King Kong, 1933
A rare Armature/Skeleton designed by Willis O'Brien for the miniature model of a Brontosaurus dinosaur, this armature for the larger scale head and neck of the monster, believed to have been made for the scene where a brontosaurus attacks a sailor in a tree during the rescue pursuit for Ann, in the 1933 RKO Studios' masterpiece of stop-motion animation King Kong; the detailed armature manufactured in the RKO Studios' Miniature Department Workshops from steel and various alloys, comprising a sophisticated system of interlocking joints, bolts and screws which combine to give a remarkable degree of movement; the structure is made of a single block 'neck'; the skull moulded in two sections connected by a highly effective hinged 'jaw'; the armature 19in. (48.4cm.) high; with black and white still from the film [printed later] 10x8cm.; accompanied by various documents concerning the provenance, including a letter from RKO Studios (7)
HARRYHAUSEN, Ray & DALTON, Tony A Century of Stop Motion Animation, New York: Billboard Books, 2008 p.54 & pp.75-76
HARRYHAUSEN, Ray & DALTON, Tony The Art of Ray Harryhausen New York: Billboard Books, 2006
GOLDNER, Orville & TURNER, George E. The Making of King Kong, New York: A.S Barnes & Co. 1976 pp.140-143

Lot Essay

It is believed that this armature was made for the Brontosaurus used during the pursuit scene for Ann. King Kong seizes a frightened and scared Ann carrying her into the dangerous and mysterious jungle on Skull Island. Denham's sailors are seen running through the jungle, encountering dinasours as they go, to rescue her. A ferocious Brontosaurus appears in a misty swamp and chases the petrified crew. In a bid to escape one sailor takes refuge by climbing a tree, unwittingly providing a perfect platform for the monster to attack, ripping him from the branches and devouring him.
From the scale and design of this armature it appears that it could have been made for the close-up shot of the Brontosaurs emerging from the mist, as illustrated in picture A, where just a head and neck were used, as discussed in A Century Of Animation, Obie Willis O'Brien used a separate armatured model consisting of only a neck and head. In homage to The Lost World there is a shot of the Brontosaurus curling its mouth and snarling. Looking closely the raised eye-brows on the armature and shape of the teeth have a strong likeness to that illustrated in picture B. .
The structure of the armature bears a striking resemblance to that of King Kong, as offered at Christie's London in 2009. The scale, mechanical parts, materials used and overall design are comparable to the metal skeleton for King Kong. The copy of Willis O'Brien's original 1932 blueprint, offered with the King Kong armature shows clearly the design of the metal 'spine' for Kong which was replicated as the key componant to this partial Brontosaurus.
The armature would have then been passed to O'Brien's assistant, Marcel Delgado, who would construct the body. O'Brien and Delgado worked closely together from 1925 onwards, primarily due to Delgado's unique 'build-up method' as described by Ray Harryhausen: He stuffed and padded out the armature with sponge and cotton, which gave him the rough shape of the model required. He would then add rubber 'muscles' which would move with the articulated legs and head, giving the model's movements an even greater degree of realism. He then applied a 'skin' of liquid latex rubber, which he sculpted into details such as wrinkles and folds of skin.
Willis O'Brien's design for the Brontosaurus, particularly the simplicity of the single part 'neck' meant that the dinosaur could be moved by bending the frame. In contrast to the King Kong armature, this Brontosaurus does not have metal parts for its legs as these would not have been in shot and therefore not required on this scale model. Over the years the fragile padding has rotted away, leaving the metal 'spine' and skull of the dinosaur bare.
It is understood that this armature was retrieved from RKO Studios' by one of the Miniature Department staff members, Carlos Jose Cardona. It remained in his possession until it was gifted to the current vendor, the son of a close family friend. Cardona, although not credited on the film, is believed to have worked in the Miniatures Department after completing an engineering degree and moving to America from the island of Ibiza circa 1919. It is not clear exactly which year Cardona joined RKO but he is thought to have worked there for approximately 15 years, under Willis O'Brien ...the father of fluid model animation and the visionary who saw the potential of combining animated models with live action..., one of the most influential times for the development of stop-motion animation.
Early Willis O'Brien armatures rarely come up at auction as many were lost or re-worked into new miniatures for later films. This is an excellent example of his design and a testament to the skill of Stop-Motion Animation and the masterpiece that is RKO Studios' King Kong.

More from Popular Culture: Film and Entertainment

View All
View All