Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spider Pit Interview with Lee Ashworth

I'm a huge fan of the 1933 version of King Kong! So you can imagine my pleasure at discovering the website

There I met a great bunch of folks. Kindred spirits that share my fascination with Kong and the process of stop motion animation.

Some members like Mr. Lee Ashworth have taken their passion for Kong a step further. Ashworth and his co author Gary Vehar have penned what may well be the definitive article exploring the mystery of whether the spider pit sequence was ever filmed.

What is the mystery of the spider pit you may ask? In the film a rescue party pursuing Kong are dashing across a fallen log spanning a chasm.

Enraged Kong appears from the jungle and shakes the terrified men clinging to the log into the ravine below. At the bottom of the ravine the sailors that survived the fall are set upon by a menagerie of grotesque creatures -- giant spiders, a crab and a tentacled monstrosity.

I'm currently building a diorama of the ravine and some of the pit creatures. So you can imagine what a treat it was for me when Lee Ashworth agreed to be interviewed about his love of Kong and his article " Lost Nightmare The Mystery of the Missing Spider Pit Sequence "which was published in FilmFax magazine.

For those wishing to read his article it can be downloaded at this link:

So Lee at what age did you first see the 1933 version of King Kong?

My dad took me to see King Kong '33 in 1977. I was five at the time. When Kong first emerged from the darkness with the trees moving the way they did via stop motion animation, it left me mesmerized and my imagination started to run wild and it has never stopped.

Well, I'm now 38 and my favorite subject is Kong '33! When I first got Kong '33 on home video it was the best thing in the world (even better than Christmas and my birthday combined)!! It is a movie that I can honestly say I love.

What prompted you to write Lost Nightmare The Mystery of the Missing Spider Pit Sequence ?

Whilst posting on, some years ago, I became involved in one of the "was the spider pit sequence shot or not?" debates and joined in just for fun really. I owned copies of letters that Merian C. Cooper the director of Kong had wrote that mention the lost spider pit sequence and why it was not in the final movie.

I also had several photos of the scenes, so I shared them on the site and was contacted by Jim Quirk (who dropped out for personal reasons) and Gary Vehar who were planning on writing a book on the subject. A book was not a realistic prospect due to the amount of knowledge that seemed to exist on the subject, so we decided on a lengthy article instead.

A year later and we had the version you can read today. We had help from some very generous people in the business and a personal friend of both Cooper and composer Max Steiner, and besides knowledge we also received several never before published pictures of the scene set ups (one of the many highlights of working on such a project) from stop motion animator Chris Endicott.

How hard was it tracking down sources on a film that is over 78 years old?

Well, we were very lucky to start with and managed to find out lots of tales about the sequence. One guy that we interviewed told me that Max Steiner had seen the spider pit sequence in a preview to help him score the film (it does sound plausible seeing as the score was composed in the "Micky Mousing" style) so he could write the music to fit the scenes and that when he next saw Kong (still unscored) the pit sequence was gone.

He also said that when "Jack" reacts to the sailor hitting the rocks in the version that we know, the reaction was actually because "Jack" had seen a creature in the pit attacking the sailor.

So we had plenty of "word of mouth" stories to compare and filter down to what most probably was shot, but we were no closer to finding out what happened to the scene after its removal, and we didn't expect to find out either, because if that information was available then the scene would not remain lost to this day.

Saying that, a second Kong armature did come to light after many years and that was also believed lost. On the opposite hand, we did have patches where things seemed to move at glacial speeds and we would run into many dead-ends, hence the reason it took a while to get enough material to put the article together.

How accurate do you find Peter Jackson's recreation of the spider pit sequence to be?

Peter Jackson's spider pit? I'm assuming you are referring to the stop motion version and not the ghastly CGI version. I don't think the scene would have played out like that in the 1933 version for these reasons:- The Styracosaurus NEVER appeared in the original film, the shot of it standing at the other side of the ravine was just a cut and paste job created by the studio. They even managed to cut the Styracosaur's beak off.

The crab and the lizard grab two sailors at the same time, so you don't know which to watch. That scene was certainly rushed. The men are still seen being dashed on the rocky floor of the chasm and would not have survived that kind of impact. In the original script, the men landed in soft mud and were supposed to be attacked after that.

I say "supposed" because we still have no hard evidence that the scene was shot, although I have seen stills from actual film that to appear to have a soundtrack on them, maybe a temporary music or sound effects track (you can see where the sound is encoded onto film. It appears to the side ).

Another thing to ponder is that the log scene in Kong '33 has been tampered with ... As Kong drops the log into the ravine, the whole scene has been flipped (left now appearing on the right side) for some unknown reason. Anyway, in Jackson's defense, he did state that it was just a fan version, so I suppose that gives him the advantage of using as much artistic licensing as he wants.

Recently you mentioned your adding a Kong ball & socket armature to your collection. How did that come about?

I noticed that Tom Brierton was selling a gorilla-like armature with a replica of the original Kong armature skull and I just had to have one! It worked out at around the same price as the "Sideshow Collectibles" replica Kong armature which I'd heard horror stories about the metal being soft and the thing couldn't hold a pose, so it was a no-brainer for me.

I remember once I'd paid for it I wanted it straight away and then got realistic about the time it takes to ship across the Atlantic ocean, but that didn't stop me looking out the window hoping to see a courier van arriving after day two! I had always wanted a stop motion Kong puppet, so this was the nearest that I'd ever been to getting one.

What motivated you to begin building stop motion puppets?

My first love of monsters and the fantastic, is Kong, and that walks hand in hand with stop motion animation, so I was also hooked on the films of Ray Harryhausen too.

I always wanted to own a stop motion monster as I was growing up, but it was very elusive due to the fact that I had no idea where to get my hands on latex rubber and other supplies necessary for the task. And also living in England didn't help matters, as the only subject material I could lay my hands on were imported American mags at the time.

Then along came the Internet, and thank heavens it did! I could speak to more like minded people like myself, talk to the SFX professionals I'd only ever seen in books and mags, it was great. Still, I didn't consider trying my hand at creating my own stop motion monsters because I didn't think I had the skills to take it on.

It was only after a near death experience in 2010, that I decided to try some things I wanted to try out, and that's where I got the "nothing ventured nothing gained" attitude, and that's how I finally stepped into the art of stop motion.

You mentioned building a T Rex inspired by the one that challenges Kong in the film. What other puppets are you planning on building in the future?

At the moment I'm working on another "Skull Island" type creature. I've decided to create a hybrid of two of the creatures built but not used in "King Kong." The new creature will be a mix of the Arsinoitherium and Triceratops. I am planning to use this "Arsinoceratops" monster in a scene involving the T Rex.

I'm also near to completing a lizard-man puppet, but have yet to settle on the design of the head, so it's taken a back seat for now, as has the Octopus creature from the deleted "Spider Pit" sequence from 'King Kong."

The beauty of creating the Octopus creature is, that apart from the tentacles, we have never seen an image of the final design that was to be used in 'Kong,' so it gives me a free range in which to use artistic licensing!

Stop motion animation and creating the articulated puppets can be such an exacting and tedious process. What do you find rewarding about it?

What do I find rewarding .... Well, I love to create things from nothing, so building the stop motion puppets and other miniatures is very rewarding when it's going right, and then animating something that you've created and playing it back is something very special indeed.

It's not as simple as just moving the puppets arms or legs frame by frame, you have to channel the "actor" within yourself from your minds eye, through your fingers and create a personality for your puppet or it will be as interesting as animating a block of wood sliding across a table top.

The Kong scene that I animated was a rush job due to my impatience and wanting to finish the animation and get stuck into adding sound effects, music and compositing a background in there.

It was a big mistake I made, but trial and error are the best ways to learn the art... You really need to study things very closely, e.g.: when you really watch how a body moves when walking, everything moves, the body has to balance and counterbalance, etc., the head remains centralized whist the shoulders and neck are in constant motion.

It's the things animals do that we don't really notice that can make a big difference to your puppets natural looking actions. With Kong I did give him a personality but didn't take care with the movements, it's something I will address on my next project.

I've included the link to one of your first animation sequences with your Kong puppet:

Also a clip of your T Rex in action: YouTube - T Rex on Skull Island

How has the groundbreaking special effects created by Willis O'Brien in King Kong influenced you?

Well, (this will sound cliche, but it's true) I have never been the same since I first saw 'King Kong' on the big screen as a child. After that day my life took the direction of indulging myself in the world of Kong and monster movies, books, toys, games, cards ... you get the picture.

You can't beat reading a cool horror comic whilst listening to a storm rage outside, none of which I would enjoy if it wasn't for monsters and horror icons that I took an interest in after seeing Kong. I feel that it's made my life a little, no, a lot more interesting than the average blokes on the street, and I wouldn't change that if I had my time over again!

So, the work of Willis O'Brien, Marcel Delgado, Merian C. Cooper, and everyone else involved in that utterly magical film, have been with me throughout my life, and I can say that it always will be!


  1. What an interesting interview...sounds like someone that really loves his 'Kong'.

    1. I agree, loves it maybe a bit obsessively. But I can empathise with that to a degree. Kong also greatly inpsired me to get into film in much the same way. And as for the CGI spider pit, it wasn't ghastly. It might not have been stop motion, but it was another method for telling the story, appreciate that much. I found it disgusting and effective.
      And as for his stop motion rendition, with it being fanmade is acceptable, as it can only be fan made and will never be the original. Still enjoyable.