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Tufts Grad Helps Bring King Kong To Life

Tufts Grad Helps Bring King Kong To LifeTufts graduate Tara Stoinski, a primatologist with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, gave “King Kong” actor Andy Serkis a crash course in gorilla behavior.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.21.05] While a giant computer-generated gorilla may dominate the screen in the remake of the fantasy-adventure flick “King Kong,” the man behind the powerful primate, actor Andy Serkis, deserves some credit, too. Serkis, the human force behind Kong’s movements, facial expressions and voice, spent months researching gorillas to bring the beast to life. According to one of his mentors, Tufts graduate and gorilla behavior expert Tara Stoinski, Serkis nailed the part.

KingKong“He was very interested in how they handled things, their movement patterns,” Stoinski, director of research and education partnerships for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Serkis, who studied gorillas at the London Zoo and in the wild at DFGFI’s Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda.

Stoinski, a primatologist who is also manager of conservation partnerships for Zoo Atlanta, where the DFGFI is based, taught Serkis gorilla mannerisms, according to the Journal-Constitution. His thorough preparation for the role, Stoinski said, really paid off.

“I thought a lot of the ways that Kong picked up things and handled things looked exactly how a gorilla would do it,” she told the Journal-Constitution.

The movie also captured a true sense of gorillas’ protective nature, pointed out Stoinski, whose education includes a BA in history from Tufts in 1991.

“[Kong is] very protective of Ann Darrow [played by Naomi Watts] and spends a lot of time and energy protecting her from various elements in the movie,” Stoinski told the newspaper. “That's extremely typical of gorillas. Gorillas will defend members of their family to the death.”

Also typical of gorillas, Stoinski said, is laughter. She told the Journal-Constitution that she was happy to see that incorporated into the movie.

HongKong“Gorillas do laugh,” Stoinksi explained to the newspaper. “They have a vocalization they do. In the movie, Kong does it in response to Ann Darrow. When we generally see them laugh [in real life] is when they are playing. We have a bunch of males right now [at Zoo Atlanta] and sometimes they're laughing so hard when they're playing they actually have to stop and catch their breath. To have Kong laugh in the movie, it was wonderful. That's a really fun side of gorillas that a lot of people don't know about.”

On a more serious note, Stoinski hopes that the movie will educate people about the importance of protecting and conserving gorillas in the wild.

“We are at a crisis with this species. The words that are used to describe it are ‘catastrophic decline,’" Stoinski told the Journal-Constitution. “There are true-to-life aspects of gorillas [in the movie], and anything we can do to raise awareness of gorillas and gorilla conservation is extremely important.”












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