When late model-maker and sculptor Marcel Delgado created movie monsters for the original 1933 film King Kong, there were no computer-generated effects to help him make movie magic. All he used were his hands to sculpt models of the title ape who would become one of the most iconic movie characters ever.
Born in the village of La Parrita in Coahuila, Mexico, in 1901, Delgado and his family moved to Saticoy, California, at the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. While studying art at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien invited Delgado to start working on the dinosaur models for his new silent film project, 1925’s The Lost World.
In 1933, Delgado began making models for King Kong, which included 18-inch miniatures that were scaled up to create the 18-foot monster featured in the film. Delgado and his team used aluminum foam, rubber, latex and rabbit fur to build the models. A larger model of King Kong’s head was also designed and fashioned, so that the ape’s facial expressions could be controlled by levers, hinges and an air compressor. Delgado also created the dinosaur models for the movie, including the Tyrannosaurus.
After King Kong, Delgado would continue to break new ground as a special effects master working on films like 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, 1949’s Mighty Joe Young, 1953’s The War of the Worlds, 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and 1964’s Mary Poppins.
Delgado died in 1976 at the age of 75.