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A new Kongfrontation shows how the shift to CG has affected theme parks.

A new Kongfrontation shows how the shift to CG has affected theme parks. (photo)

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The Los Angeles Times has an interview with Matt Aitken, the visual effects supervisor of Weta Digital, about their work on the new “King Kong 360 3-D” ride, which opens later this week at Universal Studios Hollywood.

The comment that caught my eye was about the technical specs of the attraction, which is a new addition to the park’s venerable Studio Tour and a replacement for the old animatronic King Kong that was destroyed by a disastrous fire a little over two years ago.

(Can you imagine the old Kong trapped in that inferno, stuck dutifully cycling through its endless loop of growls and punches until its burned into oblivion? It’s almost as terrifying and tragic as the actual movie. You can practically smell the burnt banana breath.)

Anyway, Aikten tells the LA Times that the new Kong 3D movie runs “at a very high frame range — 60 frames per second — so a lot of the [adverse things] associated with a typical movie experience at 24 frames per second — motion blur and flicker — those go completely out the window. The audience is getting delivered a huge amount of visual information at a very high rate.” The ride’s official site states that “guests will see and experience the equivalent amount of media — one terabyte of information — that is usually rendered for one hour of a feature film.”

These stats suggest a few things. First, that the rise of 3D movies designed to work like theme park rides has had a negative impact on theme park rides, which now have to work extra hard to emphasize on how superior they are to the stuff we get at the multiplex. Second, that there’s still a long way to go in improving movie theater 3D, and that’s just within the realm of existing (albeit expensive) technology. Third, animatronics, those borderline creepy staples of theme park attractions for decades, might be on their way out.

That makes sense. With fewer and fewer practical effects and more and more CGI in movies, there’s less inherent appeal for good old-fashioned effects-based rides at theme parks. This change also represents a subtle but important shift in the way park guests consume these rides. The old “King Kong Encounter” was couched as a trip through a working movie production — listen to the tourguide’s intro in this video:

That model is now completely outdated; there’s no animatronic or prosthetic gorillas on movie sets anymore; on bigger productions, there are barely any movie sets period. A tram ride pretending to be a trip through Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” set would have to discover a small English actor covered in ping pong balls, not exactly a show-stopping display of movie wizardry before you add in all the computerized bells and whistles.

To accommodate the shift from on-set movie magic to post-production trickery, parks like Universal Studios have shifted from pitching themselves as a trip into the movies to a trip to the movies you can’t see anywhere else. Instead of immersing themselves in a “production” via clever analog trickery, theme park attendees now basically watch movies with better frame rates and image quality than the ones they get at home. That seems to me like an inherently more passive experience, but I guess you’ll need to ride this new “Kong” and decide for yourself.

Here, for comparison’s sake with the video above, is a featurette for the 2005 “King Kong” — as jarring a juxtaposition as the one between Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s film and Peter Jackson’s:

[Photo: “King Kong 360 3-D,” Universal Studios, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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