Motion capture is explored in Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films

Art of the Films Planet of the Apes cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

We all know the apes win and rule the Earth from the original novel and film Planet of the Apes.  But how do they get there?

Not intended as a post-apocalyptic story as much as a chronicle of the birth of an ape civilization, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its July 2014 sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are films that manage to have no villains–by design–where the viewer can empathize with both the human and ape characters equally based on the characters’ histories and individual viewpoints.  Writers Sharon Gosling and Adam Newell have created a deluxe volume documenting the art and design of both movies with the newly released Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes.

The Planet of the Apes reboot was an outgrowth of the technologies emerging from Weta New Zealand’s work on The Lord of the Rings franchise, coupled with Andy Serkis’s experience playing Gollum as a motion capture character, and later the giant gorilla King Kong, Serkis was uniquely suited for the role of the sci-fi classic character Caesar from the original novel and film.  The crew credits the acting and chemistry of Serkis and co-star James Franco in part with the success of the reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.


The challenge for the sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?  For the first time in film history, digital characters finalized in a post-production process would be realized by total performance motion capture of actors initially, and not on a separate green screen soundstage, but alongside live-action characters on a standard movie set as well as on location.

At its most basic level, motion capture or “mocap” is a mechanism that records an actor’s movements by means of strategically located markers on that person’s body, which can then be transferred to a digital environment, manipulated and built upon.  Before Rise of the Planet of the Apes, mocap had been used for facial muscle movement in only 2005’s King Kong and 2009’s Avatar, also called “performance capture”.  With the apes in Rise, many close-up facial scenes were going to be needed.

art from Art of the Film Planet of the Apes

The book includes full-color photos documenting behind the scenes use of live action actors in special effects-making mode, along with the final rendered shots that were seen on-screen.  This includes plenty of not only Serkis’s Caesar, but the brilliant addition to the franchise of the troubled ape Koba.  In addition, you’ll find plenty of wide-angle photos of full sets, murals, and pre-visualization artwork, including the Gen-Sys lab, Caesar’s human home, and the move from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge to get to Muir Woods.  From the sequel you’ll find behind the scenes images of Ape Mountain, the ape village, a return to San Francisco, Fort Point, a giant dam, and large tower set key to the finale.

Titan Books’ usual quality hardcover design and thick full-color pages include a gallery of promotional movie posters for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in-universe Simian Flu medical poster images, prop close-ups, plenty of Weta special effects images, ape language and character designs, and a foreword by director Matt Reeves.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes concept art

Many interviews  with cast and crew were conducted by Matt Hurwitz for The Art of the Film.  Director Reeves sums up his reason for working on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes after being a fan of the original films, “… what interested me about continuing the story would be to continue [Caesar’s] story, and to see how you could take a character that was essentially a revolutionary and turn him into a leader, and what that would mean.  Because it’s one thing to lead a revolution, it’s another to lead a society.  And then for me, the important thing was to take that society and make it a family.”

The value of The Art of the Film for film students and fans of motion capture will be the complete end-to-end process examined here, cutting edge film technology by the best in the business today.  For moviegoers and fans of the franchise the book is another great look behind the scenes of two major studio sci-fi releases.

Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes is available from here.


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