Apes Rises on Blu-ray

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, one of the surprise hits of the year as well as a surprisingly terrific reboot (it’s made quite a few 10 Best lists), arrives this week on Blu-ray (Twentieth Century Fox Home Ent.). Weta Digital and Andy Serkis combine to make Caesar an extraordinary achievement in digital acting. It’s the favorite to take the VFX Oscar, and I call Serkis “The Man of a Thousand Digital Faces” in my TOH column at Indiewire. Fox is rightly giving him a best supporting actor Oscar campaign, though he’s clearly the heart and soul of the movie, directed by Rupert Wyatt.

Rise is certainly a reference quality Blu-ray; it looks sharp and sounds thunderous (sound editing/effects are also Oscar contenders) with lots of bonus feature that I haven’t had time to check out yet. For instance, there are 11 deleted scenes and I’m hoping the death of Franco’s scientist is among them, along with several featurettes such as “Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries,” “The Genius of Andy Serkis,” and “A New Generation of Apes.”

“We rewrote skin, muscles, fur, and eyes one more time to do them a little bit better,” admits Joe Letteri, Weta’s senior visual effects supervisor, who also oversaw The Adventures of Tintin. “But I think making the performance look as realistic as possible is still the main thing that we accomplished.”

Weta placed the performance capture actors out on location or on set with the other actors. Rather than using reflective optical markers for motion tracking, they developed an active LED system with infrared lighting that allowed Weta to  work in a variety of conditions and match the cinematography.

Weta also developed a new facial muscle system still in progress that delivers better capture and animation, particularly for secondary motion. “It’s a problem that’s not easily understood because the facial muscles don’t behave like the other muscles in the body,” Letteri adds. “They are not so bound by the skeleton. But on a face they’re moving other muscles around and other tissue, and there are deep embedded layers that have an impact on what kind of shape they do, which is really complex and why in the end we wind up sculpting a lot of these things.”

They made Caesar more human because they wanted him to look a little more intelligent than the rest of the apes and to stand out among them. “You could see it in his eyes: we made the irises a little smaller so you get a better idea where he’s looking; the muzzle is slightly smaller; and the forehead is shaped a little bit more like a human’s.”

The shock of recognition in Caesar’s eyes when he realizes how and why he must lead the revolt is Letteri’s favorite moment. To achieve this Weta made a new model that more realistically captures movement in and around the eyes and how they are affected by different lighting conditions.

They’ve signed Serkis to continue his Caesar pantomime, and I can’t wait to see how they evolve the story in the sequel, as it eventually dovetails into the original’s time-warp journey with Taylor.


Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production

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