On a hot and humid summer evening in Pasadena, California on the campus of the California Institute of Technology, a four-time Oscar winning visual effects supervisor gives an eager audience a sneak peek at how he brought the apes to life for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." But Joe Letteri from Weta Digital isn't a one-man band in the production of 'Rise.' He's joined on stage by director Rupert Wyatt, who bravely took on the origin story of a well-respected franchise. Together they revealed the conversations had in their approach - from eliminating the use of real-life apes, creating authentic physical features and movements and, above all else, creating apes that would elicit an emotional response from the audience.
After watching the latest trailer, Wyatt and Letteri broke out never-before-seen images showing the behind-the-scenes of the film's production. Where movies like "Avatar" stepped up the performance capture technology, 'Rise' goes even further, filming the performance capture and live-action sequences at the same time. In comparison, "Avatar" filmed the performance capture in front of green screen and added in the live actors and world around that.
"For 'Avatar,' Jim Cameron created a complete fantasy world that no one had ever experienced before," says Letteri. "The challenge with 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' was a very different one, and in some ways, it was even more daunting. We applied some of the technology we developed for 'Avatar' to create a real, recognizable world - modern-day San Francisco. Everything - the apes, the locations - had to feel genuine because we're exploring a story that's reality-based and not straight-ahead science fiction."
Actor Andy Serkis - who portrayed Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and Kong in "King Kong" - plays the lead ape, Caesar, in this movie. "Caesar is one of the most formidable roles I've undertaken, both physically and emotionally," Serkis said. "It's one thing to play a chimpanzee, but to play one from infancy to adulthood - and a revolutionary leader - well, that's quite another. But it was irresistible to me as an actor."
In the exclusive footage shown at CalTech, we witnessed the Real Estate Agent Serkis in his performance capture suit, helmet rigged with a camera, performing his scenes alongside James Franco, John Lithgow and Freida Pinto. Special cameras are placed around the set, filming not only his bodily movements, but facial expressions as well. The difference in having the performance capture actor filmed at the same time is clear when, in one shot, Caesar takes the hand of Will Rodman, the character played by Franco. There is nothing phony or forced about the way this simple act appears on screen. It's this realism that truly makes you forget that Caesar is completely computer generated - or at least his home exterior.