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August 2011

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L A v atar of the Planet of Rise the Apes cover story Going ape OS ANGELES — For director Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the ability to create photorealistic By RANDI ALTMAN Weta VFX supervisor Joe Letteri: the team used technology created for and made it even better. Weta takes photoreal chimps to the streets for . chimps was key, and that challenge fell to Wellington, New Zealand-based Weta Digi- tal under the leadership of visual effects su- pervisor Joe Letteri. Letteri and his team are no strangers to such challenges.They were the artists be- hind the ground-breaking visual effects and technology of James Cameron's Avatar. This iteration of the Apes story (a pre- quel to the original) was going to be differ- ent than in the past. No longer were actors going to have to endure hours of make-up, and viewers would now have an easier time suspending their disbelief — "that's a guy in an ape suit!" Photorealism would bring an- other layer of believability to the story, which focuses on a father-and-son scientist team who genetically engineer an intelligent chimp named Caesar, who goes on to lead an uprising against mankind. Weta Digital (, which created 1,000 visual effects shots for Fox's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was the only house on the film. According to Letteri, who took time to chat with us while on a recent visit to LA, it was because there were so many apes, and they all had to work to- gether; there was just no way to break up the work."It was all performance driven, so Fox wanted to keep it all with us so there would be consistency of performance throughout the film." POST: You used performance capture for the apes to help with the photorealism? JOE LETTERI: "Yes.With the main char- acter being so much like a human, it just made sense to do it that way. But we didn't want to do a post process type of thing where the actors do their parts and we put Caesar in later. "We built on the performance capture technology we developed for Avatar. We thought what if now we take everything we did for Avatar and just have the actor in there again and that way we could just cap- ture it and the motion would just go directly into the shot right on top of the original performance. That was the next step up from Avatar." POST: How else did was the technology used differently here than on Avatar? LETTERI:"In Avatar we did everything on a closed stage: a performance capture vol- ume. Here,we had to take it out onto a film 14 Post • August 2011 set and out on location, so we had to de- velop new camera technology and new markers and everything for the mocap sys- tems to get that part working.There were a lot of other advances to get Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) working as an ape — figuring out a better way to do fur than in the past and teeth and eyes and skin and muscle and all the things that go into making a character." POST: What were some of the challenges of shooting outside in this way, sunlight? LETTERI: "Exactly.There were a couple of issues: One was dealing with sunlight. So rather than using reflective markers we made active LED markers. Using infrared light we could distinguish that light from the sunlight and whatever set lights were being used.That was half the battle.The other part was getting coverage, because if you are shooting in a forest area, you have lots of trees and things in the way. "We also did a big set for the Golden point of view, because it was so vast.You have outdoor lighting, you have dozens of ve- hicles working on the set, actors performing amongst those vehicles as chimps, but with their performance capture suits on and their arm extensions and everything they needed to do to work.They are obviously jumping up and down on the cars and running around them; there is lots of action.Then we have to take that set and put it into the Golden Gate Bridge at various parts along the bridge as the storyline progresses and put that all in a digital environment." POST: Were the tools used for the effects and animation based on off-the-shelf technol- ogy with proprietary software on top of that? LETTERI: "Yes and no.We use Autodesk Maya as our base platform and that really gives us something to hook into. All the tools we developed to do the animation, the rigging, the skinning and all that type of thing is based on proprietary software." Making Caesar and the other chimps believable was one of Weta's biggest challenges. Gate Bridge where we built a 300-foot-long section.Then, after the fact,we put it into our digital bridge inside of our a digital environ- ment. But because we had the apes swarm- ing over the bridge we had to performance capture all of that and had to build rows and rows of motion capture cameras to cover this whole volume.We built little birdhouses to keep them safe in the weather. Just to be able to manage and calibrate that would take a long time every day." POST: Would you say the bridge scene was one of the most challenging in the film? LETTERI: "Yes, from a purely technical POST: What about the performance-cap- ture software? LETTERI: "It was a mix.We used Motion Analysis software, Giant Software from Giant Studios and a mix of software we've written." POST: Can you talk about capturing the actors' facial movements? LETTERI:"We used the same technology we developed for Avatar — the idea of having a single camera mounted on a head rig in front of the actor's face. So we were able to get that part to work the same way.You get a faithful capture of the actor's performance, and then because chimps and humans are so

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