Motion Capture Maestro Andy Serkis Talks ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Motion Capture Maestro Andy Serkis Talks 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'
Motion Capture Maestro Andy Serkis Talks 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'

Andy Serkis came to Stuttgart, Germany, on Wednesday and Europe’s premier computer graphics conference, FMX, finally got a taste of star power after nearly 20 years. It probably could’ve done without the heavy security, though, as Fox took every precaution to prevent online piracy. The performance capture guru showed the same footage from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” that was glimpsed at WonderCon last week, and discussed the continuing evolution of his digital craft.

As director Matt Reeves (“Let the Right One In,” “Cloverfield”) inches the franchise closer to the iconic 1968 original, he wanted to first explore the origins of the fledgling ape world. And there’s much for Serkis to explore with Caesar, the compassionate chimp torn between two worlds. Thanks to the wizards of Weta, the facial capture cameras are more powerful, the markers are more robust and the fidelity to the performance is greater. The skin is also softer and the emotions better articulated. Serkis confirmed that the director wanted a closer 1:1 ratio between the actor and his avatar and he delivers a sensitive portrayal.

“It’s a fascinating time, I think, for next-generation storytelling, not only in terms of film but also interactive movies, video games, live theater and projecting real time avatars,” Serkis told me afterward. “I think it’s a fascinating time in terms of the appetite for seeing performances and the immersiveness of telling stories in different ways.”

And the advances in technology remove the impediments in telling more intimate and believable performance-captured stories. “It allows you to transcend any of those limitations and that’s why I’ve always been attracted to technology because performance capture can sit right in the middle of video games, of interactive storytelling.

“Certainly Caesar is more advanced and is carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders and he’s been a very still character. He has moments where he gets more expansive, but that’s the thing about performance capture — it is about the close-up. And people have asked me what’s it like doing monkey movements in a motion capture suit. And I say it’s only a fraction of what this is all about. It’s about internalizing.”

And Reeves,who is going to direct the second sequel as well, was such a fan of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ and his predecessor, Rupert Wyatt, that he wanted to continue the journey and land before the reversal of evolutionary fortunes.

“Why miss out on what was great about the first movie, which was to see the evolution and now to see a society building is very interesting and to see the choices and the reaction after the revolution. It’s all about that, and in terms of social commentary, it’s very fertile ground.”

Indeed, what with the revolt in the Ukraine and chaos in various hot spots around the world, “Apes” couldn’t be more relevant. “As Matt says, we know what happened — we want to know the how. And see the complications, In this iteration, it’s not about the post-apocalyptic doomsday scenario, not yet. There’s a lot of room for movement there and that swing of the moral compass, which is very, very interesting. And it isn’t judgmental about apes and humans.”

“Dawn” is more ambitious in every way, and, according to Serkis, has as much to do with the building expertise within Weta’s facial pipeline as the understanding of how a person’s face moves. The side-by-sides really show the interpolation.

“When Matt watched ‘Rise,’ he said he was really moved by it and wanted to see all of my shots side-by-side with Caesar’s shots, and in most instances, he actually preferred mine to Caesar’s because there was a level of emotion which hadn’t quite come through. But in this version, Weta got all of that in Caesar’s performance, Matt knew that what he got that day on set wasn’t going to vary. It wasn’t going to be manipulated or enhanced in any way. It was exactly what was shot.”

And does Serkis envision carrying on beyond Caesar, playing his off-spring, the way Roddy McDowell did in the original franchise? “There is that potential and, ultimately, I think that’s where it’s going to end up [with remaking the first film]. And I think the DNA and all of that heritage that we carried through isn’t sidestepped. It plays into this and I think that’s what’s so exciting and wonderful about these movies.They do hold up and endure as elevated genre.”

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