The Frighteners was regarded as a commercial failure. In February 1997, Jackson launched legal proceedings against the New Zealand Listener magazine for defamation, over a review of The Frighteners which claimed that the film was “built from the rubble of other people’s movies”. In the end, the case was not pursued further. Around this time Jackson’s remake of King Kong was shelved by Universal Studios, allegedly because Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla, both giant monster movies, that had already gone into production. Universal feared it would be thrown aside by the two higher budget movies.
Peter Jackson won the rights to film J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic in 1997 after meeting with producer Saul Zaentz. Originally working with Miramax towards a two-film production, Jackson was later pressured to render the story as a single film, and finally overcame a tight deadline by making a last minute deal with New Line, who were keen on a trilogy.
With the benefit of extended post-production and extra periods of shooting before each film’s release, the series met huge success and sent Jackson’s popularity soaring. The final installment, The Return of the King itself met with huge critical acclaim, winning eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film was the first of the fantasy film genre to win the award for Best Picture and was the second sequel to win Best Picture (the first being The Godfather Part II).
Universal Studios signed Peter Jackson for a second time to remake the 1933 classic King Kong, the film that inspired him to become a film director as a child. He was reportedly paid a fee of US$20 million upfront, the highest salary ever paid to date to a film director in advance of production, against a 20 percent take of the box-office rentals (the portion of the price of the ticket that goes to the film distributor, in this case Universal). The film was released on 14 December 2005, and grossed around US$550 million worldwide.
Jackson completed an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestseller, The Lovely Bones, which was released in the United States on 11 December 2009. Jackson has said the film was a welcome relief from his larger-scale epics. The storyline’s combination of fantasy aspects and themes of murder bears some similarities to Heavenly Creatures. The film was an anticipated Best Picture Oscar contender, but ended up receiving poor reviews and middling box office returns. It currently holds a 32% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes.
Jackson is the main producer on The Adventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg. He is officially labeled as producer but helped Spielberg, before he began working on the script for The Hobbit. He also supervised Weta Digital on the post production of the film. In December 2011, Spielberg confirmed a sequel to his 3D movie will be made and are said to be based on The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun. He explained the Thompson detectives will “have a much bigger role”. The sequel will be produced by Spielberg and directed by Jackson.
Jackson’s involvement in the making of a film version of The Hobbit has a long and chequered history. In November 2006, a letter from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh stated that due to an ongoing legal dispute between Wingnut Films (Jackson’s production company) and New Line Cinema, Jackson would not be directing the film. New Line Cinema’s head Robert Shaye commented that Jackson “…will never make any movie with New Line Cinema again while I’m still working at the company…” This prompted an online call for a boycott of New Line Cinema, and by August 2007 Shaye was trying to repair his working relationship. On 18 December 2007, it was announced that Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema had reached agreement to make two prequels, both based on The Hobbit, and to be released in 2012 and 2013 with Jackson as a writer and executive producer and Guillermo del Toro directing.
However, in early 2010, del Toro dropped out of directing the film because of production delays and a month later Jackson was back in negotiations to direct The Hobbit; and on October 15 he was finalised as the director, with New Zealand confirmed as the location a couple of weeks later. The film started production on March 20, 2011. On July 30, 2012, Peter Jackson announced via his Facebook page that the two planned ‘Hobbit’ movies would be expanded into a trilogy. The third film will not act as a bridge between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, but would continue to expand The Hobbit story by using material found in the Lord of the Rings Appendices. The films are The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Hobbit: There and Back Again (2014).
Jackson was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002. He was later knighted (as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit) at a ceremony in Wellington in April, 2010.
Fay Wray (born Vina Fay Wray; September 15, 1907 – August 8, 2004) was a Canadian-American actress most noted for playing the female lead in King Kong. Through an acting career that spanned 57 years, Wray attained international renown as an actress in horror movie roles, leading to many considering her as the first “scream queen”.
Wray was born on a ranch near Cardston, Alberta, Canada, to two Mormons, Elvina Marguerite Jones, who was from Salt Lake City, and Joseph Heber Wray, who was from Hull, England. She was one of six children. Her family returned to the United States and moved to Salt Lake City in 1912, before moving to Hollywood, where Fay attended Hollywood High School.
In 1923, Wray appeared in her first film at the age of 16, in a short historical film sponsored by a local newspaper. In the 1920s, Wray landed a major role in the silent film The Coast Patrol (1925), as well as uncredited bit parts at the Hal Roach Studios.
After appearing in minor movie roles, Wray gained media attention being selected as one of the “WAMPAS Baby Stars”, this led to Wray being contracted to Paramount Pictures as a teenager, where she made more than a dozen movies.
After leaving Paramount, Wray signed to various film companies. It was under these deals that Wray was cast in various horror films, including Doctor X. However, her greatest known films were produced under her deal with RKO Radio Pictures. Her first film under RKO was The Most Dangerous Game (1932), co-starring Joel McCrea and shot at night on the same jungle sets that were being used for King Kong during the day, with the leads from both films, Wray and Robert Armstrong, appearing in both movies.
The Most Dangerous Game was followed by Wray’s most memorable film, King Kong. According to Wray, Jean Harlow had been RKO’s original choice, but because MGM had put Harlow under exclusive contract during the pre-production phase of the film, she became unavailable and Wray was approached by director Merian C. Cooper to play the role of Ann Darrow, the blonde captive of King Kong, who was brought to life by Willis O’Brien. The film was a commercial success, and Wray was reportedly proud that the film saved RKO from bankruptcy. Wray’s role would become the one with which she would be most associated. For her appearances in various horror films, many have considered Wray the first “scream queen”.
She continued to star in various films, but by the early 1940s, her appearances became less frequent. She retired from acting in 1942, after her second marriage. However, for financial reasons, she continued in her acting career, for another three decades.
Wray featured in the TV series’ The Pride of the Family, episodes of Perry Mason, Playhouse 90, 77 Sunset Strip and The Elenth Hour. She ended her acting career in the made-for TV movie Gideon’s Trumpet (1980).
In 1988, her autobiography, On the Other Hand, was published. She was approached by James Cameron to play the part of “Rose Dawson Calvert” for his 1997 blockbuster Titanic, but she turned down the role and the part of Rose was given to Gloria Stuart. In 2004, Wray was approached by director Peter Jackson to appear in a small cameo for the 2005 remake of King Kong. She politely declined the cameo, and claimed the original “Kong” to be the true “King”.
Before filming of the remake commenced, Wray died in her sleep of natural causes on August 8, 2004, in her Manhattan apartment. Her friend Rick McKay said that “she just kind of drifted off quietly as if she was going to sleep… she just kind of gave out.” She was 96 years old. Wray was buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. Two days after her death, the lights of the Empire State Building were extinguished for 15 minutes in her memory.
Director, Writer, Art Director, Production Designer, Story Artist, Layout Supervisor, it would appear that Deane Taylor has covered most pre-production positions on countless animated productions over the last 30+ years. Although Deane has worked with classic animated shows such as Popeye, The Flintstones, Casper, and Scooby-Doo,the excellent Cow and Chicken as well as features like Happily N’Ever After, he is most well known for his superlative work on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Still incredibly busy on a variety of projects, Deane has been kind enough to answer a few questions about his influences, his art and his work on that classic film.
GEORDIE: With the imminent release of ParaNorman and Hotel Transylvania it would appear that the influence of The Nightmare Before Christmas is stronger than ever, are you still surprised at how popular the film remains after all these years?
DEANE: I used to get really surprised but not so much anymore. I worked on the game in Japan and the President of Walt Disney in Tokyo told me that history has shown it gets a new audience every 3 years and can go as low as 4 years old. The film has been criticised for being too dark which I believe is rubbish. “Dark” is often confused with depth of detail and distinctive, original character.I think it has elements of a modern-day fairy tale told with strong humorous undertones . To me, those are the ingredients for classic. ParaNorman has the flavour too…brilliant. I actually did a bit of early concept work on Hotel Transylvania for my very good friends David Feiss and Tony Stacchi.
GEORDIE: Your design style is very distinctive, looking at your work and the work of Tim Burton, recently on show at the Gallery of Victoria, it would seem that you guys are a perfect fit to work together. Can you explain how you came to work on the project and how your working relationship developed?
DEANE: Henry Selick looked at a hundred or so art directors but in visiting animation studios across the States his eye was drawn to faxed cartoons that I’d done, that were on the pin-boards in a number of places. (yes…it was that long ago) This was pure dumb luck in my opinion…these sketches were just me having a laugh with mates I had worked with around the world at different times. Henry saw Tim’s style and thinking in this work and he contacted me for that reason. I was working out of Sydney at the time, but found myself on the job in San Francisco within weeks of that contact. I met with Tim on two occasions. Once for 3 minutes, and again for 4 minutes. Having said that, I believe it was enough. He is very clear in his thoughts, and his style very obviously unique. My brief was to make it look like Tim’s work, and we’d hear about it if it didn’t. Rick Heinrich’s was put on the project as visual consultant. They had worked together as early as Vincent and much more.He was Tim’s eyes and ears, and he is an amazing artist. As an art department we worked very closely with him. I have had a much more direct working relationship with Tim since that time (specifically on the game ) and have found him just as direct and clear as I had before.
GEORDIE: The art direction for The Nightmare Before Christmas is iconic, I can see an incredible blend of Gothic Noir, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dr.Seuss and Edward Gorey. Can you describe some of your personal influences and where you drew some of your inspiration from?
DEANE: I really only looked hard at Tim’s work. In that, I saw heavy influences from Edward Gorey and another favourite of mine, Ronald Searle. As you’ve accurately mentioned… Caligari and Seuss are in the top ten also. The way I saw it was that Tim had really blended the flavours of all of these things and brought his own stamp to it, and that’s what I should do as well. We as an art department stayed true to this while allowing additional detail to develop. Kendal Chronkite in particular, brought some very tasty design work into the process, and Henry had the eye to allow it.
GEORDIE: The background work on this film is as much a ‘character’ as the actual characters. Do you have a favourite piece, and speaking of characters, is there a particular character that you identify with?
DEANE: It’s no accident that the environments play into the character so heavily. I believe they really have to, to be believable. I wanted to create illustrations that you could fly in and around. Kind of a pop-up book. The sets were realised with amazing accuracy to the sketches, and in the rendering of the surfaces we went in and painted the hatching as a guide, which really added to the expressionistic finish. We used fat water-colour brushes and black ink. The ink was crushed from hardened coal from the Altai Mountains. Just kidding…it wasn’t THAT long ago. As far as favourites…I am still very fond of Jack’s study, the Evil Scientist Laboratory, the treehouse and Oogies lair. Coincidentally, these were mostly the first sets produced and I believe have the strongest essence. The treehouse interiors especially: you should freeze frame through that sometime and look at the painted lighting and other detail. In characters, I have a very soft spot for Lock, Shock and Barrel.
GEORDIE: You’ve worked in traditional 2D, 3D and Stop-Motion animation; can you explain the difference in approach that was required to bring your designs to life?
DEANE: I think design principles remain largely the same despite the medium but I have to say that the years of having to cheat production value into the limitations of 2-D cartoons was the biggest influence in achieving the style of our sets. Fake perspectives, distorted architecture and scene planning were pivotal. Forcing the viewers eye to look at what you choose to reveal is my preferred way to work. More often than not it’s about what you don’t see rather than what you do. It’s like Keith Richards guitar playing. He knows when to shut up.
GEORDIE: On the audio commentary from the Nightmare DVD, Director Henry Selick talks about how the 1933 King Kong and Night of the Hunter (two of my all-time favourite films), were big touch stones for him throughout the duration of the project. Were there any particular films you could point to as major influences for prep or while you were working on the film?
DEANE: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari obviously, but also the early Universal Frankensteins and Dracula’s…the really early ones. Simple and direct, these films were about three course meals, not pizzas.
GEORDIE: Our influences and tastes change and develop as we age, what were you drawn to as a kid, and what are some of the constants you always return to, or one that simply had a lasting effect on you?
DEANE: The turning point in art for me was seeing huge prints of Ronald Searle’s’ designs for The Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. They were probably huge because I was a runty eight year old but I can clearly remember thinking that an adult had done these, and that he was doing this for an actual job. I though they were beautiful to look at, and they were funny. After that I tracked down the St Trinians books and feverishly tried to copy them. Ronald Searle became my personal tutor, though he probably still doesn’t know that. After that…Wizard of Id, BC and Mad magazine, who I eventually did work for. I still keep a lot of Searle’s work handy, for inspiration.
GEORDIE: What advice would you give to any aspiring young animators, story artists or art directors?
DEANE: You have to keep your eyes and ears open to new influences as well as your heroes. Look for the strange, and understand what it is that makes it so. This can be remote tribes, cultures, weird architecture and of course the minute detail of nature. It’s all out there waiting to be interpreted with a fresh eye or a different wrist. Look for the backstory, the “why”
DEANE: I love visual storytelling and in recent years am more convinced that this should be done with a conscience. It’s easy to produce a well told story, but I believe it should matter. I’m in development of an animated property that I believe does this. It’s a mix of styles that draws heavily on the flavours that have shaped my own work for the last 30 plus years. I’m very excited about it, and look forward to bringing it to fruition with a crew of seasoned veterans and new generation artists. I look at new work all the time and am hugely inspired by the freshness and skills that are scattered around the world.
GEORDIE: Thanks to Deane for giving up some of his (VERY valuable) time to do the interview, and for sharing his thoughts and inspiration. For more of Deane’s sketches, pearls of wisdom, and often hilarious recollections, check out his blog: deanertaylor.blogspot.com.au
Birthday wishes are in order for Universal Pictures, which as widely noted is celebrating its centennial all year long. Founded by Carl Laemmle, Universal Film Manufacturing Company was incorporated in New York on April 30, 1912. The studio sent out 100 facts about its history, which makes for a good read…. I’ve cut the list down to my favourite 50:
1. Universal Film Manufacturing Company was officially incorporated in New York on April 30, 1912. Company legend says Carl Laemmle was inspired to name his company Universal after seeing “Universal Pipe Fittings” written on a passing delivery wagon.
2. The only physical damage made during the filming of National Lampoon’s Animal House was when John Belushi made a hole in the wall with a guitar. The actual Sigma Nu fraternity house (which subbed for the fictitious Delta House) never repaired it, and instead framed the hole in honor of the film.
3. In the movie All Quiet on the Western Front, the Greek writing on the blackboard in the schoolroom is the beginning of Homer’s Odyssey: “Tell me, oh Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide.”
4. The word “dude” in The Big Lebowski is used approximately 161 times in the movie: 160 times spoken and once in text (in the credits for “Gutterballs” the second dream sequence). The F-word or a variation of the F-word is used 292 times. The Dude says “man” 147 times in the movie—that’s nearly 1.5 times a minute.
5. Back to the Future’s DeLorean time machine is actually a licensed, registered vehicle in the state of California. While the vanity license plate used in the film says “OUTATIME,” the DeLorean’s actual license plate reads 3CZV657.
6. American Graffiti’s budget was exactly $777,777.77, and it was delivered on time – and on budget.
7. In the Alfred Hitchcock classic The Birds, Tippi Hedren was actually cut in the face by a bird during the shooting of one sequence.
8. The Munster’s House on Colonial Street was originally built for the 1946 production, So Goes My Love.
9. The title of the movie Do The Right Thing comes from a Malcolm X quote: “You’ve got to do the right thing.”
10. According to reports, during some of the Russian roulette scenes in the movie The Deer Hunter, a live round was put into the gun to heighten the actors’ tension per Robert De Niro’s suggestion. It was checked, however, to make sure the bullet was not in the chamber before the trigger was pulled.
11. In the first scene of the movie Double Indemnity, when Walter first kisses Phyllis, there is a wedding ring on Walter’s hand. Fred MacMurray was married and the ring was not noticed until post-production.
12. When Bela Lugosi, star of the monster classic, Dracula, died in 1956, he was buried wearing a black silk cape similar to the one he wore in the film.
13. At 29,500 sq. ft., Universal Studios’ Stage 12 is the 7th largest soundstage in the world. It was originally built for the 1929 musical Broadway.
14. Carl Laemmle Jr. offered James Whale a list of more than 30 film adaptations he could direct and out of them all, Whale picked Frankenstein. It was his transition from war movies to monster pics.
15. Vans, the company behind the checkerboard shoes worn by Sean Penn (a.k.a. Jeff Spicoli) in the cult movie classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, became a national brand after the film’s release in 1982.
16. Actor Charlton Heston “parted” the Red Sea attraction on the Universal Studios Tour at the attraction’s grand opening in 1973.
17. The Universal sound technician, Jack Foley, developed the method of creating and recording many of the natural, everyday sound effects in a film. Today this method is named after him.
18. The legendary thriller and suspense director Alfred Hitchcock did not win any Academy Awards while working with Universal.
19. In the infamous shower scene in Psycho, the sound of the knife-stabbing actress Janet Leigh was made by plunging a knife into a melon.
20. The legendary studio head Irving Thalberg got his start in show business as Carl Laemmle’s personal secretary in 1917.
21. In 1995, Waterworld generated worldwide attention for being the most expensive film made to date. Unable to live up to expectations at the box office, the film eventually turned a profit due to strong home video sales and inspired one of the most popular theme park attractions of all time.
22. About 25% of the film Jaws was shot from water level so audiences could better relate to treading water.
23. In the film The Invisible Man, the director dressed Claude Rains in black velvet and filmed him against a black velvet background to create the effect that he wasn’t there.
24. Some of the props used in the 2005 version of King Kong were original props from the 1933 version. These props came from Peter Jackson’s personal collection and include the Skull Island spears and brightly painted shield, and some of the drums from the sacrifice scene.
25. In Jurassic Park, a guitar string was used to make the water ripple on the dash of the Ford Explorer by attaching it to the underside of the dash beneath the glass.
26. Universal entered the 3-D market with the film, It Came from Outer Space (1953)
27. Universal won its first Best Picture Academy Award for All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930.
28. Steven Spielberg nicknamed the mechanical shark in the movie Jaws, “Bruce.”
29. In the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, when Louise is on the phone asking for the operator, the music playing on the radio is the theme song to Written on the Wind, which was made at Universal the year prior.
30. It took two-and-a-half hours a day to apply Lon Chaney’s makeup in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
31. The first American film to show a toilet flushing on screen was Psycho.
32. In the film, Scarface, an M16 assault rifle with an M203 40mm grenade launcher attached to the barrel is Tony’s “little friend.”
33. Alfred Hitchcock did not choose to conclude the film, The Birds, with the usual “THE END” title because he wanted to leave the audience with the feeling of unending terror and uncertainty.
34. The locusts in the 1999 film, The Mummy, were mostly computer-generated, however, some live grasshoppers were used. Hours before filming they were chilled in a refrigerator to make them more sluggish.
35. The average shot length in the film Vertigo is 6.7 seconds.
36. The permanent set in Stage 28 was created to be a replica of the landmark The Paris Opera House, for the classic film, The Phantom of the Opera.
37. When you hear the sound of the crowd cheering, “Spartacus! Spartacus!” in the movie Spartacus, it was actually a pre-taped recording from a 1959 football game at Michigan State University’s Spartan Stadium.
38. The final speech by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird was done in one take.
39. The diner in the movie The Sting is the same diner interior used in Back to the Future.
40. The title of the film Streets of Fire starring Michael Paré and Diane Lane, was drawn from a Bruce Springsteen song, from his album Darkness on the Edge of Town. The song, unfortunately, does not appear in the film.
41. 1920’s Shipwrecked Among Cannibals was the first film to gross $1,000,000 for Universal.
42. Prominent Universal Director Edward Laemmle was the nephew of Universal Founder Carl Laemmle. He directed over 60 films (including shorts) for Universal.
43. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is only the second time Bela Lugosi would play “Dracula” in a feature film. (He played other vampires in the interim, but not Dracula.)
44. In 1973’s High Plains Drifter starring Clint Eastwood, one of the headstones in the graveyard bears the name Sergio Leone as a tribute.
45. In 1992’s Scent of Woman, Al Pacino repeatedly shouts “Hoo-ah.” “Hoo-ah” comes from the military acronym “HUA” which stands for “Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.”
46. The Blues Brothers “Bluesmobile” is a 1974 Dodge Monaco.
47. 1971’s Play Misty for Me was set in Carmel, CA, where Clint Eastwood later lived and became mayor in 1986.
48. “The Bride” in “The Bride of Frankenstein” is the only one of Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters to have never killed anyone.
49. Throughout its hundred year legacy, Universal brought to audiences the first films of talents such as John Ford, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Norman Jewison, Ben Stiller, Robert Zemeckis, John Hughes, Amy Heckerling, Spike Jonze, Zack Snyder and Judd Apatow.
50. More than 100 million people from around the world have taken the Universal Studios “studio tour.” While the tour officially began in 1964, Universal has been welcoming the public to our studio since 1915 and the silent era.
Willis Harold O’Brien (March 2, 1886 – November 8, 1962) was an Irish American special effects and stop-motion animation pioneer, who according to ASIFA-Hollywood “was responsible for some of the best-known images in cinema history,” and is best remebered for his work on ‘The Lost World’ (1925), ‘King Kong’ (1933) and ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949), for which he won the 1950 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Willis O’Brien was born in Oakland, California. He first left home at the age of eleven to work on cattle ranches, and again at the age of thirteen when he took on a variety of jobs including farmhand, factory worker, fur trapper, cowboy, and bartender. During this time he also competed in rodeos and developed an interest in dinosaurs while working as a guide to palaeontologists in Crater Lake region. He spent his spare time sculpting and illustrating and his natural talent lead to him being employed first as draftsman in an architect’s office and then as a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Daily News. He subsequently worked for the railroad, first as a brakeman and later a surveyor, as a professional marble sculptor, and was assistant to the head architect of the 1913 San Francisco World’s Fair, where some of his work was displayed. During this time he made models, including a dinosaur and a caveman, which he animated with the assistance of a local newsreel cameraman. San Francisco exhibitor Herman Wobber saw this 90-second test footage and commissioned O’Brien to make his first film, ‘The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy’ (1915) for a budget of $5,000.
Thomas A. Edison was impressed by the film and O’Brien was hired by the Edison Company to animate a series of short films with a prehistoric theme. These films led to a commission from Herbert M. Dawley to write, direct, co-star and produce the effects for another dinosaur film, ‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ (1918), for a budget of $3,000. The collaboration was not a happy one and Dawley would cut the 45-minute film down to 11-minutes and claim credit O’Brien’s pioneering effects work, which combined realistic stop-motion animated prehistoric models with live action. The film grossed over $100,000 and Dawley used the cut effects footage in a sequel Along the Moonbeam Trail (1920) and the documentary Evolution (1923), but O’Brien received little financial reimbursement from this success.
The film however did help to secure his position on Harold H. Hoyt’s ‘The Lost World’. For his early, short films O’Brien created his own characters out of clay, although for much of his feature career he would employ Richard and Marcel Delgado to create much more detailed stop-motion models (based on O’Brien’s designs) with rubber skin built up over complex, articulated metal armatures.
O’Brien worked with Hoyt on a series of cancelled projects included Atlantis for First National studio, Frankenstein, and Creation for RKO Pictures, which was finally cancelled in 1931 with only 20-minutes of effects footage to show for an estimated $120,000 development cost. The studio’s head of production, Merian C. Cooper, had recommended the cancellation of O’Brien’s project as he thought the story was boring but he was impressed by the effects work and saw how it could be used to facilitate the development of his own pet project about a giant gorilla battling. O’Brien and the dinosaur models he had created for the cancelled project were put to work on what was to become his most famous film, ‘King Kong’ (1933).
The success of King Kong led to the studio commissioning a hurried sequel ‘Son of Kong’ (also 1933), which O’Brien described as cheesy. With a limited budget and a short production schedule O’Brien chose to leave the animation work to his assistant and asked the studio not to credit him on the project.
O’Brien continued to work with Merian C. Cooper at RKO on a number of projects including the epic ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ (1935) and ‘The Dancing Pirate’ (1936). He did some special effects work, re-using one of the mattes from Son of Kong, on Orson Welles’ American classic ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) and George Pal’s Oscar-nominated animated short ‘Tulips Shall Grow’ (1942), as well as developing his own project, Gwangi, about cowboys who encounter a prehistoric animal in a “lost” valley, which he failed to sell to the studio.
The film ‘Mighty Joe Young’ (1949), on which O’Brien is credited as Technical Creator, won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1950. Credit for the award went to the films producers, RKO Productions, but O’Brien was also awarded a statue. O’Brien’s protege (and successor), Ray Harryhausen, worked alongside O’Brien on this film, and by some accounts Harryhausen did the majority of the animation. O’Brien worked with Harryhausen one last time on the acclaimed dinosaur sequence for Irwin Allen’s nature documentary ‘The Animal World’ (1956).
Allen hired O’Brien was hired as the effects technician on his remake of ‘The Lost World’ (1960), but he was given little to do as the producer opted for live lizards instead of stop-motion animation for the dinosaurs.
O’Brien died in Los Angeles in 1962. In 1997, he was posthumously awarded the Windsor McCay Award by ASIFA-Hollywood, the United States chapter of the International Animated Film Society ASIFA (Association internationale du film d’animation). The award is in recognition of lifetime or career contributions to the art of animation.
The 1969 film ‘The Valley of Gwangi’, completed by Harryhausen seven years after O’Brien’s death, was based on an idea he had spent years trying to bring to the screen.