Gwangi the Chameleon

The Allosaurus (Gwangi) in Valley of the Gwangi (1969) changes colors between various stop-motion sequences throughout the film. He doesn’t have chromatophores like a chameleon, but he changes color nonetheless. In one scene he appears to be gray, in another he is dark blue, or brown, he’s pinkish gray, and then he appears to be green! To demonstrate his color variability, I decided to quantify the observations numerically and assign “Gwangi” RGB/hexadecimal values based off screen captures from the film. I took three random color measurements from each Gwangi image, avoiding shadows, and calculated an average Red-Green-Blue or RGB metric for each of seven Gwangi images. Then I created representative color swatches for each image. Here’s a comparison of 7 different “shots” of Gwangi— (compare to each sequential image below):

Gwangi does indeed change color, but why?

In Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life (2003), Ray Harryhausen noted that the “perceptible color changes” of the Allosaur were largely due to budgetary constraints compounded by variations in ambient lighting conditions and inconsistent application of blue color filters. Basically, color tests were not frequently performed due to a tight and demanding shooting schedule. Harryhausen noted that Gwangi varies in color from Gray, Green, Brown to Blue. Additional discussion on the matter can be found here (Bill Warren noticed the color variation and openly discussed the topic on-line with Ernest Farino: This blogger also seems to remember reading an alternative explanation of Gwangi’s color shifts being due to a laboratory film processing error (I am still looking for the magazine or article source).

What a terrific film! Valley of the Gwangi was originally conceptualized at RKO by the great Willis O’Brien, and later rendered for film by Ray Harryhauser and Charles Schneer. It’s a fun film and grand entertainment – how can you go wrong with dinosaurs and cowboys? Sometimes I wonder what the film would’ve been like if released in the late 40’s or 50’s.

Here’s a video on Master of Majicks Vol 3:

3 Responses to “Gwangi the Chameleon”

  1. In the special features of the disc on Netflix, there is a discussion of the various restorations of Gwangi including the 1995 laserdisc restoration and the 2003 restoration using two intact 35mm negatives (the original negative was lost). In each case, they showed the source material and the restoration on a split screen. Usually, the allosaurus’ color changed in the restoration, from indigo to lavender, for example. The allosaurus was different colors in the original film and then it was changed to various other colors in the process of these restorations. So there are a lot of different color versions of the allosaurus in existence now.

    • The Blogger Says:

      Great input Stan. I need to pull my old laserdisc and look at the color differences. I also recall a pink elephant –maybe that was the Belgian ale!

  2. If I were to remake this film I would keep the color changes in and make Gwangi a true chameleon. After all, there’s no evidence that dinosaurs couldn’t change their color. It could make for a great scene in the movie, and might explain how a giant dinosaur gets unnoticed.

    Lazarus Lupin
    art and review

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