A new Dawn for special effects as NZ tech takes on the Planet

Looking deep into the sunken eyes of the ape, nestled on the flattened nose and sloping facial expression, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes blurs the line between reality and visual-effects.

“He needed to be able to communicate to lead the apes and given our audiences were going to be humans, not chimpanzees, we needed to replicate qualities associated with human leaders.”

‘Cheating’ as Lemmon puts it, means something different in the digital world of Weta. After studying the anatomy of apes intensely preproduction, Weta logged over 300 facial impressions of the creature, expressed by lead actors Serkis and Kebbell, helping carve an emotional bond between the apes and the audience.

“You have to know apes inside and out before you can even begin to replicate them,” Lemmon adds, “and yes, there’s so much detail required in this work.

“For example, the neck muscles are on the back for apes, but they are on the front for humans, and while this may seem irrelevant to the naked eye, this level of detail is crucial."

So much so that for Caesar, who carries human-like qualities, the neck muscles sit front facing, allowing the technology to create speech and communication methods with the human actors, such as Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke, who play who play Dreyfus and Malcolm respectively.

“It’s essential to know the full anatomy of an ape because it’s those anatomical details which allow us to make deliberate decisions, otherwise known as cheating, about matching certain parts of apes to humans,” Lemmon adds.

“So we know what aspects are cheating because you want to be able to change things in a way that you can make the performance as good as it can be but you also don’t want to initiate too many changes so that it doesn’t look real anymore.

“With regards to speech that’s an area which required creativity and interpretation given the mouth shapes are the biggest difference facially between humans and apes but it was just a case of trial and error.”

With the company originating from weta, ‘New Zealand's coolest little monster, a bizarre and prickly prehistoric cricket’, realism informs everything Weta Digital does in the world of special effects, lending to a close relationship between computer screen and acting scenes.

Read more: Weta Digital wins an IT Oscar

“We’re very much aware and appreciate the room for actor interpretation and things evolve as people get on set and start trying things out,” Lemmon adds.

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