King Kong: The Wall
As I reached young adulthood in the late Sixties, posters as a form of wall art were becoming the “thing”. One of the first I bought was the one of King Kong bursting through the massive gate in pursuit of his new love, Ann Darrow as played by Fay Wray. I had always wondered why anyone would build a huge gate in a wall presumably designed to keep the prehistoric monsters behind at bay. Additionally, Kong was an ape so he probably could have scaled the damn thing in a heart beat if he put his mind to it but I digress.
“King Kong” is probably my favorite stop motion film as attested to the number of dioramas I have on this site, some of which are kits and others of my own design. Though I never tire of the big galoot, it occurred to me that I didn't have a display of one of the more iconic scenes from the film aside of Kong atop the Empire State building. That scene was the one I describe at the beginning of this essay. So, with Xacto knife in one hand and a pencil in the other, I set out to build which may be my “masterpiece” devoted to the hairy one.
My first step was to gather as many photos of the wall that I could get my hands on with as many wall details as I could find. There are dozens of photographs on Google but most are repeats so at times I was forced to use actual screenshots to get the image I needed. I was fortunate enough to find an actual sketch of the structure showing front and side shots of it along with a photo of a man standing in front of the partially open gate, presumably on the movie set.
The next step was to determine what the scale of the scene would be. As I have admitted in previous writings that I can't sculpt to save my life so I gravitate to a readily available Kongs to act as my starting point. I decided to use the 1/72 scale of Kong put out by Polar Lights which is displayed with him triumphant over the slain T-Rex at his feet. There are two versions of this so-called “kit” (there are only three pieces, one of which is Kong, a T-Rex arm and the base), with one of the kits very nicely painted and the other undecorated resin. I went with the painted version. This size was as advantageous because I wanted to populate the scene with dozens of screaming people running away in terror.
The down side of using the Polar Lights kit is that Kong's feet are cast into the T-Rex so I had to sculpt his feet. I ended up using artist's clay which, after a few tries, resulted in a pair of usable feet which I later cast in resin. I may get the hang of this sculpting thing yet.
I attached the feet to the figure with a two part epoxy and used modeling paste to blend the feet to the lower legs which disguised the seam pretty well. Once painted, one can barely see that foot quality is fair at best but not too objectionable.
So, now that I knew want scale I was working in, the next step was to figure out how big the scene would be. I figured that a two foot wide by one foot deep diorama would allow enough room to have all the display elements in the scene without being too crowded. I made a rough full size sketch of the wall and gate using the Kong figure as a ruler so to speak.
My plan had always been to use 1” thick sheets of insulation foam as the basic starting point because of the light weight and ease of cutting and carving. The maximum height of the wall (not counting the gong structure) would be 16” and spanning 24” which was the total width of the base. The doors would be about 3 ½ ” x 11” each and they would be stick built and functioning for better detailing opportunities.
I used a layered technique for the buttresses which, depending on their design and placement, were one or two layers of 1/8” and 1/4” foam board from which the cardboard was removed (it peals off pretty easily). Be sure to use PVA based adhesives to glue the foam together. I'll usually randomly poke very shallow holes in the surfaces that will be glued but out of sight to give the glue something to “bite” into. Under NO circumstance use ANY solvent based glues or adhesives because the solvents WILL melt the foam!
The next step was to build the wall details, specifically the gong on top of the wall, the huge stairway and the side support structures that held the massive beam that barred the doors. The gong's pillars, gong, glyph above the doorway, door hinges and stairs were printed on my 3D printer once I found suitable designs on Thingaverse, my 'go to' site for my modeling needs. The great thing about 3D printing is that you can manipulate the printing recipes to make an object as big or small as you like along with other any tweaks you may need to fit just about any application. I set these parts aside to be installed later.
Once the basic wall was constructed, I used a very dull dental pick/tool to make the mortar lines. To avoid tearing the foam, the trick is to lay the pointed end of the tool on the foam and drag it towards you to make a impression in the foam. I free handed the lines so they aren't perfectly straight which was the look I was going for. This process was probably the most time consuming part of the build up since I estimate there are at least several hundred lines on the structure. I tried to make the blocks large but not so much so that it wouldn't destroy the illusion that the wall had been built by humans. Additionally, the blocks were NOT uniform for the most part to resemble the walls at Machu Picchu suggesting that it was constructed as quickly as possible with what was available.
Once the wall carving was done, I used a rolled a wad of crushed aluminum over the foam surface to give it a worn and pitted appearance. Once this step was completed, I coated the entire surface with a thick layer of Mod Podge to seal the foam. This is crucial if you are going to use any rattle can paint (which I was) to prevent the paint's solvents from attacking the foam. I cannot stress this enough. It is better to go overboard with the Mod Podge than risk a section of your hard work to dissolve right before your eyes. Note that the Mod Podge dries in a very thin layer so it is unlikely you'll lose any of your previous detailing work.
I let the Mod Podge sit over night to make sure any of the thicker applications had hardened before giving the wall a coating of a khaki color from a rattle can. After this dried, I dry brushed medium and dark browns over the entire surface followed by a wash of diluted black. This final wash step really brings out the texturing and mortar lines I applied earlier.
I then reinforced the underside of the foam wall with a 1/16” thick strip of two inch wide pine because I wanted to be able to remove the wall from the base if I should have to transport it one day. I inserted short finishing nails to act as registration pins into the wooden base which I then lined up with the reinforcement strip into which I drilled mounting holes so the wall would be pretty stable.
The beam supports were a little confusing to construct since I didn't have many photos to work from. But I finally figured it out and glued them in place with Elmer's Carpenter's Clue after roughing up the backside to give the glue something to bite into. I did the same with the 3D printed stairway because I couldn't use solvent based adhesives for reasons I explained earlier.
Setting the completed wall aside, I began work on the two doors. I purchased enough one inch wide basswood to fill the doorway. After cutting it to length (about 9 inches) I scribed each of the basswood strips the long way to suggest huge individual planks. I then added reinforcing cross strips of wood (to scale) on each side into which I drilled holes and inserted common pin heads for “bolts”.
I hand carved the combination door “handles” and mounting channels for the huge wooden bolt out of balsa wood. I used my 3D printed hinges (actually cable TV tie downs) for the doors through which I ran 3/16” diameter dowels as hinge pins. I mounted the functional doors into the opening with the hinges and weathered them with streaks of browns and grays and I applied rust stains randomly around the bolts.
The final construction step was to detail the base. I decided to use a coating of the type of yellow clay that is found in this area. I carefully shifted it to remove any sticks and pebbles so it would be in scale. Then I dusted the entire base with this material and fixed it in place with a 50/50 solution of white glue and water with a touch of isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) to act as a wetting agent. I made three fire pits in the rough locations where I would later place the huts. I used tiny pebbles for the pits glued in a roughly 1/2” diameter circle with white glue. I placed very fine twigs in the pits which I painted black, white and florescent orange to look like smoldering ashes. The pit that would be in front of the raised hut would have a crude roasting spit assembly with a HO scale pig suspended from it.
While this set, I went back to Thingaverse to see what I could find for native structures. As luck would have it, I found some grass huts that filled the bill. The raised hut is actually four roof sections I altered to act as my four walls and then glued them to the roof piece that was fine as it was. I mounted it on 1/16” dowel posts and used broom straws for support beams. I made a small pig pen beneath with a half dozen of the critters within. The round huts looked fine as they were aside from painting with yellow ochre followed by a raw umber wash. I finished up the base detailing with ground foam, brown and green clumps of weeds and store bought palm tress which looked very realistic.
Left side of the diorama showing the 3D printed native huts. The figures are a combination of 1/72 & 1/87 scale figures. Click for a larger image.
Photo of the doors closed. Click for a larger image.
Right side of the diorama showing the raised hut. There is a pig pen beneath along with a pig roasting on a spit just to the left. Click for a larger image.
The last step, and perhaps the most difficult, was to get my hands on scale figures most of which I would want to be running for their lives. As it turns out, they're not readily available in that format so I had to make do with figures in sports related activities. I found several in 1/72 and 1/87 scale but with some I was forced to I amputate & reattached limbs to give the impression of flight. I have to admit I'm not that happy with this aspect of the build but I will be keeping my eyes open for any viable replacements and update this page as required. 12/01/19
Great job. Is there a higher quality shot of that production sketch you mentioned at the top?
Geoffrey R Lucier
Not that I am aware. I found that one from a Google search. There may be a better one in the several "Making of King Kong" books that are out there.