Musings & Interests of David Stipes
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  • It began with Kong

    Posted on April 1st, 2009 dstipes No comments

    King Kong and Son of Kong were the first stop motion visual effects films I was aware of. I was about 8 or 9 yrs old at the time. I have a strong recollection of watching them on our treasured black and white television.

    With Son of Kong, I was especially captivated by the images of Skull Island sinking and Carl Denham and others scrambling to the top of the rocks with “Kiko”, the young albino son of Kong.  I was moved as Kiko saved the life of Carl Denham at the end. (Yep, Kiko was actually his name per RKO documents of the time.)  


    Fascinated, I knew something special had unreeled before my eyes but I did not know how it was accomplished.  I went and asked my mother how King Kong and Son of Kong were done. She told me they were trained monkeys. Even at my young age, I had seen a number of trained monkeys at zoos and on TV and none of them looked or moved like Kong.  I did not know what Kong was but I knew my mother was wrong; Kong was not a trained monkey!

    A few years later when I received an allowance and had some bicycle freedom, I would prowl the news stands of downtown Long Beach, CA for comic books and treasured copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland


    Written by Forrest (Forry) J Ackerman, they were filled with pretty cool photos from many past “monster movies” surrounded with really bad puns and commentary. Every once in a while, Forry would insert a fairly informative article about King Kong or Son of Kong and mention mysterious techniques like “stop motion animation” and “visual effects.”  He wrote about visual effects artists like Willis O’Brien and his protégé, Ray Harryhausen. 

    With the help of the only resource I had, Famous Monsters of Filmland, I began my search for how King Kong and other visual effects were created. I was only twelve years old.


    9 responses to “It began with Kong”

    1. I love all this old film history. King Kong was one of my favorite movies along with all the old Frankenstein, Dracula, wolfman, and mummy movies. My mom and I used to set aside Saturday afternoons to just squirm watching these old black and white classics. Before the word “geek” came into existence, I think I was one. I remember standing in the lunch line at school at about age seven, telling my friends that Frankenstein was my friend (I have no idea now why I would have even said that, geez, what a dork!) 🙂

    2. It has been amazing to see how much influence this 1933 film has had on the lives of so many. It has certainly become a lasting part of American culture (in spite of later film maker’s attempts to remake it.)

    3. With all the information on the internet, it would seem much easier to find out VFX info in present day, but it makes me wonder why people dont use tradtional methods like books, magazines, and the like. There are so many resources out there besides the internet, but I think people are too lazy to go to a library and open a book.
      It amazes me that at 12 years old you could see that something was different with that big ape (and it wasn’t a chromosome) and you didn’t take the brush off answer, you actually took an interest in finding out the truth! Kudos to you!
      Who ever said mothers know everything? Thanks for the encouragement not to listen to my parents!!

    4. Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for your kind comments!

      It makes me sad to see my students and friends short change themselves by only relying upon the internet. The internet is only one resource available.

      Many, many books and magazine articles are not on the internet yet and may never be. To not search and read books and publications is to handicap one’s education and career.

    5. Good start, Fasza! I look forward to more!

      I’d love to see some of your stories written out. I’m sure there are some hiding in there somewhere that you haven’t shared.

    6. Hello Nathan,

      Thank you for the encouragement! Yeah, I’ve got a few good stories to tell. 🙂

    7. Indeed, O’Brien (and later Harryhausen) created magic like none before nor since. And his SM aside, his composting “tricks” are a marvel of ingenuity and film genius. A true pioneer and master of early VFX (or special photographic effects) no-bout-a-dout-it, eh.

      And Famous Monsters of Filmland, I still have all my old issues. Man what I would give to visit the Ackermansion! 🙂


      PS. Found your blog off a link on Doug Drexler’s blog.

    8. I really have a soft spot for Son of Kong !!!!

    9. Deg and Andrew,

      Thank you for the postings and comments.

      It is amazing how much influence Willis O’Brien, through King Kong & Son of Kong, had on film makers and society.

      Who could have guessed that a small magazine, considered silly by most people and written by a man with a funny nick name, Forry, would be such an important vehicle of that influence.

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