Hollywood has been grappling with King Kong for almost seven decades now, and finally seems to have got it right with 2017’s biggest monster movie – Kong: Skull Island. The film, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, starring Tom Hiddleston and Oscar winner Brie Larson did what no other monster movie could do. The movie brought together real history and perfection in graphics – and can actually be the model for any Hollywood monster movie (hey, Jurrassic World, look this way).
Vogt-Roberts revealed that he wanted King Kong to look simple and yet iconic – something a third grader could draw in a recognisable way. “How do we arrive at a design that’s unique and new and serves the story, and at the same time is different from the previous iteration that was executed really well for Peter Jackson’s Kong?” Skull Island VFX supervisor Jeff White of lead VFX house Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), told The Hollywood Reporter. The movie featured the biggest cinematic King Kong ever, and was obviously the most realistic one. It was a 100 feet at least, and comprised of 19 million digital hair.
The director also admitted that he wanted Kong picturised like a “lonely god.” But the Kong in this movie was to be honest, half-man, half-ape. The filmmaker also said he was inspired by the 1933 version of the ape monster which was the first movie to have Kong stand in an upright position. Hayao Miyazaki’s animated epic Princess Mononoke was also a major influence on the 2017 Kong. ILM reportedly used a used motion-facial-capture video reference to get the CGI done right. Kong’s hair was the biggest issue, because in a 3-D film, this would be the one thing that would have to go right… also because, Kong is all hair.
ILM nailed the monster hair detailing line in films like Warcraft and The Revenant, but Kong required more brains behind it, since the CGI needed a lot more grooming. If you remember, The Revenant in 3-D received widespread accolades. But Kong’s features demanded a beaten and weary look, especially given the war-background of the film. “Also we couldn’t get away with the hair being long and simple because then we’d lose some of the scale cues. We had two people working on just the hair for about a year on making the curls change direction, and everything that would make it feel natural and organic,” said White.
The battle with the skullcrawler lizard or the 200-foot squid for instance, were momentous tasks to accomplish. Another great hurdle was the water simulation. In every CGI film, especially a monster film water simulation is a necessity, to get the ecosystem right, and just to mesh things together. For Skull Island, the team came up with a solution to lighten the load. The animators would do their job, and would send it in to the simulation crew who would then adjust the water simulation.
“We would take measurement of where he had gone underwater and we had a simulation value: how wet is the hair. He could go from dry to having it plunging into water and getting darker, shiner and looser so that it looked like appropriately wet hair,” said White.
It was all obviously worth it considering the 2018 Oscars are nearing and Kong:Skull Island is a major contender for the VFX category, and it might just get some competition from fellow ape buddies from The Planet of the Apes franchise.