King Kong in 3-D debuts at Universal Studios

Damian Dovarganes, AP

An invitation-only crowd got a first look at the new "King Kong 360 3-D" at Universal Studios Hollywood. The much-hyped attraction, re-created by Peter Jackson, opens to the public on Thursday.

This three-story-tall King Kong, projected in 3-D, replaces the original 30-foot-tall animatronic ape, which burned in a backlot fire at Universal Studios two years ago. Visitors see the new King Kong on the studios tram tour, a tourist fixture for nearly 46 years.

According to The Associated Press, the revamped attraction, located in a soundstage near Universal's newly rebuilt New York backlot, features a storyline that King Kong was set free in the studios fire.

Jackson and his special effects team at Weta Digital in New Zealand were charged with coming up with a new adventure that transports visitors to his rendition of Skull Island, where the giant ape has fled.

AP describes the new experience as a "breakneck three-minute encounter," during which a "computer-generated battle-scarred big ape tussles with a dinosaur gang on the side of a cliff."

Before the tram drives into a darkened cave, riders are given 3-D glasses and instructed by Jackson in a video when to put them on.

During their brawl, the beasts appear to smash into and lunge over the tram with a system underneath the vehicle allowing riders to feel jolts in sync with the action. Bursts of air and water "mimic King Kong's breathy roar and the dinosaurs' wet slobber," AP reports. The sequence is projected on two colossal curved movie screens.

Joe Letteri, visual effects supervisor for "King Kong" and "Avatar," said challenges in creating the attraction included the fact that unlike in a typical 3-D movie, the tram audience isn't always looking in the same direction.

"Everyone is seeing something different because they're not facing the same screen," said Letteri. "Every time someone goes through this ride, they're going to have a different experience depending on where they sit and look. We're making sure that everybody in the tram - whether in the front or the back - experiences something interesting and exciting."

Jackson himself introduced "King Kong 360 3-D" from New Zealand in a prerecorded 3-D video to the preview crowd.

The Universal Studios tram tour also includes popular stops at the Bates Motel from "Psycho" and Amity Harbor from "Jaws."
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