasms that plummet down. It's like a jungle from hell—the most twisted, tortured terrain you can imagine. And I just knew looking at the pictures that we were never going to find a location like that. So we decided, very early on, that if we were really going to make Skull Island look like the conceptual art, that creating it artificially was the only way to do it.”

The resulting look of Skull Island is an exaggerated design, where realism has been supplanted by painterly extreme—a land where evolution has been left unchecked for millions of years. The heavy reliance on a digital environment also allowed Jackson the opportunity to utilize some of the same effects components (i.e., miniatures) that contributed to the look of the original feature.

"It gives you a connection to the 1933 movie—the tabletop model with the multiplane paintings and the depth that sort of hazes off into a milky, low-contrast, deep background jungle. It gave us an ability to actually match and to re-create that. So I've been able to make our style and feel quite reminiscent of the original tabletop, miniature Skull Island, which is fine by me. It's realistic enough for the movie, but it still has a slightly stylized feel,” offers Jackson.

Senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri adds, "The main thing about Skull Island as a location is something that Peter really wanted for this film, which was to create the feeling that this is the same Skull Isla

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