There is no better way to end this article than to go back and talk about very first and arguably the most famous movie ape – King Kong. When co-directors and writers Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack decided to make the cinematic classic King Kong they had to find a way to bring this massive creature to life and give him the imposing size required for the film. They decided to go with the tried and true technique of stop motion animation – painstakingly shooting each frame one at a time then playing it back at full-speed to create the illusion of movement. Through their ingenuity they brought Kong to life and thrilled audiences everywhere. Sure, some of the facial movements are “stiff” and come off cheesy, but the stop motion technique used then still holds up even today. The technique would continue to be used for follow up films including Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young.
Kong - King Kong (1933)
Little Kong - Son of Kong (1933)
Joe - Mighty Joe Young (1949)
Motion capture is the culmination of almost 80 years of special effects innovation and practice paying off in a big way. While promoting Avatar, James Cameron once eluded that motion capture technology was high-tech makeup offering actors the opportunity to inhabit new roles. There is no better example of this than Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong and the prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Both Kong and Caeser were “played” by Andy Serkis (who also gave life to Gollum from The Lord of the Rings) and much like Peter Elliot, Serkis is quickly becoming the “go to” guy for motion capture roles that require the character to have some soul and depth. Sure, the look of the creature onscreen is created digitally by a SFX house like WETA, but without Serkis adding personality to the charactersthrough his movements and conscience choice of expression, the motion capture technology would be a hollow spectacle.
Kong - King Kong (2005)
Caesar - Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
There is no telling how much further movie ape technology can actually “evolve” after the brilliance of motion capture technology. However, just because mo-cap is good doesn’t mean the other techniques will fall by the wayside. Men in suits will always be required as a cheaper and quicker alternative to motion capture, and of course facial prosthetics and makeup will always be used in films. However, it will be interesting to see what new and exciting innovations Hollywood comes up with next to depict apes in movies.
It is also important to note that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not James Franco’s first movie involving an ape and here is the visual proof.
Follow me on Twitter (@Walwus) and tell me which technique you prefer and who is your favorite movie ape of all time.