DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Going Native (3D) on Location
Director Matt Reeves, who created a vivid and unexpected sense of realism in
his 2008 thriller Cloverfield, says, "My hope is that audiences - even knowing
about the visual effects - will say, 'Wait a minute. There weren't real live
apes in the movie at all?'
"That to me is an exciting idea because it creates emotional reality. If you
believe these apes are real and they are emoting, then your involvement just
becomes deeper and deeper. I think that's one of the miracles of what Weta has
Producer Dylan Clark adds, "It all goes back to Matt's vision. What he loved
about Rise of the Planet of the Apes was watching the apes grapple with issues
and apply their intelligence to challenging situations. We really wanted to
capture the apes in the environment Caesar has created for them."
Reeves says that ultimately DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES isn't intended as
a fantasy. "What's important is to find the reality, and take the one
fantastical element and make that the only one. In this movie, that element is
that they are intelligent apes. Everything else is completely realistic."
That realism is further enhanced by the production's ability to shoot in
exterior locations. More than 85 percent of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was
shot in the forests of Vancouver and outside New Orleans. Serkis calls this a
"huge technical leap that enables there to be no disconnect with the other
Shooting a film of this scope and scale in native 3D, coupled with the
complex performance capture work amidst stunning yet challenging exterior
locations was exponentially more difficult than what had been achieved on Rise
of the Planet of the Apes. That latter featured mostly interior sets, but DAWN
OF THE PLANET OF THE APES depicts a community of 2,000 apes, living in wild
surroundings, in humid, rainforest environments.
"Everything around us, and everywhere we shot provided challenges for the
performance capture," Serkis continues. "No one has ever attempted that
combination of shooting native 3D in a practical location, at least not to this
extent. What was really exciting was to take the aesthetic of photorealistic
apes and then put these characters in naturalistic situations. It's important to
be thinking about what's right for the story, so my first thought about the work
was not necessarily about 3D; it was, 'what's this moment about?'"
The juxtaposition of Mother Nature's beauty and Hollywood high tech was
eye-catching. Jason Clarke talks about walking onto set in the middle of a lush
rainforest in British Colombia: "It's simply amazing - old-growth forest, 3D
cameras, motion cap cameras, wires going everywhere, smoke machines, fog
machines, rain and mud, a crew of hundreds and then there's 50 actors performing
as apes walking around the forest. I always prefer shooting on location rather
than on a soundstage. It just brings so much in terms of realism to the project.
This goes for the actors portraying the human characters and for the 'apes
actors' as well. These guys are not just sitting in a volume. They've got to
interact with people and the forest and the mud and everything else and the
rocks and the stones and the rain."
Keri Russell notes, "We were really cut off from civilization. On location it
was quiet and beautiful but at the same time, we were a massive production. It
was unbelievable to me that they got those giant 3D cameras and this epic
moviemaking operation on these little trails in the rainforest."
To capture the performances, Weta Digital had 35 people on each unit, an array
of 50 or so mo-cap cameras and eight witness capture cameras that were
constantly rolling on anything that involved an ape character.
Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor, notes that this groundbreaking
technology must always be in the service of the story and the performances.
"Being able to record the performance capture on location and working with all
the other actors means you have a more coherent performance," he explains.
"Everyone is in the moment together. And that's really what we were trying to do
with the new technology we developed."
The visual effects magic and design wonders were always in the serice of the
story. Production designer James Chinlund embraced Reeves' vision of the apes'
new world. "It's one that's been reclaimed by nature," he says. "We did a lot of
research into the way nature would reclaim the earth, and the first steps in how
a primitive society would evolve."
Chinlund adds, "Matt, from the beginning, has been very explicit about this
being more than just a post-apocalyptic world. This is a story about the birth
of a civilization. I think it's sort of a restart for the planet Earth. It was
exciting to try and imagine how that would happen and also watching this new
society built its world. I feel like the apes are going through the same
evolutionary path that we did and running into the same pitfalls and trying to
figure out how to build their new world. It was a really fun opportunity to try
to think like an ape and help create that society."
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