The Establishing Shot: Empire Big Screen The Secrets Of WETA Presentation

Posted by Craig Grobler on Google+ On Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dawn of The Planet of The Apes ReviewA fter the Industrial Light & Magic Presentation For Star Wars™ I made my way back to the press room to check for updates, another coffee and pastry. Sadly I had missed the Robert Sellers and JAKe (Hellraisers Live) panel at this point.

Hellraisers Live
In October, Self Made Hero will release a truly unique graphic novel, HELLRAISERS. An illustrated version of Empire contributor, Robert Sellers' book about the legendary antics of Burton, O'Toole, Harris and Reed, it's a must-read. And a truly unique graphic novel deserves a truly unique event. To kick off COMIC BOOK WORLD, Sellers and Hellraisers artist, JAKe, will perform a reading from the graphic novel, with JAKe drawing new and exclusive art LIVE on stage. Don't miss this amazing one-off to hear some hilarious tales of drunken derring-do and see magic happen before your eyes!

Which was a real shame as this was one of the highlights of BIG SCREEN for me and I was really looking forward to gaining insight into the seemingly daredevil lives of the last great British Hellraisers; Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed.

Sadly since Peter O'Toole has gone behind closed doors and Colin Farrel, who had a good innings, got out of the Hellraising game and back into acting - we have had rather lean pickings on the Great British Hellraiser front and Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed are still the last of the greats.

I also missed the Stuart Conran Special Effects Make Up Demo

Stuart Conran Special Effects Make Up Demo

Stuart Conran, makeup artist on Shaun Of The Dead, The Descent and Attack The Block, gives a live demonstration

But on Sunday saw some of Stuart Conran’s handy work when a blogger volunteered for a makeover before coming along to chat with Monsters Director Gareth Edwards. He was made up like this for the entire chat:

Empire BIG SCREEN : Stuart Conran Make Up FX Victim volunteer part of our group talking to Gareth Edwards in the press room

Next I headed off to the:

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes: The Secrets Of Weta
Dan Lemmon, the Visual Effects Supervisor at Weta — Avatar, Tintin, King Kong and The Lord Of The Rings — will be on hand to reveal the secret magic behind their latest astonishing effects, in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

I loved Rupert Wyatt’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and it is one of my favourite films of the year. You can read my review here. So I was curious to hear how they made some of the astounding special Effects which made 100s of Apes seamlessly integrate with the real world as well as interact with actors.

After seeing some footage of how Andy Serkis goes about creating a believable ape - if he does not get an Oscar nod for his performance of Caesar in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes there is no justice.

Empire BIG SCREEN : Dan Lemmon, the Visual Effects Supervisor at WETA presents Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes: The Secrets Of WETA

Key points from Dan Lemmon’s talk:

Dan Lemmon gave us a high level walk through of creating some of the photorealistic effects from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes with examples from behind the scenes footage most noticeably we went through the a-z of creating a digital ape.

Again I was astounded by the amount of the actual work undertaken to create these photorealistic effects.

In short; to create a single ape, the WETA designers study the movement of real simians and have a close relationship with the Wellington Zoo where they do their research. They then create a skeleton, much like the skeleton that we all have, with the some movement dynamics, joints and bends of the apes. Then the create a layer of muscles that control the movement each muscle with its own set of rules of movement. I’m pretty sure I make this all sound matter of a fact but my description belies the effort, care, attention, talent and detail that is required to make this work.

As creating a set of rules for the muscles to control not only the movement of the apes but facial tics and expressions based on real apes movement and then combing those rules with the different muscles rules from the mo cap actors is mid boggling.

Then an outer “skin” is added ontop of the muscles. Much of this skin is actually a scan of a real apes body, which is then mapped onto the skin layer.

Interestingly they scan the apes skin textures by taking a latex body cast of the body part, and digitally scan that latex texture with a scanner much like a regular home or office scanner just with higher resolution. This texture map is then applied to the ape’s body.

Finally they create the hair which is the final layer of digital creation of an ape and the complications that arose from creating realistic flowing Orangutan hair.

If a WETA studio was transported 200 years into the past the entire team would be jailed for witchcraft or messing with genetics much like Doctor Frankenstein for creating artificial life.

That is only half the work as the ape then needs to move and then Dan Lemmon talked us through performance capture and how the WETA team were struggling with the traditional (oh so last year) methods of mo cap so they developed a new system - instead of the little tracking dots they used small lights, similar to Christmas tree lights to track and capture the movement.

To make the mo cap actors movements more realistic some used arm extensions, almost like stilts which allowed them to run on all fours. He showed us examples of Andy Serkis and James Franco’s character interacting, and how they then turned Andy Serkis into Caesar. Absolutely mind blowing.

I did have 2 questions lined up in case the opportunity arose, which were:

- How did WETA become involved in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes? Are they now the de facto go to ape people?
- Are there actually any real apes in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes?

But I was so awe of what we were seeing I completely forgot to ask. Also I didn't want to miss any of the talk so I didn't take notes and all of the above is from memory, so apologies if it is sketchy.

Empire BIG SCREEN : Dan Lemmon, the Visual Effects Supervisor at WETA presents Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes: The Secrets Of WETA

I dashed out as I wanted to try catch the end of the 20th Century Fox showcase.

Empire BIG SCREEN Day 1 - The Secrets Of WETA Presentation

Empire Big Screen The Secrets Of WETA Presentation
Craig is a retired superhero, an obsessive hobbyist, comics fan, gadget lover & flâneur who knows an unhealthy amount about Ian Fleming's James Bond. When not watching or making films he takes pictures, eats, drinks, dives, tries to connect to nature whilst mentally storyboarding the greatest film ever made. He also  & sometimes utilises owl-themed gadgets to fight crime.  A list of his 133 favourite films can be found hereIf you would still like to contact Craig please use any of the buttons below: 
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