20th Century Fox is hoping audiences are ready to revisit Planet of the Apes as they bring to the big screen in August the prequel to the Planet films with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Directed by Rupert Wyatt and starring James Franco, Freida Pinto, and John Lithgow, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an origin story exploring the pivotal events which eventually led up to the apes becoming the ruling species on planet Earth.
Andy Serkis plays the key role of Caesar, the ape who's actions and intelligence help instigate a revolution. Serkis and director Wyatt brought footage of their film to the 2011 San Diego Comic Con and after participating in a Q&A with the public, they sat down to further explain what Rise of the Planet of the Apes is about in a small press conference.
In this interview, Andy Serkis and director Rupert Wyatt talk about the performance capture technology, the origin story, how Serkis' character, Caesar, evolves throughout the film, and why we're still fascinated in Planet of the Apes.
Andy Serkis and Rupert Wyatt Rise of the Planet of the Apes Interview
How much of it have you seen and do you prefer to see it by yourself or with a group for the first time?
Andy Serkis: "Well, obviously Rupert's seen quite a lot of the movie. I've been going around doing various publicity, demonstrating some of the clips which I'm really blown away by because I think it really is an extraordinary piece of collaborative team work. It is amazing. When you're watching yourself as an actor who has played with CG in a role, obviously you are looking to see if your performance - or see how your performance - has finally manifested itself on screen, and if it contains all the original intention that was put there. And everything I've seen so far has delighted me because I know Rupert's been really, really devoted to trying to push the core, the emotional core, of all of the performances right through the post-production phase. And in terms of watching it, for the first time that I see it I'm always excited to see it so whether it's a private screening...hopefully it won't be. But I'd love to see it. I'll probably see it in the next few days or something."
Rupert, how difficult is it to adapt the prequel to the classics?
Rupert Wyatt: "It's always a challenge. I mean, it's a challenge to make any film, certainly, and it's a challenge to make a film of this ambition. It's never, from my point of view as a director coming onto the film, it's never my intention to be a slave to the franchise, as it were. The writers presented us with the script that is very, very respectful and very, very in a way subtly kind of acknowledging the mythology. But it's very much an origin story in the real sense of the word and ironically so, bearing in mind we're talking about an origin of the species here. So that in itself sets it apart from other films in the franchise, and it's a real first in that respect. And it's set in the modern day, doesn't deal with humanoid apes, it deals with apes that are of our world, and so we sort of set out to tell that first and foremost. The very fact we're laying the groundwork for The Planet of the Apes in a way is just, I guess, the icing on the cake as it were.
We've got a lot of characters in our film that are apes. We've got a gorilla, his name is Buck, and we have an orangutan named Maurice who's from the circus. These are really fully formed, very resonant sort of main characters of the movie of a real scale which is pretty unusual because they're animals. But at the same time, the way we approached it and the way Andy and I talked about it, and the other actors, we thought, 'What if 3,000 years from now there is a civilization where the alpha of that world are apes? They will look back on these characters and they will think of them as the heroes of the day. They will build statues to Buck.' And that's the way we wanted to tell this story, very much a Bible story or a story like any great myth with real broad resonance, I guess."
Andy, you're an expert in motion capture. What's changed over the years and what's it like to go back there again with The Hobbit?
Andy Serkis: "In terms of the performance capture and how that's developed since Lord of the Rings and my sort of co-joining the performance capture world, I mean the perception's changed hugely. I'll just run you quickly through how it worked on Lord of the Rings. My performance was shot on 35 millimeter so I acted with all the other actors. And then I had to go, and we always shot a blank slate, and I had to go and re-shoot all the performance capture or we could expand with the character in the performance capture volume, only in a very tiny volume. You know, there were not many cameras and the markers didn't quite work in the real-time; they kept breaking down. So it was in its very, very early days.When we started to work on King Kong, it was the first use, really, of facial capture because up until that point with Gollum all my facial expressions had been key framed matched to 35 mm footage, which was used as the definitive reference, but, never the less, it was key framed matched. With King Kong, it was really in earnest the first time facial capture where I was wearing 132 markers on my face that were driving all the facial muscles of Kong. Then in the years after that, around 2005 when Avatar started to be testing, the whole change started to be using multiple actors. You could suddenly put multiple actors, not just one actor, in a performance capture suit in the volume. You could suddenly group them together and with head-mounted cameras so that you could film. You didn't need markers on faces; you could use head-mounted cameras to capture facial expressions. And then the whole shift really happened around Avatar where the center for production, virtual production, is happening and the entire principal production is taking place in a volume about the size of this room. And that's how Avatar was shot and in fact how Tintin was shot.
On Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it's the first time that performance capture has existed outside of a volume on live-action sets. So we were shooting in a live-action environment and we didn't have to go back and repeat anything. We did some pick ups, but not many. But every single scene we were shooting with live-action actors and with the other actors playing with performance capture. We're in the real locations with physical sets that were shot on film, and so it's very much has become about - along with the perception changes - that it is much more a tool. I think that's the important thing to remember about performance capture is that people aren't so much wanting to celebrate the technology anymore. Really, that's passe, you know? It's over. It's now an industry tool. It's something that we need to get over, really. It's now here and it's a magnificent way, and it's basically another way of recording an actor's performance. And that's all it is. It needs no more to be hailed in a way. Although it's a great technology, it's actually returning us to the ability to do something really simple, which is to record an actor's performance."
As a character, how does Caesar evolve?
Rupert Wyatt: "Well, his surrogate father is a scientist. He's a vivisectionist. He's a man who's using live apes as part of his research to find a certain cure. And without giving too much away, Caesar's sort of the product of that in many ways. And so he's unlike other chimpanzees, in terms of the fact that first of all from a practical point of view and a physical point of view, he grows up in a human environment. Now, that's obviously not unique; there are other chimpanzees who have done that. The documentary that's out now, Project Nim, is a good example of that. But, in it's own way, he's a very interesting experiment as to how does the chimpanzee develop human traits and human characteristics if he's surrounded by humans as he grows up, and at what stage does he become more human than ape?
Caesar has an intelligence. He's inherited the genes of the mother and he has an intelligence far evolved from other apes, so he's always learning. He's always evolving, but fundamentally he starts to believe in himself as a human being. That's how he perceives himself, even though he's in the body of an ape. And that's what ultimately is his undoing because that's what sets him apart from his other ape brethren. And then, obviously, for humans he's a freak, so he's neither here nor there. That's kind of where the revolution is born. It's the idea of this Frankenstein-esque creature sort of ending up in a place where he's shunned by our society and he's shunned also by his own kind. And therefore certain decisions that he has to make are what set him on the path to kind of leading this sort of Che Guevara-like revolution.
Why do you think Planet of the Apes continues to endure? There are decades between these films, yet people still come back to it and it still has an appeal. Why is that?
Andy Serkis: "Well, I mean where we are we go through a cycle of being interested in our closest brethren which are 97% the same as us. So I think as the scientific discovery moves on and we learn more about behavior and we think we understand where they're coming from, we reengage. I suppose we gauge ourselves against them. And a movie like this, what I remember and the joy of that first movie was how little dialogue there is in that first movie, actually, that first Planet of the Apes. The human beings said very little and it was a very quiet film. And there's a resonance with our film because a lot of the movie is actually communicated through body language and vocalization, and not a lot is [through dialogue], particularly in the second act. It's sort of like a universal language, and so I think it just does resonant worldwide.
I think we live in a time of conflict, of global uncertainty, and if anyone were to take over it would probably be apes. And we look to whatever species would take over, they would be faced with the same problems. They would form the same hierarchies. The selfish gene would be present in whatever species did take over. And I think because they are the closest mirror to us we continue to almost look to them, really, as a litmus paper."
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes hits theaters on August 5, 2011.