Next month’s release, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes represents an ambitious new chapter in the Planet of the Apes franchise, in more sense than one. The story picks up a decade after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, depicting a world where a lab-born virus (dubbed the “Simian Flu”) has wiped out a huge chunk of the human population worldwide. In the film’s latest featurette, however, the focus is placed on the envelope-pushing blend of 3D photography and motion-capture performances, used to create said post-apocalyptic world where humans are no longer the dominant species.
As noted by Dawn director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), star Andy Serkis, and the various members of the film’s visual effects team, this Planet of the Apes installment takes on the daunting challenge of handling performance-capture outside of controlled sound stages – with multiple exterior shots and sequences filmed in outdoor locations in British Columbia and San Francisco. Weta, once again, has provided the “digital makeup” that transforms Serkis and his costars into chimps/orangutans/etc., improving on the company’s work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, judging by the footage unveiled so far, draws from a significantly darker color palette than Rise does – something that could impact the 3D aspect of the movie, as could the use of multiple cameras to capture the necessary details of the performances by the apes actors. Such elements have, no doubt, been taken into account by Reeves and his director of photography, Michael Seresin (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban); we’ve already seen evidence of the film having its fair share of stylishly dismal imagery, showing a once blooming human civilization in decay after years of conflict and being overrun by vegetation.
This Dawn of the Planet of the Apes preview also calls attention to the nature of motion-capture acting – that it requires a good deal of effort and commitment on the part of the actors, who must use their entire bodies in order to bring their non-human characters to convincing life. Increasingly, as the technology improves, motion-capture has begun to earn more respect, not just from the observing public but also the people who rely on it as part of their livelihood.
Much of the thanks for that goes to Serkis and his pioneering work in that field, starting with his role as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy over a decade ago. As Avengers: Age of Ultron actor Mark Ruffalo (who plays Bruce Banner/the Hulk) put it, Serkis was essential in “[creating] a place that’s so actor-friendly and puts the actor front and center of that technology.” Between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Serkis’ planned film adaptations of The Jungle Book and Animal Farm (which shall also incorporate motion-capture performances to bring non-humans to life), the actor looks to keep on expanding the limits of the art of mo-cap for years to come.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens in U.S. theaters on July 11th, 2014.