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KING KONG

Shooting in a Non-Digital World
Even with all of the digital wizardry of Skull Island and 1933 New York, practical sets still had to be constructed to provide real-world filming spaces for the actors, filmmakers and crew.

A majority of photography took place on the back lot of Stone Street Studios in Miramar, New Zealand. Formerly a paint factory, the site now boasts several stages, one of which—Kong Stage—was expressly built for King Kong. Kong Stage is purported to be one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, measuring 2,276 square meters, and was completed just after the commencement of principal photography. Additional shooting was completed on exterior sets constructed on a repurposed parking lot—most of these sets (which included the Venture) were backed by a blue or green screen to allow the insertion of digital backgrounds during post-production.

Other scenes were shot at Windy Point, a stretch of vacant land with a cliff face, located 10 minutes from the studio; Seaview, the site of the New York street sets, where craft services fed up to 850 people a day; and Mt. Crawford, the site of the Skull Island wall. Scenes of Ann's vaudevillian work were shot at Wellington's historic State Opera House, which features a large domed auditorium with a full orchestra pit, two tiered boxes and (according to rumor) the ghost of its architect William Pitt, who supposedly hanged himself when he discovered that the sight lines were not perfect. One of the few uses of actual location took place at Waikato River (the longest in New Zealand) in Taupo.

Scenes of Kong's New York stage debut were filmed at the recently restored Civic Theatre in Auckland, built in 1929 with an auditorium that seats 2,350 patrons. The sequence where Kong is first displayed and then breaks free required a crew of 250 and nearly 500 local extras; these extras were shot in plates, section by section, which (when later stitched together by Weta Digital) rendered the theater with a sold-out audience.

As with the miniatures and digital environments and creations, set designs began with meetings between Jackson, production designer Grant Major and their teams. Those designs that received the go-ahead to become practical sets were then depicted in conceptual artwork (created by Major, Hunter or Bennett). Once approved, renderings became to-scale models, from which were drafted Major's technical drawings—the blueprints for actual construction. Major cites Victorian illustrator Gustave Doré as influential to his production design of Kong, particularly the artist's use of light and depth.

Of special concern was the eventual seamless combination with the miniature and digital elements. Major explains, "The whole nature of designing in film is changing as digital technology is evolving. Art departments are still building large sets, but they are now more likely to be pieces of sets, rather than whole environments that can be shot from any angle. With the extensive use of blue screen, the camera can now point in any direction and digital extensions will take care of background. So, as the art form becomes more advanced, the art department is becoming increasingly more involved in creating digital environments.”

A 179-foot coastal trader (or tramp steamer) called the Maniua was transformed into the largest prop in King Kong, the S.S. Venture. A plumb bow was added to the boat to mimic the shape that was popular in the 1920s and '30s. Major work was also done on the super-structure (the above deck buildings of the ship). Though most of the scenes onboard the Venture were actually shot on sets, the boat was sent out to sea to capture second-unit footage of action on the water. The boat also provided great guidelines for the multiple other versions (sets, miniature, digital) utilized during production. To keep with as much realism as possible, the Ventur

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