January 15, 2015 Joe Mander

Planet of the Apes – The Evolution of Film and Technology

Planet of the Apes has captivated audiences since 1968 and spanned over another 6 apes films, a TV series and a cartoon series, however part of the large success of the films today, Dawn and Rise, are due to the popularity of the very first apes film, Planet of the Apes (1968).

PlanetoftheapesPoster1968 was a turbulent year for America, with a threat of communism entering US borders, wars in Vietnam, the assassination of MLK and Robert F Kennedy and students protesting over education fees, it was a sensitive year. An estimated 15.5 million Americans visited the cinema each week in the 60’s, a figure which dropped sharply to just 1.5 million the following decade. On the big screen though, a new film was about to make history.

On a budget of $5.8 million, filming started on May 21st 1967, making Hollywood history. The film still holds the highest budget for makeup, around $1 million. Very early on, a screen test was commissioned, mostly to check on the make-up. No-one had transformed over 200 actors into apes before and the only apes to appear in films were comical so the makeup had to be serious.

Planet of the Apes became a box office smash, grossing $26 million, more than 4 times the production budget. It created quotes well known today such “take your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape” which is referenced in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and also one of Hollywood’s most iconic endings with the statue of liberty destroyed.

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POTA was unique for the 1960’s. It conveyed a world similarly mirroring that to real life. The genre of space was also new to audiences at the time as that genre had only really been explored in cartoons and hadn’t really been introduced to Hollywood at that point therefore being loved by children. The writer of the original book, Pierre Boulle stated that “it was a political film” with many people agreeing.

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There were many production challenges such as make-up and set design for such an ambitious production however 43 years later, apes were brought back (that’s excluding the 2001 because….yeah..)

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The budget for Rise of the Planet of the Apes was roughly $93 million and grossed $55 million in it’s opening weekend in the USA. The film is full of references to the original implementing phrases and iconic scenes. However there is one main difference – the special effects. Understandably, the film industry has evolved massively since 1968 over all aspects of making a film, however most notably CGI (computer generated imagery.) Films like Star Wars, Titanic and Avatar have helped this, particularly Star Wars with it’s ground breaking effects.

As the apes in Rise were meant to be ‘real’ instead of be played by humans like in the original Apes film franchise, it was decided not to use actors in make-up or ape suits. After considering real apes, instead visual effects company Weta Digital created the apes digitally in almost every case through performance capture. Advances in the technology allowed the use of performance capture in an exterior environment, affording the film-makers the freedom to shoot much of the film on location with other actors, as opposed to be restricted in a sound-stage. The main breakthrough was a camera that enabled viewing the motion capture dots in daylight, employed mostly for the Golden Gate Bridge battle.

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Motion Capture

Motion Capture involves recording actions of human actors, and using that information to animate a digital character models in 2D or 3D computer animation during post-production. When it includes face and fingers or captures subtle expressions, it is often referred to as performance capture. In 1999, actor Ahmed Best played Jar-Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace — he was present on set, but the CGI character, his movements animated based on the capture of Best’s performance on a sound-stage after the fact, was added in his place afterwards.

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After shooting the actors playing humans interacting with others wearing the motion capture suits, a clean plate was shot with just the actors as an extra reference. The actors were trained and guided on realistic ape movement. The digital apes received detailed models which included their skeletal and muscular systems being made – something that we don’t see at all in the film. The image above shows just how far the apes films have come. I would thoroughly recommend buying Rise on DVD/Bluray as the behind the scenes guides you though how times have changed and how focussed they were on the little details such as the apes skin, eye movements e.t.c. The set for Dawn was also really interesting in how they filmed on a real working street over a few weeks rather than in a studio!

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