On Episode One of the Podcast, The July Movie Radar, and the upcoming Episode Three of the podcast – I have made it clear that I was excited for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ – I have stated that I am generally cold on the ‘Apes’ franchise but really enjoy the original and ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’. I have loosely followed the production of this film since its inception, and been likewise lukewarm to it until the last few months. I will freely admit that marketing works on me. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is no exception, and by the time the weekend of release rolled around, I was ravenous for it. I saw the film at a Saturday matinee with my cousin and was astounded. But it was the film I watched with my son the same morning that ‘dawned’ a strange comparative in my mind.
I believe that we’ve hit the next plateau of photo-realistic effects. While I know that technology is ever evolving, I think that what ‘Avatar’ did for 3D technology is what this new film has done for live-action photo realism. This is what brought the comparative to the film I saw on Saturday morning it what it did for animation in live-action – ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. It is a film considered (not just by me) to be the high water mark of cartoons interacting with real actors. In fact, I still believe it is the most successful use of the technique (here’s lookin’ at you ‘Looney Tunes Back in Action’).
Arguable, the work that the actors do for Roger Rabbit is more impressive than what is done in Apes – whereas Jason Clarke got to act against a real actor on set, Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd had to act against wires, broom handles, and most often nothing. Most of the filming was done in long rehearsed tracking shots, where actors would have to spin away from an elephant that wasn’t there and act like-ably while chained to a set of handcuffs being puppet-ed around on marionette strings attached to nothing. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor for this performance. (yeah Hayden, it’s not that hard) He, and the rest of the cast, interacted with blue screens and provided a fully realized campy film noir world.
Let’s not forget….. all of the animation in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ was drawn by hand. Like… no computers – nothing digital. Post-production lasted fourteen months of hundred of animators compositing the film together with cels and optical tricks; frame.. by… frame…104 minutes… 24 frames per minutes… (yeah – do the math). Some of the lighting tricks were done with steel wool and plastic bags. The film won a host of awards for its effects. Janet Maslin of The New York Times commented that “although this isn’t the first time that cartoon characters have shared the screen with live actors, it’s the first time they’ve done it on their own terms and make it look real” – And for 1988 and a sleepy Saturday morning in July 2014 – the techniques are very successful. The film in some ways plays like a magician’s act. We know that part of the show when the magician saws the woman in half and then has the legs wiggle in a “Hey look what I can do!”
The are several shots that only exist to show actors ‘touching’ animated characters – lap dances, handcuffs, kitchen sinks, boxing glove hammers…. well that all sort of plays like the wrong kind of movie strung together like that.. but you get what I mean.
I say all this to say that I believe ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ has many of the same legacy opportunities that ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ has. While we’ve had Gollum, and the Avengers Hulk, and even ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ – but all of those films only feature one character in the motion capture. And while ‘Avatar’ used similar technology for its cast – Pandora is a hyper-reality that can hide the seams in a digital creation and reduces the demand on the effects to work because there is nothing for it to stand out of place against. The enormous cast of ape in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is shown in a real only location. There was no digital tweeking to the sets or forest shots – only beautiful cinematography. It was the charge of the Weta studios to blend its apes into a place I could go visit myself. The apes are beautifully realized, not only in look, but in body motion. Andy Serkis took the cast to “Ape Camp” – a training of several weeks for the principals and extras to learn the movements and how to use the motion capture suits. The close-ups are phenomenal – just as it was impressive to see the wrinkles in Spider-Man’s costume in TASM2, in this film we can see Caesar’s pores and nostril ridges.
I really don’t have much else to say, I think the images speak for themselves. My point here, is that as much as Roger Rabbit was the pinnacle and plateau of hand animation with live action – ‘Dawn’ is the next bench mark for motion capture in live-action.
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