The Munky King

August 2017 ––
Munkowitz and Munkys have always been a thing; there’s been a fascination between the two – you might even call it an obsession – for over 20 years. So when, while living in London in 2017, Munko fell in love with an animatronic Monkey Suit from renowned studio Animated Extras, he knew the time had come for the world to meet a character that has longed lived in his mind: The Munky King. Initially, Munkowitz conceived of the King as the star of numerous short films and music videos, but all proved to be too expensive to fund. As a creative, Munko knew that letting an idea sit unexpressed can erode at your spirit; so he turned to a self-funded proof of concept – an Art Project of sorts – aimed at exploring themes of enigma, fascination, revelation, primal attraction, symbiosis and metamorphosis. With bold, evocative colors, sensual textures, and the use of light and volumetric atmosphere to shape space and create a vividly captured world of folkloric mystique, Munkowitz endeavored to convey the emotion of narrative through a series of still images. He gathered his favorite collaborators in the city, got his hands on the infamous animatronic Monkey Suit… and thus was birthed The Munky King Ep 1 concept study.

The Aesthetic

–– 01
Munkowitz has always been drawn to textured silhouettes, color gradients, and sculpting light in volumetric ways –– so as his desire to get into Studio Photography developed, it was only natural he would explore those same principles in the medium. Throughout the photo series, each chapter of the narrative began to take on its own aesthetic, palette, and presence – as though dictating the mood required for the unique role it had to play in our story arc. Drawing inspiration from the portfolio of ultra-talented collaborator James Zwadlo, who is incredibly skilled at manipulating studio strobes and speedlights, Munkowitz and his team sought to create gradients of light that would contrast with the darkness of the King’s coat and the creamy flesh tones of his Queen. Rivers of smoke and haze were used to build volume and pair with the musky texture of fur and the drama of silhouettes to break up ambient planes. An impressionistic lens lets us into the inner life of this creature, layering meaning and mystery atop the physical form through rich atmospheric symbolism. We see the beast’s moment of discovery –– we meet the girl beneath the fog, latent and waiting – we move through his tender concern – the growing connection – the union – and finally the rebirth of both characters through one another. The way the fog obscures parts of an image while revealing other parts, the wash of light over faces or shadows left unseen, the shapes of bodies, skin, and fur against misty darkness...all elevate the narrative out of time and space itself. Studio strobes yielded clean, dynamic images that seem to freeze motion within the strobes, capturing emotion in the still frames and enabling a simple sequence of stills to tell a clear story.

The King

Chapter One

The King

–– Chapter One
Chapter One introduces us to a captivating beast, awakening from a deep slumber in a sea of fog. Like a creature that might emerge from the shrouded danger of an ancient wood, he is at once vividly realistic yet cloaked in a touch of the mythical. His thick, expressive muzzle seems to tremble in the enchanted red-pink moonlight. His fur shines bright, silky bristles evoking musk. This, is The Munky King. His form holds the promise of a power and might that we long to see him display. Yet his eyes are downcast, lifeless. His powerful body is deflated, blank, sedated – as though he is under a spell of dormancy that he can’t break.

We see him rumble through volumes of smoke, the fog so thick it seems bewitched. His majestic form evokes awe... but he seems deactivated, dormant, even vulnerable; a shadow of himself. What he is searching for in the fog he doesn’t know. But search he does, nonetheless – for life, for sustenance, for some treasure in the abyss that might ignite his soul.

The Treasure

Chapter Two

The Treasure

–– Chapter 02
Through the fog – a vitreous female face emerges. Glass-like eyes staring into the night, delicate features glistening. A shining treasure, perfect – yet comatose – Briar Rose stuck in her eternal slumber. She lays, half-buried in the fog. Motionless. Drowning or perhaps drowned. No light sparks in her dull eyes, no life seems to stir within. Yet her lips are parted. Her cheeks flush. She is halfway between the world of the living and the world of the dead, much like our King. He approaches the apparition, his weary eyes examining the vision enrobed in white lace – is she real, or merely a mirage? He approaches, smells her scent, feels the heat emanating from her body; alive she most certainly is. His hand brushes her cheek, cups her head, with a gentleness that seems impossible. But she is impervious to his touch. Still: she is alive. He lifts her up out of the fog, peering into her pearlescent eyes.

The Nourishing

Chapter Three

The Nourishing

–– Chapter Three
She emerges from the mist transformed, now attired in elegant formal evening wear that glitters with sparkling black crystals. Her energy, too, is changed – and changes him in turn. From the moment he stands upright with this being in his arms, the Munky King becomes charged with energy – an electric light suddenly burning brightly in his eyes. She stirs, as she too receives the visceral current of their embrace – she twitches; blinks; wakes. She sees him...her strength returning, growing, boiling. She reaches an outstretched hand to stroke his face, his fur, a pure line of energy linking them as they become emboldened by each other’s power. No longer is she a delicate jewel, breakable and frail. Looking into his face, we see this as a meeting of equals – charging and recharging the intimate space between them.

The Awakening

–– Chapter Three
Suddenly we see them on a deeper level as their connection transforms from the physical to the spiritual. Her face, form, and spirit is covered in a black lace veil as the Munky King’s power pushes her through a membrane of her former self. As they harness one another’s power, she is a chrysalis pushing through the cocoon, stirring with new power as she is transformed; that which was submissive in her becomes dominant, that which was pliable becomes muscled. The King, too, is transforming. He is merging his energy with hers, transforming with her. He is harnessing her power, and she his, as the transfer builds to a climax...

The Persuasion

Chapter Four

The Persuasion

–– Chapter Four
From the ashes of what was...they emerge metamorphosed. No longer are they a Beast and his treasure: they are Beast and Beast. Her shoulders and arms boast lush, white fur, as musky and gorgeous as the King’s – flesh still visible beneath – she has not lost herself, instead she has found herself, the being she always was beneath the fog. They are stoic yet tender – a power couple, both indebted to one another for restoring life and virility where there was once only dullness. They match gaze for gaze. Fur for fur. No longer is there a monster in the dark wood and an innocent being of the flesh who will be his prey. Now there is just duel strength. Two seemingly contrary forces who are in fact complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world – who have given rise to each other’s rein through their very interrelatedness.

The Process

–– 02
The Munky King Ep 1 was a labor of love that represented a confluence of the right people, coming together at the right time (in a tiny photography studio on a very hot summer’s day), working against the clock on a single day to give life to a classic story with a modern twist. Playing off of Beast/Beauty tropes that evokes La Belle et La Bette, Munko wanted to tell a story of connection through touch, of discovery through interdependence, and of empowerment through symbiosis between the most unlikely of partners. Munkowitz and his team shot on a Canon 1DX in a blacked out studio with 3 Studio Strobes and 3 Speed Lights, all triggered from one controller on the camera. They used gels and bounce cards to create gradients of color, a high end smoke/ dry ice machine from Artem Effects that gave them low-hanging smoke from which to sculpt rivers of fog, and the iconic animatronic Monkey Suit from Animated Extras that started it all. Classic beauty Ava Roeg brought the Munky Queen to life with her signature combination of strength and fragility, as expertly styled by Jeffrey Michael Design. Using the silhouette of the Munky with multiple light sources as their true north, Munkowitz and his team allowed the light to bounce and reflect between the two characters to create a dreamy, lush aesthetic that mirrors the visceral sensations of the narrative -- power and tenderness, brawn and soft fantasy, vibrant light and dank fur, human and Beast.
–– 02

The Case Study

–– 03

The Takeaway

–– 04
The Munky King Ep 1 was a pure creative process that allowed GMUNK to explore a medium that fascinates him, through themes he loves, with people he admires and loves learning from. He reveled in working with Animated Extras and repurposing their stunning Animatronic Suit, which is best known in a graphic, brightly lit commercial context, to give it a new mythology and ethos. The project is a concept aesthetic that he is thrilled to have transferred from his head into the world. It’s an itch that has been happily scratched, whether it has reached its final stage here, or blossoms into something bigger in the future. Finally – triumphantly – The Munky King lives.
–– 04

Creative Director

at Nexus Studios
for The Munky King
The Munky King Credit List

Creative Director: Bradley G Munkowitz
Photographer: James Zwadlo
Retoucher: Kevin Passmore
Case Study Editor: David Slade
Cast (Munky King): Peter Elliott
Cast (Queen): Ava Roeg
Costume Designer: Jeffrey Michael
Typographer: Luca Barcellona
Production Company: Nexus Studios
Exec. Producer: Jeremy Smith
Producer: Jo Bierton
Animatronic Tech: Simon Williams
Gorilla Groomer: Ben Brown
Smoke Technician: Matt Beckwith
Make-Up Artist: Mizzie Logan
Make-Up Assistant: Kirsty Cox
Behind The Scenes: Alex Javier
Photo. Assist: Catalin Popa
Prod. Manager: Maiwenn Le Borgne
Modeling Agent: Martin Caroline
Runner: Baptiste Arnaud
Runner: Rowan Thomas