“Apes on Horses! Apes on Horses!” exclaims a giddy title from Badass Digest‘s Devin Faraci in an article about new Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photos being released into the wild. As he continues in his assessment of these new stills from the Fox marketing team, he calls out the fact that early footage never quite sold this new apes film, but these stills do. Their greatest achievement: a sense of realism not yet seen in any of the numerous attempts to bring the Planet of the Apes world to life. Even as impressive as Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was in 2011, there was still a bit of an uncanny valley gap with Caesar (played in motion capture by Andy Serkis). The most impressive CGI ape in that movie was the most exotic, an orangutan that didn’t quite get a lot of screentime. Most of the effort went into creating Caesar (and the film’s climactic battle on the Golden Gate bridge), and even he still had a bit of shine.
This time though, the wizards of WETA have absolutely created a photoreal group of apes that have increasingly human characteristics. Such as intricate facial expressions, emotional response and yes, the ability to ride horses and fire guns. It’s even more impressive a feat when you consider how far the craft of visual effects has come since the first Planet of the Apes film was released in 1968. It’s a history I’d like to explore for a moment in photos.
1968: Planet of the Apes
The original Apes work was immensely impressive for its time. Done with make-up effects and intricate costumes, the 1968 original stands the test of time as one of the most ambitious works of science fiction of its era. They weren’t hyper real, but these effects were hyper cool.
1973: Battle for the Planet of the Apes
The changes in the original ape designs from the 1968 through the fifth film, Battle for the Planet of the Apes in 1973, were all incredibly subtle. Legendary make-up designer John Chambers worked on all five of the original movies, holding mentoring sessions at 20th Century Fox Studios for another 78 artist during the production of the first film. The look is iconic and consistent all the way up to Battle 5 years later.
2001: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes
The turn of the century saw Tim Burton’s attempt to reboot the Apes franchise with a $100 million dollar production starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter. The make-up effects team led by the legendary Rick Baker (pictured below) did a splendid job of recreating the look of the original’s apes, but the movie sort of fell apart around the great effects work. Even though CGI was becoming more prevalent in 2001, the technology to make photoreal apes and/or humans just wasn’t there. Burton’s movie might not be the pinnacle of Apes cinema, but it does hold a place in history as the last film to use hand-made make-up effects to create the iconic simians.
2011: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Ruper Wyatt’s prequel to all other Apes stories used motion capture and the expressive work of Andy Serkis to bring to life the story of Caesar, the first of his kind. The effects were exceptionally well-crafted, earning WETA Digital an Academy Award nomination (they lost to Hugo).
2014: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director Matt Reeves has taken the reigns and alongside the WETA Digital team, he’s taking things to the next level. Jumping forward in time by a few years, Dawn shows the aftereffects of the viral outbreak that desolated humanity and the rise of Caesar and his intelligent ape society. This means little baby apes, big angry apes on horseback, apes with guns and the ever-grizzly Jason Clarke. The results are stunning.