Why Pixels Actually Built A Life-Sized Donkey Kong Set

In the upcoming movie Pixels, a show-stopping face off between Adam Sandler and his band of Arcaders and the film’s big bad boss, in the form of Donkey Kong, is the set piece to beat. As I found out while sitting down with the cast, as well as director Chris Columbus, I learned more about just how this sequence was brought to life. Check out the exclusive video below for more info.

The most interesting thing about Chris Columbus’ decision to build the entire Donkey Kong set, ladders and all, is that it helps to enhance the reality of the world Pixels inhabits. Up until that point in the film, we’ve seen these characters interact with our world, but to really drive the point home we get to see members of the human race cross over to the other side. The result is a spectacular set piece that Columbus admits could have almost been a completely digital fabrication. He said:

The directorial toolbox of CGI right now enables you to do anything, so there was some temptation to do the whole Donkey Kong sequence as a complete CGI sequence. But I thought it would be amazing to build these sets and have the actors on harnesses actually jumping and doing all the work themselves, and then add the CGI later.

Considering Chris Columbus comes from the last decades of filmmaking that relied on practical effects, while seeing the exponential evolution of digital effects, it’s no surprise that his approach was a more hands-on strategy. His decision pays off, as when I saw the members of the Pixels cast running around, wielding hammers, and hanging off of steel girders, it was actually believable. This not only helps sell the reality of the sequence to the viewer, but it also helped sell the cast on the moment they were trying to convey, as other members of the cast confirmed.

In addition to confirming that filming the Donkey Kong scene was as massive an endeavor as it looked, Kevin James and Michelle Monaghan gave some insight into what the set was like during the shoot, as well as massive praise to Chris Columbus for his direction of such an effects heavy sequence. James said:

Everything you see in the Donkey Kong game was built to scale…the ladders were steel, you’d bang your shin, you’d have to move in real time.

Monaghan added:

It was a lot of fun, but it was an intense set, and there was a lot of tennis balls.

The tennis balls Michelle Monaghan references are, of course, the traditional placeholders for effects that will be added digitally in post production, so hearing her make the connection of the massive Donkey Kong being represented by a respectively tiny tennis ball was funny as well as informative. Though James took the cake, as a gag about him replacing his whole family with tennis balls as practice was peppered into the production notes distributed to the press.

So how did the final sequence turn out? Well, besides seeing it for yourself when Pixels opens, you can take Josh Gad’s word for how awesome the sequence was, as he visited the set and got an eyeful of action. He said:

It was insane because they built the actual layers and platforms. The set was incredible, and just seeing those guys avoiding the barrels was the craziest thing. There was all this wire work involved.

If words still aren’t enough to sell you, then you can take a look at a video that Columbus himself shared on Instagram during the sound mixing process a couple of months ago.


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The amount of craft and skill that went into the production of Pixels will surprise even those who are still skeptical of the film, because for a movie that seemed like an easy write off when it was announced, it's an entertaining ride. We’ll discuss this further in our full review, but for now we’ll say that at the very least Pixels impresses with a hell of a Donkey Kong showdown as its finale.

Pixels opens this Friday in theaters nationwide, but you won’t have to wait that long for more Pixels action as we’ve got more from this weekend’s media event, as well as a review of the film and its 3D treatment, forthcoming.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.