The sequence in which Kong is put on display and breaks loose was shot in Auckland’s Civic Theatre, a restored Art Deco structure. The production was given only four days to bump in, complete several complex sequences, and then bump out again. “It was an exercise in middle-management,” says Lesnie. “On Sunday night, a small army of riggers moved in, and by early Monday morning we were underway. Our main concerns were hiding the lights and being able to shoot in 360 degrees. We had scenes to shoot in both the foyer and the auditorium. In the foyer, I enhanced the effect of the red and blue neons that exist in the theater. The auditorium was a little more complicated. We always had four cameras with varying focal lengths running to get the coverage we required. To light the area, we rigged greenbeds in the ceiling with 5K and 10Ks patched into dimmers. There were also balloon lights providing ambience, and I used Dinos from behind the stage curtain to light the audience in the ‘lights up’ scenario. Kino Flos and other small units were used to light the 60-piece orchestra. We accomplished a lot with architectural lighting enhancements.”

To make the 400 extras look like an audience of 2,000, Lesnie also performed some crowd replication. “We shot the action as a locked-off master, and when we had the desired take, the extras were relocated to the next section of the auditorium and we shot another master as they performed to playback.“

Weta Digital purchased and installed two Discreet Lustre grading systems for King Kong. Dave Cole set up the system and served as Weta’s digital colorist. Other colorists to come aboard were Billy Wybhgel and Mel Kangleon. By October 2005, the DI department had expanded to three Lustres and 15 personnel, including Lord of the Rings colorist Peter Doyle, whose role on Kong is described as “color designer.” Peter Williams supervised Weta’s scanning and recording department, which used Arri scanners and Arrilaser recorders.

“Rehearsal runs were conducted to ensure that when crunch time came in the fall of 2005, the pipeline between Weta’s grading department, Park Road Post, Technicolor Digital Intermediates and Technicolor L.A. would work smoothly,” explains Lesnie. “During the shoot, we set up a grading station at Stone Street studios, which meant we were able to have a colorist on set during production, a first for me. The department found a permanent home next to Peter Jackson’s cinema, and we were able to make use of his Barco DP100 digital projector to grade on the big screen.

“The other bonus has been concurrently grading while visual-effects shots are being created. We were able to take shots in progress and design looks that would give compositors an idea as to how they would look in the final stage. Even though [visual-effects supervisor] Joe Letteri insisted on providing the finals with neutral grades, which was greatly appreciated, I think it helped everyone to see where the images were heading.”

In the final and probably most iconic sequence of King Kong, the giant ape climbs the Empire State Building and is attacked by Curtiss Helldiver biplanes. A life-sized replica of a Helldiver was built for the production and shot on a bluescreen stage, with Lesnie using a 20K mounted on a modified crane arm to create the changing position of the sun as the plane banked and dived. It is in this sequence that Lesnie’s use of color is at its most emotionally expressive. “There are pivotal sequences throughout King Kong that take place either at dawn or dusk,” he notes. “Most of the dangerous scenes occur at dawn, so those scenes have aggressive, red skies. The romantic scenes tend to play at dusk, which has a golden, amber tone. The final scene, however, is more emotionally complex, and I needed an approach that would transcend the narrative. I staged the lighting so that as Kong battles the biplanes, the sun is coming up in a brilliant red dawn. As the inevitability of Kong’s fate becomes increasingly clear, the color shifts to a golden amber, a color representing the bittersweet memory of Kong and Ann’s relationship.”



Super 35mm 2.35:1

Arricam ST, LT; Arri 235, 435, 435 Advanced;
Fries Mitchell, Mitchell GC Rackover

Zeiss Ultra Primes; Optimo zooms

Kodak Vision2 500T 5218,
Vision2 200T 5217,
Vision 250D 5246

Digital Intermediate

Printed on Kodak Vision 2383

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© 2005 American Cinematographer.