Kong: How Cutting Edge Tech Created a Prehistoric Ape

Kong: How Cutting Edge Tech Created a Prehistoric Ape
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Kong: Skull Island hits theaters this weekend with some impressive technological feats from the folks at Dolby and Industrial Light & Magic.

Bringing Kong to life on screen often requires major advances in technology. The 1933 iteration of Kong required progress in stop-motion animation, while much of the attention to the 2017 version of the prehistoric ape was dedicated to the digital rendering of his fur.

“We estimate we had about 19 million hairs on Kong,” ILM VFX Supervisor Jeff White tells me. “Just to scale this creature from a normal six-feet- up to 100-feet-tall meant that we had to have a lot more hair, a lot more detail than we’ve ever had in our creatures before. We had to do a lot of our technology development around that.”

The visual effects team needed to make viewers believe that this version of Kong really lived on an undiscovered jungle island in the Pacific, so they developed technology to put things in his hair like leaves, sticks and dried mud. The ape also spends a lot of time in the water, so a lot of effort was spent simulating water and how it affects Kong’s hair.

“We designed an entire system so that at any point, we could make any piece of him be wet,” White says. “We also knew there wasn’t a place where we could say ‘We don’t have to put much detail here.’ The camera focuses on his hands, on the bottom of his foot when he’s stepping on soldiers. You really get to see every bit of Kong.”

In addition to seeing a lot more of Kong in action, viewers will get to see a lot more of his world, courtesy of Dolby Vision. If you’re able to catch the movie at one of 60 Dolby Cinema at AMC locations in the U.S., you’ll notice a difference.

“With Dolby Vision, the filmmaker has a lot more latitude so that they can present brighter parts of the image that are more natural and lifelike,” Stuart Bowling, Dolby’s director of content and creative relations, tells me.

“The interesting thing about high-dynamic range is that cinematographers and directors are already capturing so much dynamic range that by the time it reaches the cinema today, the display devices are not capable of reproducing what they actually captured,” Bowling says. “So they end up having to make compromises.”

The high-dynamic range version of this movie is more than double the standard brightness of a movie inside a traditional theater. The result? Beautiful shots of the sun behind Kong, yet he doesn’t fall out of the shot.

“You can maintain the brightness and intensity of the sun, but see all the shadowing and the detail in the fur-structure of Kong,” Bowling says.

“Emotionally, it changes the context for the audience,” he notes. “Dynamic range makes the image much more engaging. Emotionally, it helps to pull the audience into the story that the filmmaker wants to tell.”

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