The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Published 4 years ago by , Updated August 7th, 2012 at 9:40 pm,

Body Suits

While the use of makeup effects or facial prosthetics are used when the human element of the actor is still required to come across onscreen, sometimes a movie calls for a live gorilla to interact with actual actors. Gorillas are very temperamental  and powerful creatures that can easily injure a human – that’s when SFX teams use actors in full-body gorilla suits.

This is how character actors and actresses like Peter Elliott, Misty Rosas and John Alexander make their living – by donning full-body gorilla suits, so that they can safely interact with the live actors on set and keep the insurance companies happy at the same time.

Peter Elliott has been doing this kind of acting work for several decades now, starting with Silverbeard from Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan and most recently as Go-Go in the yet to be released Vanilla Gorilla. Some of these suits are so realistic, and the actors’ motions so ape-like, that people often can’t tell when the real ape has been swapped out for a guy in a suit. A great example of this is John Alexander and various members of his gorilla team interacting with Sigourney Weaver in the film Gorillas in the Mist. The SFX and costume design teams did such a great job creating the faux gorilla suits that when coupled with Alexander’s incredible ape-like acting ability, audiences were unable to tell the difference between costume and a live gorilla.

Silverbeard – Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984)

greystoke the legend of tarzan silverbeard The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Peter Elliott as Silverbeard from Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan

Joe – Mighty Joe Young (1988)

mighty joe young joe The Evolution of the Movie Ape

John Alexander as Joe from Mighty Joe Young 1998

Various – Gorillas in the Mist (1988)

gorillas in the mist The Evolution of the Movie Ape

John Alexander as a gorilla from Gorillas in the Mist

Amy – Congo (1995)

congo amy The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Misty Rosas as Amy from Congo

Buddy – Buddy (1997)

buddy buddy The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Peter Elliot as Buddy from Buddy

Go-Go – Vanilla Gorilla (2011)

the vanilla gorilla go go The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Peter Elliott as Go-Go from The Vanilla Gorilla

Bernie – Zookeeper (2011)

zookeeper bernie The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Tom Woodruff Jr. and Garon Michael as Bernie from Zookeeper

Stop Motion and Motion Capture Animation…

« 1 2 3 4»

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Nice article.

  2. Two points:

    King Kong is not “arguably” the most famous movie ape in history. He is the undisputed king of movie apes and anyone who says different is flat out wrong.

    Second: That’s not Paul Giamatti in the photo. Giamatti played the slave trader. That’s Paul Shadix, Otho from Beetlejuice.

  3. Fun article to read ha but that one ape wasn’t Paul giamatti. He was the one with the skinnier face and looked dirtier. The one in the picture is another actor

  4. What about “his best friend is an ape named Ape”-George of the Jungle

  5. Hey, there is an error for the description of the 2001 Planet of the Apes. The orangutan on the right is not Limbo and therefore not Paul Giamotti. He is a friend of Senator Nado potrayed by the actor Glenn Shadix. Sen. nado worked in the senate with Ari’s (Helena Bonham Carter) father, Senator Sandar (David Warner).

    I’m very excited for the Rise of the Apes!

  6. Some forgotten gems and stinkers in there, Paul. Surprised you didn’t mention the 1976 Kong, if only for Rick Baker and Carlo Rambaldi’s work (worth mentioning that the 1933 version used some animatronics as well). How about King Kong vs Godzilla, or King Kong Escapes? Major body suit action…

    That’s ultra-skinny mime artist Dan Richter from 2001, incidentally – in a, uh, body suit. 😛 2001 lost out to POTA at the Oscars in the makeup category although the ape masks in the former were more complex and arguably more convincing. They featured a separate hinged lower jaw, and lip movements controlled by a system of toggles moved by the actor’s own tongue behind a false tongue.

    And I still fancy Helena Bonham Carter as an ape. I really do need help.

  7. Neither actor in the 2001 Planet of the Apes picture is the one described in the caption below. =D

    • Helena’s on the left or I’m a monkey’s uncle…

        • Oh my days, that’s hilarious (and even more disturbing). I may have to go and lie down in a darkened room for a while!

  8. Surprised that 1976’s King Kong wasn’t on there considering Rick Baker wore a monkey suit the whole time. No big deal, really. The whole movie sucked.

  9. It would have been more interesting if you actually compared this to the movie it’s a remake/revision of (Conquest of Planet Of The Apes) which had some stellar performances by Ricardo Montalbaun and Roddy McDowal. Generaly good review, but it shows a slight ignorance of the source material because this isn’t a new story. It’s a reworking of a “prequel” that’s already been told.

  10. bad article… did you get anything right about this?