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'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' EXCLUSIVE SECRETS REVEALED: Matt Reeves Gives Comic-Con Preview

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 16, 2013 at 7:38PM

I get on the phone with Reeves a few days ahead of his ritual trek to San Diego for Fox's Saturday Hall H panel at Comic-Con. Although Reeves has been shooting "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" in Louisiana and Vancouver since March, with only a few more weeks to go, he won't have much to show, he says, as the Weta effects are still a long way from being complete. In fact Fox pushed the release date back to July 2014 so that all his crazy ambitious visual ideas could be fully realized with on-location motion capture shot in 3-D.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes

It's a huge adjustment. It's not only on a scale for me that is obviously larger than anything I've done, but huge for any film in this particular way: this is the first movie at this level to do native 3-D on an enormous canvas and mo-cap that is 95 % shot on location. The mo-cap shooting on the first movie was done really on the stage. It's enormous do this in a naturalistic space. And it's an exciting learning curve.

Do you expand on the ape world? 

The world is larger, still growing. For all of us that was exciting to explore, and bring in new performers to our cast of apes, Toby Kebbell and other great actors along with Andy.

The apes story is a through-the-looking-glass way of looking at what we are. By what's going on in the internal lives of the apes we are exploring ourselves, our impulses, our society. So much is roiling inside Caesar. He has a rational side separate from the apes, they're all instinct. We are seeing how Caesar becomes this leader.

You're working with Weta's Letteri?

Weta's Dan Lemmon was the supervisor on the last one. Joe Letteri and all those guys are very excited. It's cool because Michael Seresin is shooting; I chose him because I wanted the lighting look to be very real. I want it to feel as if we're making an epic film, very grounded, we're lighting with real light, so the effects that are so amazing in "Rise"and "Avatar" we're putting in this environment. Making the effects emotional in real life increases the illusion. But it's a complicated thing to take these crazy digital cameras in these crazy locations. 

'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'
'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'

The stuff is looking really rough in blocking passes. We're going through different cuts, going in and editing on weekends, turning over sequences, going to Weta to talk about what's in. 

Does Serkis have a special method for doing mo-cap performing that could be communicated to other actors? 

Andy is a great actor, it comes down to that. The first thing I did, I wanted the VFX people to take me through all the footage on the last movie before and after of Andy so I could understand what he was doing. I was so impressed, we all know he's a genius. I wanted to get under the hood, and they showed some minutes in scenes with even more going on, I'm hoping to pull those things out.

Is he acting in a larger bigger way? 

What's great about the best mo-cap is the authentic emotional performance. I've worked with Kodi for years, he was going through this emotional scene, going through the beats talking through it, and at the end of rehearsal I looked at Andy. Throughout the scene, he's been crying in the rehearsal, tears his eyes. He works inside out, that is the key to what he does, and to all the mo-cap.

Toby plays Koba in the film, another strong internal performance, and Terry Notary is a Cirque du Soleil actor who trains all the actors to move like apes. Their emotional life is grounded and internal, there's nothing put on about that. They act physically like actors, they're not thinking about acting like apes. When you watch them, what's exciting is actors in grey suits with cameras on their faces and dots all over their bodies. My biggest concern is that the actors' emotional life comes through, the exciting part is seeing that it's no different to explore all that through the motion capture stuff.

How else do you advance this movie over the last one? 

In the last movie there were a lot of things the apes couldn't do as performers, physically, so they animated them. It's amazing but some of that stuff isn't totally believable. You accept it. One of the things in the pursuit to make this as realistic as possible in addition to going on location in the light for a higher level of realism, is to see the movement of the ape stunt performers, not animated. The stunt performers trained themselves to move like apes. What they are performing is all real and when you see it translated it will not look animated.

And I wanted to make sure to bring to the human characters the same level of emotional depth as the apes. I can't give too much away, I'm hiding a little bit. I'm going back to shooting apes climbing trees in the woods.

Planet of the Apes Infographic

This article is related to: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Comic-Con, Matt Reeves, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Andy Serkis

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.