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NEWS: King Kong Re-Emerges in a New 4-D Attraction in 2010

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  • 8 months later...
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After nearly 19 months away from the spotlight, a new King Kong -- more grizzled and, definitely, ferocious -- is preparing to return to Universal Studios Hollywood.


Since the old animatronic Kong was destroyed in a fire on the theme park's back lot, Hollywood's top visual effects wizards have been tinkering away in a giant hangar in Playa Vista to create a new, more realistic ape to terrify visitors who take the park's signature back lot studio tour.


Inside the humongous drab-green building, Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson has led a team of film and theme park ride experts in creating a 3-D version of the hairy ape to replace the Kong that died in the June 2008 fire.


The new Kong attraction, described by Universal Studios as the largest 3-D exhibit in the world, will debut this summer at the height of tourist season.


If the new technology works as designed, park visitors will not only see Kong in three dimensions but also smell his banana breath, feel the gust of wind as he jumps over the guests and sense the ground quake when the ape engages a Tyrannosaurus rex in a life-or-death battle. The Kong attraction will be one stop on the park's back lot studio tour ride.


During a recent preview of the technology, a dirty, battle-scarred Kong stared menacingly out from two 180-foot-long by 40-foot-tall screens that wrap around the trams that will carry visitors. In another scene, a 35-foot-tall T. rex stepped over the trams, turned to the audience and bared its massive teeth.


"You are really going to be immersed in every part of the show," Universal Studios show producer Valerie Johnson-Redrow said during the preview for employees and advertising sponsors last week.


The new digital Kong represents the latest trend in theme park attractions: the increased use of movie magic -- including 3-D effects, holograms and pyrotechnics -- to thrill and entertain park visitors.


The new Kong replaces a seven-ton, 30-foot-tall mechanical ape that was built in 1986 and considered for many years to be one of the most complex animatronic figures in the world. The old Kong was also an icon, used by Universal Studios in television commercials and print ads to draw visitors.


It is unclear whether the loss of the attraction hurt attendance at the park because the economic recession that took hold in 2008 cut theme park attendance nationwide.


Within months of the fire, executives began formulating plans to rebuild and improve the attraction. Park officials quickly agreed that film technology had advanced much faster than robotics, and so decided Kong would return in digital form.


Although they declined to discuss the price tag for the 3-D production, theme park officials said the cost would be more than six times the price of rebuilding the destroyed mechanical Kong.


"After the 2008 fire, we knew we had to bring him back to the back lot studio tour, but in a way that has never been experienced before," said Universal Studios Hollywood President Larry Kurzweil.


But the concept of a 3-D King Kong was born long before the fire killed off the animatronic ape.


After Jackson completed the 2005 Academy Award-winning film "King Kong" for Universal Pictures, some of his visual effects experts converted scenes from the movie into a 3-D visual format.


"We saw it and we said we wish we had done the whole movie in 3-D," said Joe Letteri, the visual effects supervisor for the film.


Since then Jackson and his team of visual effects experts at Weta Digital have honed the 3-D technology on this year's Golden Globe-winning film "Avatar." Many of the technological advances developed for "Avatar" will be used in the Kong attraction, Letteri said.


"It's going to feel like 'Avatar' but it will be happening all around you," he said.


Last year, park officials announced the partnership with Jackson to create the attraction, formally titled "King Kong 360 3-D, created by Peter Jackson."


The new ape will resemble the Kong from the 2005 film, right down to the broken canine tooth and the scars over its right eye. Other creatures and scenes from the movie, including caves, giant bats and dinosaurs from Skull Island, will also appear on the four-story-tall screens.


When the attraction is complete, guests on the studio tour will board a tram that will enter a 200-foot-long soundstage, Johnson-Redrow said. Guests must don 3-D glasses for the 2 1/2 -minute attraction.


Inside the building, the tram will stop over a "tram-mover" system, powered by massive air bags that will lift, shake and drop the tram, giving guests the feeling of being jolted during the battle between Kong and the T. rex, she said.


The 180-foot-long screens will curve around the tram so that the 3-D images seem to surround the passengers. A system of fans, sprayers and other devices installed in the building will spew air, water and odors at park visitors to bring the images to life, she said.


Jackson, Letteri and others have been putting the final touches on the attraction in the same 281,000-square-foot hangar in Playa Vista where aviation legend Howard Hughes built the 200-ton plane known as the Spruce Goose in the 1940s.


The few test scenes shown during the preview last week were taken from the 2005 "King Kong" movie, but Johnson-Redrow said tour-takers will see original material, created by Jackson specifically for the attraction.


"We are going to bring you to Skull Island," she said. "We are going to bring you right in the middle of a knock- down, drag-out fight with a T. rex."


Jamie Glastein, left, Jenn DeCrescenzo and Sheri Bain don 3-D glasses to preview the King Kong attraction that will allow visitors who take the Universal Studios Hollywood back lot tour to not only see Kong in three dimensions but also to smell his banana breath. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / January 21, 2010)

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Sounds promising. I wouldn't expect them to have much of a problem with the banana breath or a wind machine. Are the trams redesigned to have higher roofs? I can see the guests in the middle of the trams having some difficulty seeing the 3D screens, especially kids. Going to be a lot of competition for those window seats on the tram now.

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  • 1 month later...

That was quite possibly the worst trailer I have ever seen. You can't get anymore vauge than that! It doesn't even say anything at all about Kong. If I didn't know anything about this, I'd say it was Jurassic Park related.

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^I think that is the look they were going for. Full resolution 1080p video, blue skies, etc. sort of takes away from the "Holy sh*t, Kong just destroyed USH!!!" IMO. They were most likely going for the "Cloverfield look" (for lack of a better term).


^^The video Adam posted cuts off the end of the teaser.


Here's the full version:



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^I think that is the look they were going for. Full resolution 1080p video, blue skies, etc. sort of takes away from the "Holy sh*t, Kong just destroyed USH!!!" IMO. They were most likely going for the "Cloverfield look" (for lack of a better term).


You know I actually thought that was what they were going for, and I still think it fails. If it was someone "holding" the camera or even "found security footage," or something like that, I wouldn't nearly have the same problem or annoyance with the teaser. It looks to amateurish for using a boom lift at the end. You can still easily wash out colors in post production and still have a high quality video when you're done. I guess I just expected more out of a theme park built within an actual working movie studio.



Actually, the video you linked to (the official one, I guess, on their site) is actually an entirely different cut then the one Adam posted, and I like that one a lot more. After watching the two a few times, I think it's the camera movement that's throwing it off in the first one for me and the unfinished sound at the end, I'm guessing it was a rough cut?

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  • 3 weeks later...



Since he burned in a backlot fire in 2008, King Kong's resurrection is so massive, Universal Studios Hollywood needed two locations to make it happen.


In the heart of Universal City, construction has begun on the Kong attraction which used to be and will still be part of the backlot tram tour through the theme park. Here a team has found a new location near the studio upon which they'll build a giant rock entrance and the attraction itself, a network of metal, wood and other elements I can't even fathom that are needed to pull the ride off. Back in the day, the roar and explosions from the King Kong attraction interfered with the sound teams actually filming on the Universal backlot, so this time Kong is going to be nestled in a new hillside location on the lot.


This wasn't where I was called to on an early Tuesday morning, strangely enough.


Universal invited Shock Till You Drop to Playa Vista where another arm of development on "King Kong 360 3-D." And I quickly learned why I was brought here instead. Inside a soundstage - that previously housed Jon Favreau's Iron Man production and sat next to another building where James Cameron shot some of Avatar - Universal and director Peter Jackson's team have created a mock-up tram surrounded by 16 hi-def projectors and massive 187 foot-long screens that are 40 feet high.


"Peter Jackson and WETA digital give us versions of the pre-viz here," explains our guide, Valerie Johnson-Redrow, the show's producer. "We're close to locking off the pre-viz, but not yet. So what you're going to see today is an in-progress version. It will be 3-D. We don't have audio now, but we do audio mock-ups." Johnson-Redrow explains that this facet of production is taking place on the Playa Vista facility because it was large enough to replicate what's presently being built in Universal City.


Shock boards the faux tram - made of wood - which is four cars long. I'm told for the best effect, to sit in car three or the front of four. The tram obscures any view of the projectors which we're assured will be concealed in the final version of the ride.


Where the original Kong attraction took you through Manhattan as the big ape seemingly destroyed everything in his path with the help of animatronics, this updated version takes its cue from the 2005 Jackson film. Johnson-Redrow instructs me to put on my glasses. "So [on the tour] the tram will take you through a dark tunnel, so your eyes can acclimate, and the tunnel will lead into the attraction. You're going to be told by Peter Jackson what the set-up is. He's inviting you into the middle of the movie. The same artists that worked on King Kong worked on this and the same sound designer worked on it."


The screens around me, until now featuring a simple WETA slate, suddenly burst to life and we're transported to Skull Island. The tram remains in place, mind you, but you're given the feeling that your coasting along through the jungle as dinosaurs scamper through the brush.


Left. Right. Up or down. The ride is visually immersive. And even though the CG FX are rough, one can still get the big picture. I only wish there was sound, unfortunately, it wasn't ready for us.


A pack of Velociraptors come up on the left. As they see the potential food being transported on the tram (hint: us), a Tyrannosaurus Rex moves in and takes one of them out. We think we're safe until another Rex appears on our left. Then another Rex rises up on the right. Certain doom is imminent. That is, until Kong lands on our right and dispenses with one of the Rexes by snapping its jaw. Here the WETA artists included the classic "Kong playing with his kill" gag as he flaps the Rex's maw open and closed. It's hard to appreciate a detail like this because suddenly, as we look to our left, the tram is sliding into a ravine!


Vines keep us aloft, but one of the tram cars is viciously attacked by a Rex and is wrenched from the group. Johnson-Redrow assures us that this ill-fated tram car will be populated by riders. As we dangle from the ravine, swinging precariously back and forth and almost into the mouth of a Rex, Kong battles the remaining dinosaurs and takes them down. A cloud of bats emerge from a nearby cave system taking us to black just as we fall towards Kong. We get up close and personal with the ape one final time before the tram is then led out of the attraction.


Now, what we saw was rough, but incredibly impressive. If you were to look directly ahead at the direction the tram was moving in, the environment around you feels completely genuine. That's not to say the effect wasn't terrific when you looked at it dead-on. I'm just talking about the peripheral effect of the attraction's 360 layout. Johnson-Redrow says other elements, beyond sound, that will be added in later include mist, particle effects (such as dirt, debris from the fight, etc.) and, of course, the ol' feeling of rocking back and forth as if the tram itself was being hit by the dinosaurs and Kong.


"Each tram car is on a new configuration of air springs [called the Platen system]. It's very flexible but not a gimble. [utilizing] compressed air, about 6,000 pounds per show," she says. "So we'll have wind effects, water and scent. It won't be banana breath [like in the old ride] but there will be olfactory surprises. There will be dino breath and environmental smells. Kong is going to bounce on the tram. He's going to go all around it. Both sides of the tram are going to get up close with him. You'll get knocked around."


King Kong 360 3D has only be in development for a year and a half, hardly typical of a theme park attraction which can be in development for up to three years. But Universal and Jackson are moving quickly to meet a July opening.




Earlier this morning Dread Central was invited to a very preliminary sneak peek at the upcoming King Kong attraction that will be integrated into the backlot tour at Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park this summer.


In June of 2008 the original animatronic giant ape from the 2005 award-winning Peter Jackson film was one of the casualties of the backlot fire that burned for over 12 hours and claimed many beloved places on the famous tour, including Courthouse Square (which you may remember from Back to the Future). While there was no plan in place before Universal lost its animatronic Kong to update that part of the tour, Universal found that he’d always remained a fan favorite.


Show Producer Valerie Johnson-Redrow spoke about the fact that the fans can be thanked for bringing Kong back to the Universal tour and what improvements have been made to ensure everyone feels like they are getting the full experience.


Johnson-Redrow said, “Once Kong was gone, we did a lot of market research and found that fans really missed having him on the backlot tour. He’s got such a mass appeal to both international fans as well as here in the US, so Universal decided that if they were going to bring him back, they wanted to do something different.”


“With the animatronic attraction, Kong was either on one side of the car or the other, so sometimes you’d lose out on experiencing him depending on where you sat,” explained Johnson-Redrow. “Universal really couldn’t build two of them. So with this new ride, Kong is now up close and personal with every single person sitting in a tram car. There’s not a bad seat on the ride.”


Up close and personal indeed. King Kong will soon be coming right at you as part of a brand new revolutionary 360 3D experience.


Jackson worked alongside Universal to develop the new attraction, which features all original content and nothing from the original movie. The director brought back a lot of the crew from his film to work on the ride film, and the quality shows. The version we saw today was still a rough cut. The 3D was still being rendered and there were no audio tracks or motion cues for us, but that didn’t make the experience any less grandiose.


Through the use of Surround Digital 3D projection, we experienced going deep into the dinosaur-infested jungles of Skull Island. Shortly after I got used to the swarms of tiny dinosaurs as they jumped about the lush green backdrops, I noticed they were starting to scatter due to the arrival of some very angry 35-foot tall dinosaurs. Once these dinosaurs started trying to wreak havoc on the backlot tour guest, it was up to King Kong to save the day. Once he took care of business, Kong delivered a mighty display of dominance before disappearing.


Johnson-Redrow talked about what a massive undertaking the experience will be just from a technological standpoint through their work alongside WETA Digital.


“This three-minute adventure is actually half the size of a real motion picture, around 90,000 frames I would say,” explained Johnson-Redrow. “We load everything onto servers in a control room, and each server has a projector with a brain that links them all together. Then the projectors display the images on 187-foot screens that surround visitors for a larger than life experience.”


“It’s taken over a year and a half to develop this ride, and considering the scope of what we’ve done, that’s pretty incredible,” Johnson-Redrow added.


While no official date has been announced for when we can expect King Kong to start unleashing his wrath on the backlot tour, Johnson-Redrow could confirm that the Universal Studios Hollywood attraction will be open sometime in July and that, yes, Peter Jackson is expected to be there to celebrate the momentous occasion.





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^ and ^^ Keep in mind that is a completely different set then the one guests will go through when it finally opens so don't even count on it looking like that aside from the screens. This is just a mock up, I'm sure for fine tuning the film while the real attraction is being built, one of the advantages of having "empty" sound stages around, get double the amount of work done in half the time.


Thanks for posting this, it looks like a lot of fun, even though I *KNOW* they'll use this as yet another opportunity to squirt people with water!

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