A new Dawn for special effects as NZ tech takes on the Planet

Looking deep into the sunken eyes of the ape, nestled on the flattened nose and sloping facial expression, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes blurs the line between reality and visual-effects.

Looking deep into the sunken eyes of the ape, nestled on the flattened nose and sloping facial expression, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes blurs the line between reality and visual-effects.

Brought to life by Wellington-based Weta Digital, the work of Andy Serkis as lead character Caesar, the chimp leading marshall, represents a digital progression akin to Charles Darwin’s first sketch of evolutionary ideas.

“In some ways it is like evolution,” says Dan Lemmon, VFX Supervisor, Weta Digital. “Over the years we’ve experienced a lot of incremental changes from a visual effects perspective and then all of a sudden a big jump in technology arrives.”

Speaking to Computerworld New Zealand from the Weta Digital studios in Wellington, Lemmon, who is best known for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, says the advancements made in skin rendering and facial expressions specifically have propelled Dawn of the Planet of the Apes onto a different digital level to past creations, such is the evolutionary nature of the Kiwi company.

“We’re always learning and figuring out ways to do things better,” explains Lemmon, speaking following the launch of the movie on DVD and Blue-ray last week.

“It was a great experience to work on Dawn and in terms of the project, it was like the Empire Strikes Back of its genre.

“We took something that worked really well and through our technology and close attention to detail moved it to the next level and made it an epic piece of cinema.”

Sitting in Peter Jackson’s private cinema screening room, Lemmon’s attention to detail is visible even during post production, offering an insight into why the company, which was founded in the suburb of Miramar, continues to dazzle on the global stage.

But don’t be fooled, Weta Digital isn’t all about the technology, with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes representing the beating heart of Kiwi attention to detail, built on intense concentration and meticulous focus.

Such is the nature of the beast, quite literally, that lead ape characters Caesar, who pushes peaceful integration, and Koba, a champion of violent separation played by Toby Kebbell, should differ so subtly from a digital perspective.

“As leader of the apes, Caesar needed to be portrayed as an intelligent ape,” explains Lemmon, who also worked on Man of Steel in 2013. “Therefore we intentionally cheated to give him more human aspects.

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