F/x wiz Winston masters monkey biz

GOOD MORNING: I am the proud possessor of one of the world’s biggest flawless diamonds. It was given to me Wednesday by Amy, the 8-year-old mountain gorilla who co-stars in “Congo,” Kennedy/Marshall’s amazing movie transformation for Paramount of Michael Crichton’s bestseller. You will never believe that “inside” Amy is actress Lorene Noh (Misty Rosas also plays the part) who is led through her paces, faces, grimaces, actions by a team of “puppeteers” on short-wave to her, choreographed by Peter Elliott (“Greystoke”) and all thanks to the creature creativity of Oscar winner Stan Winston. As Amy smiled, handed me the “diamond,” I could not help but thank her, pat her gently on the head, shake her hand — as the company, led by director Frank Marshall, producer Kathleen Kennedy, cinematographer Allen Daviau, production designer J. Michael Riva and the rest of the multi-Oscar-nominated crew beamed, seeing their realistic efforts proven … I had been warned, before visiting the set, to wear old shoes, so as not to worry about picking up some of the muddy ground as I visited the diamond mine on the giant Stage 30 at Sony where I had, in years past, marveled at many MGM epix. Now, Kennedy/Marshall, with their team led by genius production designer Riva, had converted the soundstage into mountainous tiers of rust-colored earth through which a river roared by my feet. On the mountainsides a dozen mutant gorillas, “grays,” went through paces as each was controlled by a trio of “puppeteers” who manipulated their fierce faces, baring lethal teeth, swinging arms and legs in true ape-like movements. Winston has been working on the creations for a year. He says it’s far more intricate than anything he’s ever done — including “Jurassic Park.” And the “grays” (actors, stuntmen) have been in training six months for their roles. This is moviemaking at its best. Steven Spielberg visited the set of his Amblin co-founders and almost directed a second-unit scene for ’em! They reteam to prep “Jurassic Park II” in January and will probably reteam again someday with the Spielberg troika — if/when Paramount passes on a first look … Marshall and Kennedy are enthusiastic about everything going on at the stage. They even pointed out to me that the styrofoam set is recyclable. When they noticed one of the “grays” motioning for an air blower, Marshall shouted, “We’re going to lose them –” and their “heads” (part of the 30-pound costume) were removed to give ’em a breather. The movie stars Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson, Tim Curry, Grant Heslov and Joe Don Baker.

TEN STAGES AT SONY STUDIOS are being used by Kennedy and Marshall for their two films, “Congo” for Paramount and “The Indian in the Cupboard,” for Paramount domestically, Columbia domestic video and foreign feature. “Congo” is budgeted in the $ 50 millions, “Indian” at $ 40 million. Kathleen happily led me from Stage 30 of “Congo” to Stage 15 and the lost city of Zinj where an almost impenetrable jungle had been created by greens designer Danny Ondrejko (“Jurassic Park”). An “earthquake” had already destroyed most of the temple and Marshall ran the tape for me to show its realistic power. Next comes a volcano scene and they are still working on creating the proper look for lava — everything from oatmeal to chocolate sauce has been tested. They head to Costa Rica and Africa for exteriors. They have also filmed a 727 on a Simi Valley location … The exuberant Kennedy proceeded to lead me to Stages 23, 27 and 12 where segments of “The Indian in the Cupboard” were in production with Frank Oz directing. “This is truly family entertainment,” Kennedy told me, “and no one better than Frank Oz to do it”… On Stage 27, giant props dwarfed us, for they must look enormous to the 3-inch tall Indian played by Litefoot, the Native American (Cherokee) rap artist who makes his acting debut as Little Bear. On Stage 12, Kennedy introduced me to the ILM team headed by Eric Brevig who work on a giant (35 feet by 150 feet) bluescreen to accomplish the conversion of Little Bear down to 3 inches. All agree it’s not an easy task to make the shrinking spectacularly accurate. But if ILM can’t do it, who can? Kennedy admits Paramount got cold feet about totally financing the family movie and that’s when Sony stepped in to go 50-50. … Kennedy says moviemaking costs will only be brought into a realistic range when digitalization can bring a movie from the soundstage to the theater … She also reminds me that a movie like “Congo” could have been filmed entirely on the “old” MGM lot in the “old days” when the studio also included lots 2 and 3, where everything from a Mississippi river boat (“Show Boat”) to “Singin’ in the Rain” could be filmed. She was shocked to learn WB was converting its back lot to a parking lot and pleaded with Spielberg to do what he could with toppers at the studio.