Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Sense of Wonderfest, Part 3

Bob Burns and the gorilla his dreams.

Have you ever heard of... KONG?

Well, he was at Wonderfest too -- in the form of the animation model armature used in the 1933 classic -- along with his similarly skinned relative, Mighty Joe Young. Carl Denham had to capture him on Skull Island and bring him to New York City against his will, but Kong is now a willing world traveller in the company of his current keepers Bob and Kathy Burns, who generously brought Kong and Joe along to Louisville in a continuation of an unofficial World Tour.

This tour began in 2005, when the Burnses took Kong for a personal visit to the production headquarters of the Peter Jackson remake in New Zealand. Kong was later Jackson's "date" at the film's World Premiere in New York City in December 2005, where Bob & Kathy were surprised to find that their participation in a crowd scene was actually a playful cover for the fact that Jackson had sneakily photographed them in close-up. You can see them onscreen just as Kong breaks free of his shackles in the theater and emerges on the wintery streets of Manhattan.

On Sunday night, after the Wonderfest banquet, Kathy Burns presented a special slide show reminiscing about Kong's visit to the KONG set and the Weta special effects facilities, where Kong met and was articulated by everyone from the coffee servers in the animation department to Peter Jackson himself. He was even animated for the first time since 1933 -- an unbelievable treat that's included in the extras of Warner Home Video's KING KONG DVD, a moment that Bob says actually brought him to tears.

The Burns slides captured the hearts of Wonderfesters because they vividly conveyed the power this comparatively (and admirably) simple prop has to excite peoples' imaginations. When people handle this model, move his jaws, arms, and multi-jointed fingers, they find themselves literally in the driver's seat of movie magic. The faces captured in Bob & Kathy's slides are a combination of intense focus, infinitely youthful admiration, and open-hearted affection.

The two armatures -- built some 16 years apart -- sport some interesting differences. Kong has no toes, while Joe has articulated toes (with some residue of their original covering still visible). Joe also has a bendable wire brow, facilitating more detailed facial expressions.

As in New Zealand, Bob allowed the two props to be freely handled by anyone and everyone at Wonderfest. I didn't witness a single instance of anyone abusing this privilege, trying to photograph Kong with an obscene digit raised, or anything that would have sullied the preciousness of the opportunity. I asked Bob if either of the armatures required any upkeep, like regular oiling or WD-40-ing, and he said that both were so well-made, they haven't needed anything of the sort. Kathy told Donna and me that it's her feeling that the models get so much exercise, thanks to Bob's generosity with them, that they are kept limber by nothing more than the loving attention regularly paid to them.

With Bob's kind permission, we photographed Kong holding his favorite magazine... but that shot is being reserved for a place of honor in our next issue, which we're finishing up this week.

To Be Continued.

"Well, you cannot go wrong / If you're meeting King Kong / So ahoy from the Wonderfestgerald -- Woo HOO!"

The KKK took my baby away...

The King Kong Kiss, that is!

All photos reproduced in this blog are copyrighted (c) by Tim & Donna Lucas, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

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