Terry Notary has played the ape Rocket in the current Planet of the Apes film continuity for several years now, but his career as a movement coach and choreographer extends well beyond that. Notary was even an ape movement coach on the reboot of the Planet of the Apes movie series that Tim Burton directed back in 2001. Burton’s Apes reboot was a commercial success when it hit theaters (grossing $362 million worldwide on a $100 million budget), but its middling critical and audience reception resulted in the franchise being placed on hiatus until it was rebooted again in 2011, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
The Apes themselves have come a long ways over the fifteen years since Burton’s film was released – with the rise of motion-capture performance and improvements allowing for Rise to incorporate more photorealistic CGI primates into the mix, quite unlike the practical effects and prosthetics/costumes that were used to create the Apes in every Planet of the Apes movie (including Burton’s) made prior to that. The upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes will continue to push the envelope too, when it comes to bringing its own non-human simian characters to (convincing) life on the big screen.
Notary spoke about that very issue during the War for the Planet of the Apes press set visit (which Screen Rant was presented at). He offered he following response, when asked what it was like for him to look back on his experience on Burton’s Planet of the Apes and compare it to his time working on War for the Planet of the Apes.
Looking back, I go, “Wow. How young and naïve.” Really, we’ve come so far with the performances, at least, of the apes and the approach and the whole thing. The approach has become much more about giving them something real, make the audience treat them intelligently and delve into going deeper as human beings and knowing that is what makes a great ape: a deep, connected, rooted human being – because that’s what apes have: a depth and that no-BS sort of realness and vulnerability. It’s just about tapping into that as a human and telling a good story. So we’ve come a long way from that first movie. [Laughs] And the more we evolve with the technology, the more subtleties we can really trust are going to come through.
The way that Notary and his fellow mo-cap performers – including Andy Serkis as the current Planet of the Apes series protagonist Caesar – play their onscreen counterparts has continued to evolve in the present-day, over the years since they made Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Notary spoke in some detail about that very subject on the set for War, as he discussed how even his mo-cap acting techniques changed between films:
Before, we were kind of pushing, in the first one of this run, on Rise, we felt like we needed to push it a little bit. By the second one we realized we don’t need to do that, the subtleties come through with the mo-cap now, the ability to capture the nuances and the little emotions, which you can trust that you don’t have to put the emotions in the front body. You can just let it percolate inside. And it oozes out and people can see it. So that’s the biggest thing, is just really not thinking about telling anything, but just being it and knowing that the audience is going to understand it, and get it, and translate it in their own way. That’s kind of our approach.
Burton’s Planet of the Apes is even more of a broad social satire (explored through the lens of a sci-fi action film) than the original 1968 Planet of the Apes movie is, so the Apes having exaggerated mannerisms and features was (at least somewhat) called for. Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its sequels are closer to being sci-fi sociopolitical parables by comparison and thus call for a more subtle portrayal of the Apes. That makes it all the more fitting that the Ape actors in the modern movies have also grown more subtle, as they’ve developed a better feel for proper mo-cap performance techniques.
War for the Planet of the Apes should further challenge Notary and his fellow mo-cap performers too in that respect – what with it being an emotionally-charged war movie, above all else. That description alone is just further proof of how much things have changed for this franchise, over the years since Burton’s Planet of the Apes movie was released in theaters.