Willis O'Brien

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Willis O'Brien
Willis O'Brien animating Jill on the back of Joseph Young
Born March 2, 1886
Oakland, California, United States
Died November 10, 1962 (aged 76)[1]
Occupation Special effects technician
First work The Dinosaur and the Missing Link:
A Prehistoric Tragedy
Notable work King Kong (1933)

Willis Harold O'Brien was an American special effects pioneer who has been credited as the creator of stop-motion animation.


In his spare time, O'Brien enjoyed sculpting and illustrating which led to his being employed as a cartoonist. During this time he also worked a variety of other jobs including a professional boxer. A 1915 short film made with some of his sculptures called The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy greatly impressed innovator Thomas Edison, and he was subsequently hired by the Edison Company to produce more dinosaur films. Much later, after taking a job with RKO, O'Brien began work on an eventually-scrapped film titled Creation by studio head Merian C. Cooper, who instead offered to use his dinosaur models on his own project, King Kong, due to his being so impressed with his work.

However, he distanced himself from the film's sequel, Son of Kong, which he allegedly felt to be "cheesy," and asked not to be credited in the film. Between 1958 and 1961, O'Brien would write a screenplay treatment and draw some concept art for a second sequel to King Kong pitting Kong against a giant Frankenstein's monster in San Francisco. The treatment and artwork were sold to independent producer John Beck, who hired screenwriter George Worthing Yates to flesh the treatment out into a full screenplay, under the title King Kong vs. Prometheus. Beck pitched the script to Toho, who instead purchased the rights to the Kong character from RKO and produced King Kong vs. Godzilla.[2]All of this was done without O'Brien's knowledge and he was never given any credit for his ideas. O'Brien died shortly after the film premiered in Japan in 1962.

Selected filmography


Stop-motion animator



Selected unproduced works



This is a list of references for Willis O'Brien. These citations are used to identify the reliable sources on which this article is based. These references appear inside articles in the form of superscript numbers, which look like this: [1]

  1. Harryhausen, Ray; Dalton, Tony (2008). A Century of Stop Motion Animation: From Melies to Aardman. Watson-Guptill. p. 111. ISBN 0823099806.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Ryfle, Steve (1 April 1998). Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of "The Big G". ECW Press. pp. 80–81. ISBN 1550223488.


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