Vastatosaurus rex was developed from the Tyrannosaurus rex and the Allosaurus from Peter Jackson's 1996 King Kong attempt. A conceptual statue featuring Tyrannosaurus created for the film also bears a resemblance to the finalized Vastatosaurus. Early concept art by Gus Hunter depicted the V. rex as brown T. rexes.
For reference in designing the Vastatosaurus, Weta Workshop used an osteological replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull and added an evolutionary twist to it. Weta artists Greg Broadmore and Christian Pearce were responsible for designing the V. rex, with Broadmore commenting in The Making of King Kong: The Official Guide to the Motion Picture that he had probably done twenty to thirty designs for the fictional dinosaur. There was a difference between the designs of Broadmore and Pearce as the latter notes. Broadmore's designs put the weighting of the V. rex further behind the hips whereas Pearce's designs were more "front-heavy," which Pearce felt looked "more aggressive and spookier." Early in the design process there were many discussions about making the V. rex stand upright like the paintings of paleoartist Charles R. Knight.
Early designs of the V-Rex date to 2003. All of these designs featured two fingers instead of three. Director Peter Jackson's responses to the concept art gave the V-Rex designers a clear sense of directions to explore. The concept artists realized that Jackson wanted, in Broadmore's own words, "the most, evil, diabolical V-Rex you could imagine." Broadmore further explained, "It wasn't about making a real dinosaur. It was about making it the most terrifying thing that Kong could fight. We worked on making the eyes scary and making it nasty and smelly—which is a recurring theme in the movie!" The designers also played around with giving it scars to make it look battle-hardened. Jackson notably liked a concept with rotten meat hanging from its teeth and another with a poked out eye. Discoveries since Knight's paintings found that dinosaurs had very fine scales, unlike the crocodilian and lizard scales depicted in Knight's paintings, but Jackson wanted something archaic, so Greg Broadmore suggested to Jackson that the creature possess crocodile scales. Broadmore explained, "To put crocodile scales on a dinosaur is ludicrous, but it makes it look cooler and gives it an older-fashioned Ray Harryhausen-esque look."
When the V-Rex design was finalized, it received further changes in the sculpting period, particularly it was given a waist. Sculptor Bill Hunt explained the decision saying, "Our dinosaurs have been isolated, and they've had an extra sixty-five million years of evolution. Regular [Tyrannosaurus rexes] don't have a waist, but we kept thinking of them as serpentine, running through these dense jungles and being able to wind between them, and they would need to be able to turn in the middle to do that. So we've given them a waist." While the bull V-Rex was being sculpted, Peter Jackson felt the head needed to be ten percent bigger. Hunt recalls that Jackson modified the sculpture himself, slicing off the front of its face and being satisfied by the result afterward. Christian Pearce applauded the decisions made in the sculpting period saying "So much was resolved in the sculpt."
The name "Vastatosaurus rex" means "ravager lizard king," being derived from the Latin word vastato, which is a conjugation of the word vasto meaning to "devastate, ravage, or to lay waste." The word saurus is derived from the ancient Greek word sauros (σαυροσ), meaning "lizard," and finally, rex is a Latin word meaning "king."
In-universe the V-Rex is named by sailor Sam Kelley in the prequel novel King Kong: The Island of the Skull, where he initially mistook it for a Tyrannosaurus, but changed his mind after observing its size and ferocity.
Unlike its ancestor Tyrannosaurus rex, V-Rex has a more oval-shaped skull with a mouth full of thick, fully exposed, peg-shaped, asymmetrical teeth. V-Rex also has a few teeth that are located outside of its mouth on its lower jaw. Unlike Tyrannosaurus, V-Rex has three fingers instead of two and has a waist. Vastatosaurus rex has fully scaled skin with crocodilian scutes spanning its neck, back, and its hips. Its coloration is a dark blue that can be mistaken for whitish gray in certain lighting conditions with a yellowish underbelly while its eyes are orange with small black circular pupils.
The family that appears in the film each has their own unique appearance. The juvenile has bigger feet and less developed muscles and has a body that is more horizontal than the other two. The matriarch is scarred and older than the three with wrinkly, sagging skin and her torso and tail hanging lower than her hips. The bull is heavily muscled and fitter than the matriarch and sports a heavy-boned head with a crest.
While Ann Darrow was being chased by a Foetodon, a juvenile Vastatosaurus rex appeared and killed the Foetodon by crushing it with its jaws. Upon seeing Ann, the V-Rex chased after her. Ann managed to hide on a fallen tree, but a second V-Rex, a bull, appeared and attacked her. Thankfully, King Kong arrived and rescued Ann. The bull attacked Kong and was soon joined by the juvenile. Kong took on both V-Rexes, only to find himself attacked by a third one, the matriarch. Kong quickly killed the juvenile by smashing its head with a boulder. The other two V-Rexes then tackled Kong off a cliff, causing them to become tangled in vines. Kong battled the V-Rexes through the mess of vines and tried to reach Ann. Eventually, Kong grabbed Ann and got free from the vines, dropping to the ground below. The bull got free as well and prepared to resume the battle. Ann retreated behind Kong and allowed him to defend her. After a vicious struggle, Kong grabbed the V-Rex's jaws and pried them apart until they snapped, killing the mighty saurian.
One year before the events of King Kong, a Vastatosaurus happened upon a pack of Venatosaurus in a clearing. It quickly defeated them and spent the day eating them until only their bones remained. The next day, it, or another of its species, came across a group of humans and chased them into a clearing where they found shelter in a cave. Not wanting to give up so easily, the Vastatosaurus waited in the cave entrance through the night and a bad rainstorm. In the morning, the humans began running from the cave. Some of them escaped because the Vastatosaurus had settled itself on the other side of the clearing for the time being, but he was able to eat a few of them before Kong arrived.
The jaws of Vastatosaurus rex are the strongest of any terrestrial animal that had ever lived and are capable of exerting astonishing pressure to splinter bone and crush limbs. The V-Rex's peg-like teeth were specially adapted for piercing and mashing. The V-Rex is surprisingly flexible for an animal of its size, possessing a short, narrow rib cage and a large gap between its ribs and its hips. The Vastatosaurus is capable of running in short bursts of up to 25 miles per hour. V-Rex possesses broad feet, an adaptation that allows it to stalk through swampier terrain than what its bulk would otherwise support. The V-Rex would use its arms to help pin meat against its body and prevent the meat from swinging around.
- Vastatosaurus rex is a tribute to the Tyrannosaurus rex from the original 1933 King Kong in that it not only is a descendant of T-Rex, but it also shares aspects of the T-Rex's design from the 1933 film such as having three fingers and pebbly skin. King Kong's fight with the last V-Rex is also a recreation of his fight with the T-Rex in the original film, ending with Kong breaking its jaw.
- The V-Rexes encountered by Kong in the film are confirmed to be a family, including a juvenile, a bull, and a matriarch. This Vastatosaurus family might be the result of inbreeding, as V-Rex designer Greg Broadmore says that the filmmakers thought of the family as "this group of ornery yokels, this inbred family of dinosaurs."
- The decision to give the Vastatosaurus rex scales cost production hundreds of man-hours when sculpting the scales on their maquettes. Richard Taylor told Cinefex in their January 2006 issue that the V-Rex sculptures were one of the most difficult Weta Workshop had ever created, commenting that the scales were "like a mathematical equation, requiring very careful analysis of the scales. There was no way to cheat it, we just couldn't scratch it in." One of the sculptors, Gary Hunt, commented on the sculpting process of the scales, saying "After six months of putting scales on a V-Rex—we've got scales printed on our retinas!" Designer Christian Pearce felt that though the crocodilian scales made sculpting the V-Rex maquettes very time-consuming, it was worth the effort overall as he felt it separated the V-Rex from the Jurassic Park Tyrannosaurus.
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