Archives On The Air 209: The Magic Of Stop Motion Animation—Samuel Peeples Papers

Aug 6, 2020

This triceratops model miniature was made to move in lifelike ways in the film King Kong (1933) with the use of stop motion animation. The model is on display at the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center. It is from the Samuel Peeples papers at the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center. Peeples was an author who also collected science fiction memorabilia.
Credit American Heritage Center

King Kong first appeared on movie screens in 1933. Audiences were amazed at the lifelike movement of the film's prehistoric creatures.

It was done with advanced special effects of the day: stop-motion animation.

How is it done? A camera is pointed at the object. A frame of film is exposed, and the camera stops. The object, usually a model miniature, is adjusted. Another frame of film is exposed. The object is adjusted again.

After 24 times, one second of film is produced. When all the frames are played back at the normal speed of 24 frames per second the object appears to move.

Tedious, yes. But the results are fluid and realistic motion. Forms of stop motion animation are still used today.

You can see a model miniature from King Kong at UW's American Heritage Center.

Advertising poster for the 1933 film King Kong. Box 111 Forrest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. The special effects artist in the film, Willis O'Brien, pioneered stop-action animation. He was known for creating complex articulated armatures covered with rubber skins that resulted in lifelike prehistoric creatures for the movie.
Credit American Heritage Center