Picture of the Week #81: Willis O’Brien

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On this day in 1886, Willis O’Brien was born. If you’ve visited Spectacular Attractions often, you’ll have encountered his work on King Kong (more than once – I’m nothing if not repetitive where my childhood favourites are concerned), so I thought I’d mark his anniversary with some images from designs for films that never got made. You’ll see character portraits from his Frankenstein vs King Kong, a proposed mash-up of his most famous creation, and the creature he had always wanted to portray; War Eagles featured Vikings riding on the backs of eagles to fight dinosaurs; Baboon: A Tale About a Yeti was a self-explanatory, if contradictory title (is it a baboon, or is it a yeti?), but appeared to contain a scene in which the creature wrestles with a pack of sharks; The Last of the Oso Si-Papu was another story idea that O’Brien imagined in watercolour designs, in which prehistoric beasts appear in a Wild West setting, rather like an earlier concept for The Valley of Gwangi, which was finally realised by Ray Harryhausen in 1969. O’Brien’s enduring interest in staging scenes of combat between prehistoric monsters in an accelerated Darwinist struggle for survival was the perfect excuse for his delicate and characterful puppet animations.


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