Dawn of the Plane of the Apes: Directed by Matt Reeves

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_5Director Matt Reeves, who created a vivid sense of realism in his 2008 thriller Cloverfield, says, “My hope is that audiences – even knowing about the visual effects – will say, ‘Wait a minute.  There weren’t real live apes in the movie at all?’

“That to me is an exciting idea because it creates emotional reality.  If you believe these apes are real and they are emoting, then your involvement just becomes deeper and deeper. I think that’s one of the miracles of what Weta has achieved.”

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_11Producer Dylan Clark adds, “It all goes back to Matt’s vision. What he loved about Rise of the Planet of the Apes was watching the apes grapple with issues and apply their intelligence to challenging situations. We really wanted to capture the apes in the environment Caesar has created for them.”

Reeves says that ultimately Dawn of the Planet of the Apesisn’t intended as a fantasy. “What’s important is to find the reality, and take the one fantastical element and make that the only one. In this movie, that element is that they are intelligent apes. Everything else is completely realistic.”

That realism is further enhanced by the production’s ability to shoot in exterior locations.  More than 85 percent of the picture was shot in the forests of Vancouver and outside New Orleans.  Serkis calls this a “huge technical leap that enables there to be no disconnect with the other actors.”

Shooting a film of this scope and scale in native 3D, coupled with the complex performance capture work amidst stunning yet challenging exterior locations was exponentially more difficult than what had been achieved on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That latter featured mostly interior sets, but DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES depicts a community of 2,000 apes, living in wild surroundings, in humid, rainforest environments.

“Everything around us, and everywhere we shot provided challenges for the performance capture,” Serkis continues.  “No one has ever attempted that combination of shooting native 3D in a practical location, at least not to this extent.  What was really exciting was to take the aesthetic of photorealistic apes and then put these characters in naturalistic situations.  It’s important to be thinking about what’s right for the story, so my first thought about the work was not necessarily about 3D; it was, ‘what’s this moment about?’”

The juxtaposition of Mother Nature’s beauty and Hollywood high tech was eye-catching. Jason Clarke talks about walking onto set in the middle of a lush rainforest in British Colombia:  “It’s simply amazing – old-growth forest, 3D cameras, motion cap cameras, wires going everywhere, smoke machines, fog machines, rain and mud, a crew of hundreds and then there’s 50 actors performing as apes walking around the forest. I always prefer shooting on location rather than on a soundstage. It just brings so much in terms of realism to the project. This goes for the actors portraying the human characters and for the ‘apes actors’ as well. These guys are not just sitting in a volume.  They’ve got to interact with people and the forest and the mud and everything else and the rocks and the stones and the rain.”

Keri Russell notes, “We were really cut off from civilization.  On location it was quiet and beautiful but at the same time, we were a massive production. It was unbelievable to me that they got those giant 3D cameras and this epic moviemaking operation on these little trails in the rainforest.”

To capture the performances, Weta Digital had 35 people on each unit, an array of 50 or so mo-cap cameras and eight witness capture cameras that were constantly rolling on anything that involved an ape character.

Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor, notes that this groundbreaking technology must always be in the service of the story and the performances.  “Being able to record the performance capture on location and working with all the other actors means you have a more coherent performance,” he explains. “Everyone is in the moment together. And that’s really what we were trying to do with the new technology we developed.”

The visual effects magic and design wonders were always in the serice of the story.  Production designer James Chinlund embraced Reeves’ vision of the apes’ new world.  “It’s one that’s been reclaimed by nature,” he says. “We did a lot of research into the way nature would reclaim the earth, and the first steps in how a primitive society would evolve.”

Chinlund adds, “Matt, from the beginning, has been very explicit about this being more than just a post-apocalyptic world.  This is a story about the birth of a civilization. I think it’s sort of a restart for the planet Earth.  It was exciting to try and imagine how that would happen and also watching this new society built its world. I feel like the apes are going through the same evolutionary path that we did and running into the same pitfalls and trying to figure out how to build their new world.  It was a really fun opportunity to try to think like an ape and help create that society.”