King Kong, a musical, a book and lyrical contributions by 3D, Sarah McLachlan, Guy Garvey, Justice and The Avalanches, was five years in the making. Produced by Australia’s Global Creatures, King Kong ran from June 2013 to February 2014 at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre. The six metre, one tonne King Kong puppet was designed by Global Creature Technology. TAIT Stage Technologies worked closely with Global Creature Technology and provided the ground-breaking automation system which controlled the eponymous ape.
The TAIT Stage Technologies automation system consisted of a winch apparatus requiring over 12 tonnes of steelwork, motors, winches, and cable management systems in order to give the Kong puppet its sweeping movements and to enable it to lift, rotate and to travel up, down and across the stage. The on-board winches controlled the height and rotation of the body, allowing Kong to fly, leap, gallop, stand, etc., while multiple lines bridled down to each shoulder, allowing them independent up-and-down movement and maneuvering the puppet forwards and backward within the space of the apparatus. In addition to the winch apparatus, two point hoists were built into the theatre’s false proscenium, bringing the ape directly to the front of the stage where he roared out at the audience.
Using the Sculptor toolkit (a proprietary plugin for 3ds Max), TAIT Stage Technologies worked closely with the creative team to mock up a pre-visualisation that would serve to visually communicate the puppet’s movements to the various production departments. Then, a relatively simple “baseline” plot for motion was programmed into a TAIT Acrobat G*6 desk, to which the puppeteers could add live embellishments and react in real time with the actors on the stage. The resulting ‘overlaid’ joystick control greatly simplified the plotting process and ensured that the automation team could react to the subtle nuances of the human actors without a massive impact or the necessity of replotting during valuable technical rehearsal time.
The show required an extraordinary amount of collaboration between the entire team of Kong operators: Kings Men (manual manipulation of Kong’s arms and legs), Voodoo rig operators (aka animatronic puppeteers), plus the automation team who ran the TAIT Stage Technologies system during performances. Therefore an unprecedented six degrees of motion was achieved for the puppet; via the overlay of live animatronics performed by the puppeteers, on top of the pre-programmed automation paths.
In this way the Voodoo rig operators were able to offset live running moves, allowing a more natural flow to the motion. This offset was scalable and could be faded in and out per cue or live during a cue. In the interest of collision avoidance, “the buck stopped” with the automation team, who were able to shut down the Voodoo riggers’ ability to offset the pre-programmed paths in an emergency.