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Willis O’Brien, Special Effects Genius, Dead at 76

Nov. 11, 1962 - Willis H. O’Brien (pictured), a specialist in visual effects for horror films, died in Hollywood Thursday. He was 76 years old. Mr. O’Brien designed the movie gorilla King Kong for the 1933 sensation that still ranks as a classic among screen thrillers. “Mighty Joe Young,” which won him the Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 1949, featured a super-gorilla who made the social jump from the jungle to a Hollywood nightclub. In the film, Mighty Joe stood 10 feet high. Actually, he was only 16 inches tall and consisted of a metal frame padded with a sponge and covered with rubber skin. According to the Hollywood historian Ezra Goodman, it took Mr. O’Brien and a crew of 25 assistants three years of preliminary planning, model and set construction, and animation to master the technique of making Mighty Joe seem realistic. The monster had movable arms, legs, eyes, and a mouth, and his skin was realistically shaggy. This last item was the result of a process whereby baby lamb hide was immersed in rubber and acid, with the acid dissolving the hide and leaving the lamb hair embedded in the rubber.


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