‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ Will Celebrate Performance Capture in Blu-ray Release

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” director Wes Ball thinks it’s high time that Wētā FX got its due for its innovative simian performance capture animation. So he intends to peel back the curtain for the first time on the upcoming Blu-ray release. As first reported on the “Ape Nation” podcast, Ball will offer the entire movie, which takes place 300 years after the reign of Andy Serkis’ Caesar, as a bonus feature in a before- and-after comparison of raw dailies and completed performance capture animation and VFX.

“I think VFX is too much maligned…when it’s a tool like anything else,” Ball told IndieWire. “So I think to show the absolute peak of artistry and what these artists actually do is not some button that says, ‘Make Apes.’ These are true storytellers at work here. I want to show that off and celebrate it.”

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This also might help rectify the VFX Oscar snubbing of Wētā for the “Apes” franchise, despite the fact that Peter Jackson’s New Zealand studio won two Oscars for the “Avatar” films (anchored by the game-changing characters of Pandora).

The director has invited Wētā VFX supervisor Erik Winquist to join him in this rare opportunity to help explain the performance capture and VFX integration, and might add editors Dan Zimmerman and Dirk Westervelt to the discussion as well. “Because the post process on this movie is really unique,” he added. “It’s difficult and frustrating and crazy complicated.”

Journalists got a taste of what Ball has in store at a recent media screening, which kicked off with a before-and-after comparison reel of “Kingdom” actors Owen Teague, Travis Jeffery, and Lydia Peckham portraying protagonist Noa, a chimpanzee hunter, and his two friends, Anaya and Soona. The actors donned head cams, face markers, and mocap suits, so viewers could better glimpse their performances and how the animators sculpted their simian counterparts through this digital makeup.

Ball calls it a great collaboration between actor and animator, but it’s a process “so mysterious that it’s misunderstood.” In fact, he invited Serkis to serve as special consultant by showing these performance-capture newbies how to move and find their voice with more chatty ape characters. “There’s a lot of interpretation and really careful consideration,” Ball added.

In the seven years since “War for the Planet of the Apes,” the last of the Caesar trilogy, Wētā has made several refinements to the performance capture process, including tools for muscle simulation, facial animation, and grooming. Together with dual-camera facial rigs from “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the studio has been able to capture greater detail, emotion, and vocal articulation.

However, it starts with the actor. “That’s the beauty of this process, there is an author to it,” Ball said. “But there is a tremendous amount of support, talent, and craft to making this illusion work. I wanna make sure people see that. In fact, I think showing it the way we’re going to, the magic still exists because it still looks impossible. You see the before-and-after, you watch the whole movie that way. I always describe it as a jigsaw puzzle. You build each piece separately, and you have to carve them just right. And they don’t come together until the very end. You make all these choices unfinished, and then you just hope and pray when it finally comes in, that it fits.”

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