Weta Talks the Rise of Photoreal Apes

Today Fox unveiled its first trailer on Apple for RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which opens Aug. 5, boasting the franchise's first CG apes, courtesy of the Oscar-winning Weta Digital.

Today Fox unveiled its first trailer on Apple for RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, which opens Aug. 5, boasting the franchise's first CG apes, courtesy of the Oscar-winning Weta Digital. Yesterday, Weta hosted a sneak peek into the making of its photoreal apes in a livestream event on Facebook.

In this origin story directed by Rupert Wyatt and set in present-day San Francisco, James Franco plays a scientist trying to cure Alzheimer's by experimenting with a chimpanzee named Caesar (played by Andy Serkis in performance capture), creating a super intelligent hybrid, who eventually leads an uprising with rampaging gorillas for control of the planet similar to the fourth film, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.

In fact, Joe Letteri, Weta's senior visual effects supervisor, admitted that it was the dramatic opportunities of the origin story that drew him to the film. "It was the idea to go back and re-imagine it as if we're seeing what caused it to happen and to bring that to life in as realistic a fashion as possible… You could see that you would have characters of all the apes, who each have to go through an evolutionary arc and you have a lot to work with."

Letteri explained that the performance capture technology of AVATAR has been leveraged in a more mobile way for RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The performers are on set and live because they are closer in size to their simian characters.

Dan Lemmon, Weta's visual effects supervisor on the film, added that for the first time the rig was used in direct sunlight. He also said that studying real chimpanzees at the local Wellington zoo was invaluable in applying behavioral nuances.

Indeed, the footage reveals a very subtle and intimate performance by Serkis, and an indication of how far Weta and the actor have come in perfecting CG acting since Gollum and Kong.

Serkis suggested that it's a very physical performance, but also one that's calibrated to the emotional arc of Caesar through his evolutionary process. Serkis maintained that Caesar is "an unknowing, innocent child who becomes aware of the world and has to make very strong choices."

Letteri added that performance capture is a balancing act between creating ape shorthand with thoughts and feelings but at the same time making it recognizable to the viewer.

The question is: Would Caesar make a convincing case for Oscar consideration based on the believability of the CG and the quality of Serkis' performance?

Meanwhile, this much is certain: As with AVATAR, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES breaks down the barrier between CG and live-action moviemaking. They are no longer separate worlds. "And that's what we've really continued here with Caesar," Letteri said. "By being able to put Andy and all the other performers into the live-action set, that barrier can [go away] and it really is about the performances."