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March/April 2024

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t's been 56 years since Planet of the Apes became a huge hit and spawned an epic franchise. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is the latest and tenth installment, and was directed by Wes Ball (The Maze Runner trilogy), who takes the reins of the global franchise with an adventure set several generations in the future following Caesar's reign, in which apes are the dominant species, living harmoniously, and humans have been reduced to living in the shadows. As a new tyrannical ape leader builds his empire, one young ape undertakes a harrowing journey that will cause him to question all that he has known about the past, and to make choices that will define a future for apes and humans alike. The film stars Owen Teague, Freya Allan, Kevin Durand, Peter Macon and William H. Macy, along with a ton of CG apes. Behind the camera, Ball assembled a team of collaborators that included cin- ematographer Gyula Pados and editors Dan Zimmerman and Dirk Westervelt, as well as Weta Digital's visual effects su- pervisor Erik Winquist, who oversaw the complex VFX, and a team of hundreds of artists and technicians. Here, in an exclusive interview, Ball, who was still deep in post at press time, talks about making the film, his love of post and the VFX. I heard that you first pitched this as Apocalypto with apes. Is that true? "Yes, and although it didn't end up being that kind of chase movie, that idea was my way in. The initial idea was a sim- ple sort of road movie with characters plucked from a simple, idealistic exis- tence and put in this world that you can barely fathom, and that's where it finally ended up. It's not a simple chase movie full of action anymore." What sort of film did you set out to make? "I wanted to make a movie that fit into the long legacy of the Ape films. I was born in 1980, and I grew up on that first movie from 1968 with Charlton Heston. I don't know why I loved watching an old movie like that so much, but it had an incredible pull on me. I think it was partly the whole concept and primitive existence thing, and upside-down nature of the world and the whole spectacle of it all. So the challenge was, how do we make a movie that honors all that, and the history and achievements of the series, especially the last two films that Matt Reeves made? They were these mature, grown-up and very sophisticated takes on genre, with great stories and really well-crafted. So how do you build a bridge from all that to the classic 1968 world story-wise and visually? That was the goal." What were the main technical challenges of pulling all this together? "Just the sheer scale and process of mak- ing these films is unlike anything I've ever done. You're showing up on-set with all these virtual IR cameras hidden around the set, and built into the set itself, to capture all the data, and you're getting all the takes you want, and then you're clearing it all out and having the DP re- peat — from memory — all those camera moves. And we had a very spontaneous approach to the camera moves, with a lot of handheld, as well as elaborate setups, so there's not a lot of still and quiet scenes. It's a bit different from the previous films. So all that was a huge challenge, as you're grabbing all these puzzle pieces that have to fit together, and you're having to make choices about VFX shots six months ago that only now, late in post, am I seeing whether they were the right or wrong choices. It's wild that all this stuff is floating around and that it all has to fall in place right in the last few weeks of post. It's like one of those magic tricks, where you throw everything up in the air and it all lands perfectly in place." Did you do a lot of previs? "Yes, but I try not to do too much, as it never adds up to what you actually do on the day on-set. The sets are not the same, the shots are different, you have new ideas and so on. But there were certain key scenes we had to previs and Halon, who I'd worked with before, did that, and really delivered in the plac- es where we had lots of departments involved and full-CG worlds we had to build, where no one knew exactly what was going to happen. So there was a lot, but less than you'd imagine on a huge movie like this that's all CG." Talk about working with VFX supervisor Erik Winquist and Weta. "I've been so fortunate and lucky to have made four films now with Weta, and Erik was one of the very first people I began talking to when we began prepping this film. Obviously, it had to be Weta, as they're just the best at what they do, and I wouldn't do another film without them. WES BALL HELMS KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES THIS DIRECTOR ONCE AGAIN TURNED TO WETA DIGITAL TO LEND ITS VFX EXPERTISE I DIRECTOR'S CHAIR 8 POST MAR/APR 2024 BY IAIN BLAIR Director Wes Ball during the 73-day shoot.

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