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Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Dan Lemmon interview

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WETA special effects wizard Dan Lemmon gives us an insight into some of the challenges he faced in bringing Rise of the Planet of the Apes to the big screen with director Rupert Wyatt.

Q. What was the main goal for you as an effects guy on this film?
Dan Lemmon: One of our main goals was to make everything as photo realistic as possible. The rendering of the apes and getting them to look like apes from our present day but also just in the way that they move. We wanted a good strong emotional performance with a sense of humanity and intelligence behind their eyes. We also wanted them to move like real apes and that was the kind of thing that Rupert [Wyatt, director] was talking about… with scenes like the action sequence at the end there’s sometimes a temptation to push things a little bit further than what could actually be achieved in reality. So, in those places where we felt like we needed to do that we kind of used every trick in the book to mask what we were achieving.

Q. Which comes first, the live action or the CGI?
Dan Lemmon: It’s sort of happening simultaneously but definitely in terms of the performance, we’re letting what happens on the set drive what we’re putting into our characters through the finishing part of the film. Essentially, we’re acting as a digital make-up company in a way. We’re taking the actors that are acting alongside the human actors and applying pixels over the top to give them the look of a chimpanzee, but all that performance is being driven by the decisions they’re making on set and the reaction they’re having with James Franco or Frieda Pinto, or whoever.

Q. So, what was the trickiest effect to pull off?
Dan Lemmon: Hmm… I think the effect that we were paying the most attention to and required the most focus and hard work was just getting the facial performance of the apes to be, first of all… to look believable but to carry that same emotion and basically match what Andy was doing. It had to come through in a way that the audience would respond to our apes in the same way that they would if they saw Andy playing that role. It just takes a lot of refinement in terms of looking at details and the way that his face moves and the way that real apes’ faces move. In some cases, there’s challenges because they’re an animal, so you’ve got the big muzzle on the apes and flexible lips. In some cases, they’ve got a fairly heavy brow, so figuring out when Andy makes this kind of face [gestures], how do we get that to emotionally register the same way on the ape? That took a bit of work in terms of getting it right.

Read our review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Read our interview with Rupert Wyatt