In the fine tradition of keeping things in the family I joined the same group of bloggers that had the privilege, and fun, of talking to Matthew Vaughn a few months back, as we sat down at Claridges in London and talked to Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt and WETAs Dan Lemmon about bringing the Apes prequel to the screen and the difficulties, and successes, of creating the films CGI simians. As before we were all asking questions so were collectively Q, and theyre RW and DL. Also be aware that talking about the film there are one or two spoilers ahead, right from the first question. Make sure you go out and see this excellent film before reading below; Q: Obviously we know the ultimate end, a planet full of apes with Charlton Heston shaking his fists and getting a bit upset, but where do we go with this as is its a closed story?
RW: Theres many ways to skin a cat I guess, theres so much we could do Im speculating when I tell you this the ideas Ive had are all sorts of things, ranging from Full Metal Jacket with apes I think you could start this story 8 years from where we left off, the next generation of apes, those that have come from our protagonists, perhaps going into conflict with humans and showing real fear, in the same way as young soldiers going into battle in this day and age. Telling their story, and how apes are taking over cities, moving into human environments, having to interact and deal with things that are part of our culture. Spies working in the employ of apes and working against humans. Humans maybe existing underground because thats the way they can avoid the virus. Coming above ground in order to fight wearing gas masks which is what de-humanises them. So, Ive thought about itQ: Youre in a totally different timeline (to the original film) arent you?
RW: No, were in the same timeline but we have 3 and a half thousand years to go before we get to that place.Q: But with their Caeser its a different
RW: Well yeah, but thats because the films made money and they had to work out a way to tell sequels.Q: So in essence youre saying youre in the same timeline as the first one but not the subsequent ones.
RW: Exactly.Q: Did you fell beholden to the continuity of the first film?
RW: Of the first, absolutely. Because the great fundamental idea of that is the apes becoming alpha of our planet, and how did that happen. Were just answering that question.Q: Ever since weve had digitally enhanced films theres been talk of bringing back actors to star in things. So how far are we from bringing back (young) Charlton Heston?
DL: Its a really good question, and there are a lot of challenges involved with a project like that. I think you would have to start with an actor whos very good at doing Charlton Heston, I think youd really need someone who offered that performance. That casting would be critical. Getting it facially, and body proportions, something that looks like Heston, I have more confidence in that.Q: I know youve preserved and communicated the essence of what Andy (Serkis) was doing but literally how much of a collaboration was it with animators and technical people and so on
RW: Well its definitely a collaboration in the sense that you cant have a human performer well, as soon you go airborne, as soon as you go into a kind of elevated world youre either dealing with wire-work, which doesnt even always work on every level, so you have to hand over pass the baton. What we always attempted to do in order to keep it as real-world as possible was we never went into close up. So when we said goodbye to our apes, when they started heading upwards we kept the camera further back and allowed then to be portrayed through key-frame animation. The difference, and Dan can probably tell you more about this, with something like Avatar where you have the opportunity to work within a volume where you can very airborne in a way that your environment becomes digital the difference with that and our film is that we were always working in a real location so it became technically challenging to put actors 70 feet up how do you do that? So I think well get to that stage, technically, in the next film. DL: But in terms of the close-ups, the real acting performance shots thats Andy Serkis playing Ceaser. Theres a little bit of confusion sometimes, theres this notion of computer generated images, you push a button and a computer just makes you an image. You have to understand that its a tool used by craftsmen, theres nothing automatic about it. The important thing to understand is Andy Serkis is the actor giving the performance. Hes making the decisions for what Caeser is doing, making the facial shapes. Were able to get a great performance from him, and if were doing our job correctly were essentially creating digital makeup thats being applied after the fact.Q: Did it never happen then that he said I wish Id narrowed my eyes and you went alright
RW: The thing we were always facing the challenge of is that Andy does not look like a chimpanzee, he does not have a heavy brow like a chimp, so if youve got Andy emoting in such a way that that brow is displaying fear, you put that into your avatar, your Caeser model, and suddenly that brow because its heavier it portrays something entirely different. Aggression for example. So youre thinking ok thats not truthful to the performance you can of course manipulate it. But in our case we made the brow not quite so protruding in Caeser in order to remain faithful to Andys performance. So thats part of the process that Dan and I would work on every day, and all of the team on both sides the editorial team in LA, and WETA down in New Zealand. Every day wed collaborate, look at every single shot and every single stage in every shot, always referencing back to what we shot on the day. Lets go back to the performance and how does it look. DL: I think thats the key. Like Rupert was saying, because theres such vast anatomical differences between Caeser and Andy it requires the skill of craftsmen and animators to map that performance from one to the other. But we were always looking back to Andy as the gold standard, the reference emotionally of what should be coming through. Also physically , we took signature wrinkles and key shapes in the silhouettes of his eyes, and even though the nose and the mouth were completely different on the chimpanzee than they were on Andy we were still using those beats and those changes to drive the digital character.Check back soon for Part 2 of our lengthy chat to Rupert Wyatt & Dan Lemmon. Previously... Apes Director Rupert Wyatt: Why CGI is Now the Moral ChoiceMedia Serkis: The Gollum Actor Goes Ape For Video GamesRISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Review Best Film of the Summer!