‘War for the Planet of the Apes’: How “Apes in Snow” Resulted in Cutting-Edge VFX

     December 9, 2016

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Every Planet of the Apes film brings a new technological challenge. With Dawn for the Planet of the Apes, WETA tested the limits of adding rain to CGI & MoCap created apes – and now with War for the Planet of the Apes, they seek to top themselves again: this time, by exploring snow and its effects on CGI created fur.

Per VFX producer Ryan Stafford: “When Matt [Reeves] and I were finishing the last movie and we were just starting to think about [War for the Planet of the Apes], he said to me ‘Next movie: apes in snow’ and then he walked away. We didn’t even have a story for the movie either at the time…

In the upcoming sequel, Caesar – in the wake of tragedy – abandons his role as leader of the apes and goes forth on a mission of revenge alongside his most loyal companions (Rocket & Maurice). Much of the concept art (shown on set) focused on the apes journeying through snowy landscapes and mountainous regions.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

“We’re constantly trying to push technology” producer Dylan Clark added on a break in between filming, “Motion capture probably has been done in the snow before. But not like we’re doing. And so I’m saying for the record we’re doing it for the first time: Motion Capture in the Snow.”

“Snow presents a huge challenge for us,” Stafford confided, “Our characters are digital and they’re played by humans so that introduces the very nature of their footfalls are different. They have a different gait. They have crutches instead of hands. So every time the apes are walking in snow, that entire path has to be digitally recreated. We basically erase all the human footfalls and we replace it with ape footfalls. That presents a huge challenge. Just the sheer logistics. Additionally what snow looks like when it’s balled up and icy on the tips of fur is going to be a whole new challenge that has to be applied. Last movie we had a real big breakthrough with wetness on fur and this movie, we’re going to take that ball and run with it. We have tons of wet fur in this movie and then the additive complexity of snow and ice on fur. “

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Over the course of the set visit, one word kept being repeated: Western. Matt Reeves wanted to shoot War for the Planet of the Apes in 65mm to capture that epic Western feel. Of course this also presents a huge challenge for the effects department. “65mm presents a challenge [because] you have this huge image plain to deal with,” Stafford stated, “It also has a very shallow depth of field so when you’re talking about inches of depth of field margins and then something goes soft, it’s a huge challenge to get things correctly seated into the plate, to get the CG to marry in.”

The scope of War for the Planet of the Apes (because it’s shot in 65mm) will be far greater than any Apes film prior. “There are a lot of really big scope shots…” Stafford added, “We have these great classic Western style shots on horses that are going to be epic… Most of the film is exterior. I’d say about 70% of the movie is exterior.”

War for the Planet of the Apes, like its predecessors, will be released in 2D and 3D (although unlike Dawn, it wasn’t shot in 3D). “We shot it in 3D last time because we didn’t have enough time in our post schedule to convert it. We have time now. Not to hurt the 3D camera companies but the 3D conversion companies have gotten so good at this that if you give them enough time, they can deliver a very good experience.” Clark explained before adding, “We’re shooting this in native 65mm for filmmaking reasons, for directorial reasons and I’m very excited about it. We have bigger sets. We’re outside more. We have more rain, more snow. More action. More levity. More emotion. More, more, more…”

War for the Planet of the Apes opens July 14, 2017. For the rest of our set visit coverage, peruse the links below.

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