What is in this article?:
The 1976 release of the motion picture King Kong relied heavily on electrohydraulics. Here is our coverage from the April 1977 issue, which details some major challenges and solutions that are just as relevant today as the were more than 30 years ago.
Cost-saving as well as time-saving
What did it cost to animate King Kong with hydraulics? Even with the job completed, Robinson can only estimate.
"But," he told us, "it was only a fraction of the cost of electromechanical animation. You can begin to get some idea from our having Kong ready for the cameras in less than five months, compared to the year-and-one-half estimated for the electromechanical proposal."
"I had told De Laurentiis we probably could do the bare-frame hydraulics and aluminum tube skeleton for around $500,000. Adding two extra arms (for close-up, interior camera shots, see box), and the hydraulic pumps, which were exterior to the studio to avoid noise pickup, and renting cranes to lift the extra arms and erect the big ape, the total possibly went to $800,000 — still several times less than the cost of the electromechanical animation.
"We started with a budged of $1.5 million for all special effects, excluding the animated Kong. Only an auditor's accounting could verify it, but I've been told that we wound up with a budget surplus of about $385,000."
This article was originally published in the April 1977 issue of Hydraulics & Pneumatics. It is reprinted here for its historical and archival value.
Click here to see the theatrical trailer, which shows footage of the electrohydraulic Kong and the electrohydraulic hand that clutches and appears to lift Jessica Lange.
This shot is similar to the one at the beginning of the article, with Jessica Lange being held by the giant electrohydraulic hand. The main difference is that the blue screen has been replaced with footage that makes the hand appear to lift the Dwan character high into the air. Even though Kong’s giant hand is capable of closing into a fist, for safety reasons described in the article mechanical stops in the cylinders limit the amount of inward travel.
As in the previous shot, this image shows the hand with moving imagery filling the neutral blue screen in the background, providing the illusion of motion. The fingers’ wide range of motion can be seen by comparing this image with the previous one, where fingers are closed.
The electrohydraulic special effects for King Kong extend far beyond hand and finger movements. Multiple actuators in the face, neck, and arms gave unprecedented realism to give the audience emotional attachment to the Kong character, shown here in one of the last scenes of the movie.