Go­rilla war­fare: Be­hind the vi­su­als of 'Planet of the Apes'

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

As Cae­sar sits astride a horse ral­ly­ing his le­gions to bat­tle you'd be for­given for think­ing you were watch­ing a Ro­man-era war epic-ex­cept that the pro­tag­o­nist is a chim­panzee. "War for the Planet of the Apes," the third in­stall­ment of the re­booted simian sci-fi fran­chise, opens on Fri­day to re­views laud­ing some of the most breath­tak­ing visual ef­fects ever seen in cin­ema. Be­hind the photo-real apes is Weta Dig­i­tal, a pi­o­neer­ing Welling­ton-based CGI stu­dio founded by Peter Jack­son that has seen its rep­u­ta­tion grow steadily since its ground­break­ing per­for­mance-cap­ture work on his "The Lord of the Rings" movies.

Filmed against the stark snowy vis­tas of Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia, "War" sees di­rec­tor Matt Reeves un­leash the rapidly evolv­ing simi­ans into a world boil­ing over with di­vi­sions and rage. A band of sol­diers led by a bat­tle-hard­ened loose can­nonWoody Har­rel­son chan­nel­ing Mar­lon Brando's Colonel Kurt­zlaunches an all-out at­tack to de­stroy the apes once and for all. The movie is driven by Andy Serkis as the ma­jes­tic Cae­sar, repris­ing a role for which he has drawn even more ac­claim than for his other dig­i­tal char­ac­ters, Gol­lum in "Rings" and King Kong.

"Phys­i­cally in this film, Cae­sar is much more up­right and he uses his hands a lot more now, so he's more like a hu­man be­ing in ape skin," Serkis says in the pro­duc­tion notes. "But as his in­tel­li­gence and abil­i­ties have grown, the things he feels and re­mem- bers have be­come more daunt­ing to him."

As in the pre­vi­ous films, Serkis wore a gray body­suit and fa­cial recog­ni­tion dots that cap­tured the tini­est nu­ances of move­ment, ges­ture and emo­tion of the apes. The 53-year-old ac­tor, whom many be­lieve should have won an Os­car for his pi­o­neer­ing work, has al­ways main­tained that there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween play­ing a part in a mo­tion-cap­ture suit and per­form­ing in cos­tume and makeup. "You're not just stand­ing in for the role un­til the magic's done later on. You're not just rep­re­sent­ing the char­ac­ter, you are the char­ac­ter for real," he says in a be­hind-the-scenes fea­turette re­leased re­cently by Fox.

"War" fea­tures a dozen key ape char­ac­ters that in­ter­act with in­creas­ing so­phis­ti­ca­tion, not just with each other, but with their en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing fall­ing snow. The crew in­cluded a team of 50 visual ef­fects per­son­nel, a 10-per­son cam­era unit and an army of data wran­glers, sur­vey­ors and pho­tog­ra­phers who 3-D scanned ev­ery inch of ev­ery set and lo­ca­tion. They crafted an ar­ray of more than 1,400 highly com­plex ef­fects shots, de­ploy­ing ad­vanced soft­ware bring­ing new lev­els of com­plex­ity to how dig­i­tal fur be­haves and in­ter­acts with the world.

A newly-built toolset called "Manuka physLight" mod­eled with pin­point ac­cu­racy how cam­eras pick up and re­spond to light so that the crew were able to light the apes sim­i­larly to how a cin­e­matog­ra­pher would light a sound­stage. The crew stud­ied how snow sticks to fur, clumps on it, falls off and re­acts as the apes walk through their win­try en­vi­ron­ments. Cae­sar alone had al­most a mil­lion strands of hair.

Tow­er­ing ef­fects

"It looks in­sanely re­al­is­tic," said Serkis. "It's just such a bril­liant tech­nol­ogy and I've em­braced it. I ac­tively want to push the bound­aries so that this movie is the most thrilling on ev­ery sin­gle level." Weta's visual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Dan Lem­mon, who joined in 2002 to work on "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Tow­ers," says the tech­nol­ogy has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally. "All of our fur sys­tems, how we model the way light moves through the scene and other ma­te­ri­als, have all grown sig­nif­i­cantly more so­phis­ti­cated," he added. "War" will be com­pet­ing with "Spi­derMan: Home­com­ing," "Won­der Wo­man" and sev­eral other ef­fects-laden block­busters, but in­dus­try track­ing es­ti­mates the US open­ing at a healthy $65 mil­lion. That fig­ure would be in the same ball­park as the two pre­vi­ous in­stall­ments, which went on to earn a com­bined $1.2 bil­lion world­wide. "War" has a 96 per­cent ap­proval rat­ing on the Rot­ten Toma­toes web­site, which col­lates re­views, with the most en­thu­si­as­tic su­perla­tives all re­served for the tow­er­ing ef­fects.

Even BBC critic Ni­cholas Bar­ber, who didn't like the film, de­scribes the tech­ni­cal wiz­ardry as "fright­en­ingly ad­vanced." "The tex­tures of leath­ery skin and thick hair are so con­vinc­ing that you quickly for­get that you're watch­ing ac­tors in mo­tion­cap­ture suits," he says. "You feel as though you're watch­ing real live apes, even if those apes are car­ry­ing as­sault ri­fles and rid­ing horses." — AFP

This image re­leased by Twentieth Cen­tury Fox shows a scene from, ‘War for the Planet of the Apes.’ — AP

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