Golden age of animatronics

How to Make a Monster

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2012
Peter Drury, Mike Scott

John Cox, the director of Creature Workshop, talks about the art and technology of animatronics before the opening of the How to Make a Monster exhibition at Waikato Museum.

POPULAR PREHISTORICS: Monsters are being brought to life for an exhibition at Waikato Museum.
PETER DRURY/ WAIKATO TIMES
POPULAR PREHISTORICS: Monsters are being brought to life for an exhibition at Waikato Museum.

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Like the dinosaurs, John Cox's mechanical monsters could soon be extinct, but his creations will come to life at Waikato Museum this weekend.

The How to Make a Monster exhibition, which opens in Hamilton on Saturday, features a range of creatures created by Mr Cox during his 35-year career in animatronics and visual effects. The monsters, including blind aliens, mechanical dinosaurs and an abominable snowman, were being assembled at the museum yesterday.

Mr Cox has worked on films across the world including Peter Pan, Pitch Black, Inspector Gadget, George of the Jungle II and Babe, for which he won an academy award.

He said the exhibition, which started in 2004, has been well received the world over.

"At every venue it's been to, it's either been the top exhibition they've had or in the top three. Kids absolutely get it, they love it. We get all age groups through and there's something for everyone here."

The purpose of the exhibition is to show the process of creature creation from the storyboard to the silver screen.

However, due to the popularity of computer-generated imagery (CGI), Mr Cox and his Australian-based company Creature Workshop are finding it tough to get work in the film industry.

"It is a shame because it's going to become a bit of a lost art. We may, in a couple of more years, re-name the exhibition to the History of Animatronics because a lot of people will have forgotten that it was ever possible to build these things for real."

Mr Cox claims CGI cannot create the realism of animatronic creatures. His staff fuss over the intricate details, such as individual fur follicles and subtle behaviourisms, to the point that they occasionally become "attached" to the creatures.

"There are certain animals that I do become attached to. Mainly dogs and bears. I think because they're my favourite animals anyway."

Mr Cox, who started making stop-action films at the age of 14 after watching the original King Kong, admits he is a bit of a big kid.

"You can't say this is like playing with toys because that would just be giving the game away and everyone would want to do it. But we have a lot of fun doing this sort of stuff."

The exhibition runs from February 25 to July 15.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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