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Wow! Apparently Christie's, London is auctioning of the original articulated model from the 1933 version of King Kong. It's estimated that the model will bring in between $168,000 and $252,000 when it is auctioned off today. I'd be willing to bet that Adam Savage is in the running. Wish I was.
King Kong was one of the first monster movies I ever saw. While not an animator myself, I've always had a soft spot for stop motion work. When I was in college, I took a class called Movies, Myths and Monsters that only deepened my appreciation for early animators like Willis O'Brien (Oakland native, Hey yo!), the animator of King Kong, Son of Kong, The Lost World, and Mighty Joe Young, among others. O'Brien, who was the mentor for animation great, Ray Harryhausen, had a long but tumultuous career full of ground breaking professional achievements, creative frustrations, and personal tragedy.
O'Brien started out as a marble sculptor and cartoonist for a San Francisco newspaper until he was hired by the Edison company to make a series of short, prehistoric-themed films. This eventually led to his work on The Lost World and his masterpiece, King Kong, in which he took the 18" metal model you see at top, covered it in foam and rabbit's fur, and made one of the most enduring characters in cinematic history.
Before setting to work on the film, O'Brien studied the movements of gorillas in zoos and other large animals to develop his characterization of Kong and the dinosaurs of Skull Island. He also attended professional wrestling matches to get ideas about how to make the battle scenes in the film seem more realistic. Shortly before filming was completed on Kong, O'Brien's estranged ex-wife killed their two sons and then turned the gun on herself, a tragedy some say, he never recovered from.
In 1950, O'Brien was awarded a statue by the academy for his work on Mighty Joe Young, though it is widely rumored that Harryhausen had done most of the heavy lifting on the film. Later in his career, O'Brien had trouble finding work and was often frustrated by the cool reception that many of his ideas received from producers. His last bit of work before his death came on 1963's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in which he animated a group of characters hanging from a fire escape. He died before the movie was released in 1962.
Auction story via Neat-o-Rama