Photo: King Kong (Universal Pictures)

Kong: Skull Island hits theaters next week, and although the real draw looks to be John C. Reilly’s out-there performance, the latest version of King Kong looks pretty impressive, too. In an article for Inverse, visual effects writer Ian Failes puts forth a simple theory: “You can track the history of visual effects through the 80-plus years of King Kong movies.” From the pioneering stop-motion animation of the 1933 original to the life-size hydraulic gorilla arms of the 1976 version to the motion capture CGI of Peter Jackson’s 2005 adaptation, Failes charts the evolution of special effects through one giant ape.

The most detailed part of Failes’ article covers the special effects of the 1933 version. In addition to pioneering stop-motion animation techniques, legendary special effects artist Willis H. O’Brien and his team also pioneered new in-camera techniques to create impressive composite shots. For instance, this documentary clip explains the film’s revolutionary use of rear projection:

Failes’ piece also touches on the detailed motion capture work that Andy Serkis did in the 2005 version, including wearing an apelike costume on set so costar Naomi Watts would have something to act against, as seen in the image above. You can learn more about the history of King Kong special effects over on Inverse.

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