Rise of the Planet of the Apes Interview: Rupert Wyatt & WETA's Dan Lemmon - Part 1

The duo discuss the challenges in bringing the Apes prequel to the bring screen and the difficulties, and successes, of creating the film’s CGI simians.

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 WETA€™s Dan Lemmon about bringing the Apes prequel to the screen and the difficulties, and successes, of creating the film€™s CGI simians. As before we were all asking questions so we€™re collectively Q, and they€™re 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; Return-of-the-Planet-of-the-ApesQ: 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 it€™s a closed story?
RW: There€™s many ways to skin a cat I guess, there€™s so much we could do€ I€™m speculating when I tell you this €“ the ideas I€™ve 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 that€™s the way they can avoid the virus. Coming above ground in order to fight wearing gas masks which is what de-humanises them. So, I€™ve thought about it€
Q: You€™re in a totally different timeline (to the original film) aren€™t you?
RW: No, we€™re 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 it€™s a different€
RW: Well yeah, but that€™s because the films made money and they had to work out a way to tell sequels.
Q: So in essence you€™re saying you€™re 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. We€™re just answering that question.
Return of the Planet of the ApesQ: Ever since we€™ve had digitally enhanced films there€™s been talk of bringing back actors to star in things. So how far are we from bringing back (young) Charlton Heston?
DL: It€™s 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 who€™s very good at doing Charlton Heston, I think you€™d 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 you€™ve 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 it€™s definitely a collaboration in the sense that you can€™t have a human performer€ well, as soon you go airborne, as soon as you go into a kind of elevated world you€™re either dealing with wire-work, which doesn€™t 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 we€™ll get to that stage, technically, in the next film. DL: But in terms of the close-ups, the real acting performance shots that€™s Andy Serkis playing Ceaser. There€™s a little bit of confusion sometimes, there€™s this notion of computer generated images, you push a button and a computer just makes you an image. You have to understand that it€™s a tool used by craftsmen, there€™s nothing automatic about it. The important thing to understand is Andy Serkis is the actor giving the performance. He€™s making the decisions for what Caeser is doing, making the facial shapes. We€™re able to get a great performance from him, and if we€™re doing our job correctly we€™re essentially creating digital makeup that€™s being applied after the fact.
Q: Did it never happen then that he said €˜I wish I€™d 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 you€™ve 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 it€™s heavier it portrays something entirely different. Aggression for example. So you€™re thinking ok that€™s 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 Andy€™s performance. So that€™s 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 we€™d collaborate, look at every single shot and every single stage in every shot, always referencing back to what we shot on the day. Let€™s go back to the performance and how does it look. DL: I think that€™s the key. Like Rupert was saying, because there€™s 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!
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Film writer, drinker of Guinness. Part-time astronaut. Man who thinks there are only two real Indiana Jones movies, writing loglines should be an Olympic event, and that science fiction, comic book movies, 007, and Hal Hartley's Simple Men are the cures for most evils. Currently scripting.