The Evolution of the Movie Ape

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

Stop Motion

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)

king kong kong 1933 The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Kong from King Kong 1933

Little Kong – Son of Kong (1933)

son of kong little kong The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Little Kong from Son of Kong 1933

Joe – Mighty Joe Young (1949)

mighty joe young joe 1949 The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Joe from Might Joe Young 1949

Motion Capture

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)

king kong kong 2005 The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Andy Serkis as Kong from King Kong 2005

Caesar – Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

rise of the planet of the apes caeser The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Andy Serkis as Caeser from Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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.

the ape james franco The Evolution of the Movie Ape

Follow me on Twitter (@Walwus) and tell me which technique you prefer and who is your favorite movie ape of all time.

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  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?