I supervised character design, storyboarding, pre-visualization, 2nd Unit photography and all visual effects and animation sequences as the studio-side Supervisor. In 2017, I was fortunate to receive an Oscar nomination for my efforts on the project.
To build the narrative of the island, we started by designing more than 20 different types of creatures. As the script evolved, we focused on 9 unique creature species to develop and integrate into the movie. A big challenge for us was to figure out how to update the design of Kong while still paying homage to the 1933 Willis O’Brien creature that most people still associate as the iconic looking King Kong. We chose to modernize Kong's body, but maintain a familiar silhouette and movie monster features of disproportionately large head and eyes, elongated pointy teeth, and those beautifully bulbous brows. Our Kong’s physique and posture is similar to the O’Brien version, but we sculpted muscle definition and created thick clumping densities of course hair rather than the original soft looking rabbit hair. In order to help sell his massive 100’ scale, we generated over 200 types of hair style layers that combined to create more than 19 million individual strands of hair.
Kong Appears At a Watering Hole
There were many extraordinarily complex visual effects shots in this sequence with Kong, his wet fur, and multiple bi-directional water simulations that collide with body hair, and background plate and CG water. The background plate was shot in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam with Toby Kebbel. Toby played both himself and Kong during Performance Capture.
This multi-tentacle cephalopod was a complicated technical challenge. The tentacles were first animated and then simulated to get jiggle and sucker attachment to Kong’s body. The tentacles were used as collision objects with stiction springs generated on-the-fly to move Kong’s fur. When Kong chews his meal at the end of the sequence, a muscle driven facial simulation was run to get accurate collision and compressions with the constantly sliding tentacles.
The primary nemesis creatures are called Skull Crawlers. Some of the bigger challenges were deciphering how this really long horizontal biped could move with agility while maintaining mass, and how to technically achieve the desired aesthetic of a body with a partially exposed exoskeleton.
We built a large exterior set on location in Oahu to shoot this sequence using lots of practical Stunts and physical SFX. Our job was to incorporate a Skull Crawler into the environment to (of course) eat people and cause mayhem.
SFX Pyro Test
The Final Battle
The climactic battle sequence between Kong and the "Mama" Skull Crawler was shot within a scenic yet leech infested swamp in Vietnam. We used a combination of ground, aerial and digitally scanned mountain background plates to give us the physical freedom to choreograph the action between the two battling titans as they moved quickly across large parts of the environment.
Many of the shots were kitchen-sink dense with visual effects, and comprised an epic monster brawl, complex CG water, spray, explosion, rock, mud, plant, tree, chain, ship wreckage, and wet fur simulations. Add to that a SFX 50-caliber oxygen and propane machine gun that emitted flame and concussion like the original, as well as tracer and flair gun fire. We composed huge dynamic camera moves to capture the excitement while magically managing to reinforce scale of these magnificent beasts!
Live action photography for the Final Battle sequence in a swamp in Van Long, Vietnam.
We employed a drone carrying an Alexa Mini and Primo lenses, and a Red Dragon camera array encased within a gyrostabilized rig that gave us 152 degree FOV to shoot a number of aerial background plates.
The Bamboo Spiders were inspired from one of our location scouts. The 30 foot long spider legs camouflage themselves amongst the bamboo while the bodies hover above the leaf canopy waiting to skewer unsuspecting prey, and reel it up to its massive jaws via long suckered tentacles.
Giant Water Buffalo
The Water Buffalo camouflages itself with pond weeds and vines that interact with the water surface. Add gunk in the eyes, wet beads of tufted fur, swarming flies, and the obligatory roosting birds, and then split into a pool of CG water filled with reeds and the audience is none the wiser.
Kong Is Attacked
This is another sequence where we skillfully combined efforts between Stunts, SFX and VFX. We built a small body of water to which SFX added a base level of pyro, and VFX then extended around Kong. We also added CG water and splashes that would simulate off of Kong and spray fire-water on to the soldiers.