Visual Effects Oscar Nominees on Their Top Digital Secrets

This year’s visual-effects category displays so much expertise that each nominated film had at least one Oscar winner or nominee on its team. John Nelson, who won for “Gladiator” and led the group behind “Blade Runner 2049,” says, “I was lucky that everybody wanted to work on this movie.” Nelson adds, “It’s hard to live […]

This year’s visual-effects category displays so much expertise that each nominated film had at least one Oscar winner or nominee on its team. John Nelson, who won for “Gladiator” and led the group behind “Blade Runner 2049,” says, “I was lucky that everybody wanted to work on this movie.” Nelson adds, “It’s hard to live […]

Nominees for VES Awards Highlight Rising Realism in Visual Effects

Nominations by the Visual Effects Society often provide signposts indicating significant directions in the vfx field, and that’s true again this year. The films honored for overall effects in photoreal features are the same five that earned vfx Oscar noms: “Blade Runner 2049,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Kong: Skull Island,” “Star Wars: The […]

Nominations by the Visual Effects Society often provide signposts indicating significant directions in the vfx field, and that’s true again this year. The films honored for overall effects in photoreal features are the same five that earned vfx Oscar noms: “Blade Runner 2049,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Kong: Skull Island,” “Star Wars: The […]

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’: How the VFX Team Created the Most Realistic Apes Yet

“War for the Planet of the Apes,” the latest installment in the long-running ape franchise, is being lauded for its stunning visual effects. Many say that the third film in the series is the most visually-enchanting one yet — and VFX Supervisor Dan Lemmon told TheWrap how he did it.

Lemmon spoke about the long and challenging process to get the movie off the ground in the two and a half years since the scripting stage. One challenge, he said, was that they had planned to shoot near the Rinjani volcano in Indonesia, but it erupted just a few weeks before shooting began. Luckily it all worked out as they found that Mt. St. Helens in Washington State was a better shooting location anyway.

Since “Dawn for the Planet of the Apes,” Lemmon and director Matt Reeves made a list of things they wanted to improve on in this movie, which included making the apes more realistic than ever before.

Also Read: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Review: Simian Saga Sewn Up Satisfactorily

“[In “Dawn”] there are shots that are absolutely believable and then there are shots that are fine but you don’t get as sucked in, and quite engaged,” Lemmon said. “We spent a lot of time looking into that in terms of shot design and lighting choices, things that we could do to up the realism.”

And that included apes on horses: “There were some shots that worked great and others where I said, I don’t know if I totally I buy it, that an ape is riding a horse … It didn’t look right.”

Using new technology like a Ray tracer, Lemmon and his team were able to make light move between the apes’ fur more realistically, making the apes look more real than ever before.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” stars Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn and Woody Harrelson, and hits theaters on Friday.

Read TheWrap’s Q&A with Dan Lemmon below.

TheWrap: What was the process like creating the apes?
Dan Lemmon:
It’s always been about trying to make them look as real possible. Typically the stories [I work on] are stories where we are trying to draw the audience into a world that doesn’t exist. To take people to a space that is outside a normal experience. Anything that strikes the audience as not right, we are disrupting that illusion. We go to great lengths to make things as believable as possible but we have to work within the confines of our craft and the technology we have available. Because we’re aways pushing things forward, there’s always going to be improvement. It’s something Matt [Reeves] and I talk about a lot.

Matt came on with ‘Dawn.’  There are shots that are absolutely believable and then there are shots that are fine but you don’t get as sucked in, and quite engaged. What’s the difference between those shots? We spent a lot of time looking into that in terms of shot design and lighting choices, things that we could do to up the realism. Some light just naturally hides the tricks better. Like any magician, certain light will give away the gag. Technology keeps getting better and fur is a tricky problem, as of course, our creatures have fur. There are so many individual strains of hair, the computer has to work so hard for the picture. Also the processing power gets better and it unlocks certain tools that we can use to make the lighting more realistic. One of the tools is Ray tracing, it’s a way of modeling how light moves through the world in a more realistic way. The big change from the last film was the full use of Ray tracer, which does a lot of things really efficiently.

Also Read: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ to Do Battle With ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ at Box Office

Was that the hardest part to get right the eyes, especially Caesar’s?
Because eyes are so fundamental to the audience’s ability to connect with the characters, it’s something we never let go. We are constantly trying to make them more realistic, more closely matched to what humans are used to seeing. Apart from the whites of their eyes, which are darker than humans, the apes’ eyes are very humanlike, which is one of the reasons why when you go to the zoo or you watch a nature documentary, humans connect to chimpanzees when they watch the behavior: you look in their eyes and you feel like you are looking in the mirror.

Did you have to do a lot of research on the monkeys to get everything right?
A friend of mine is an eye surgeon and he has some devices for looking closely at eyes and you can put dye in to and see how liquid and how tears sit. The movement is really important, almost more than the anatomy or the realism of the surface texture — it’s so critical in making people feel the apes are alive and thinking and making decisions. And those tiny micro-eye movements: When you’re talking with another human, you are looking at one eye and you’re shifting, and that’s when you understand that the person is taking in and processing what you are saying. Getting that right is important in conveying the same kind of emotion from the actors on the set.

Were the horses used in “War” real or digital?
There was a mixture — one of the things we had on our list that we wanted to improve from the last movie was apes on horses. There were some shots that worked great and others where I said, “I don’t know if I totally I buy it, that an ape is riding a horse … It didn’t look right.” In the last movie, the apes were bare-back — the feet were dangling there and you didn’t get the feeling they were connected, so we decided that apes have repurposed human saddles and we invented a new horse stirrup specifically for them. When we were editing, the human legs would frame-by-frame be removed and we replaced them with apes legs because human legs are longer. Sometimes the horses were really unsettled and it became distracting, in some shots we needed more apes and horses than we had available. In other shots, we had to have digital horses do what we didn’t want them to do in real life.

Was this film any different from previous “Apes” movies or other projects you’ve worked on?
“The Jungle Book” is an interesting comparison because we made digital apes and monkeys but the process was very different in that “Jungle Book” was mostly digitally created. We had a strip of set that the characters would walk on. But everything else we made up. You get to build a world, but the actors that were cast to play the “Jungle Book” characters, they were on voiceover contracts — they had to be in the sound booth and read some lines and work with Jon Favreau, they weren’t coming out to the set, so we didn’t have Christopher Walken on set. It’s harder to get authentic performances when you have the separation of time and space, independent of the other actor. We found that when we have the actors playing the characters physically, we get a much more spontaneous performance.

How long did this movie take to produce? 

Most of the movie was shot in British Columbia. We shot on Vancouver Island, we shot in a big empty lot near Vancouver airport and we shot in the mountains surrounding greater Vancouver for the forest and river locations. The desert stuff at the end of the movie, we had a team that shot footage from various places in California, and the end was shot at Mount St. Helens. We had planned to shoot at Rinjani volcano near Indonesia, in Bali, which is a semi-active volcano, but a couple weeks before we started shooting, it erupted so we scouted a couple places which included Crater Lake in Oregon and St. Helens in Washington, and St. Helens had better topography and tied better into the American desert from the original franchise. It ended up working out really well.

It was a pretty long process. I had early conversations with Matt [Reeves] beginning of 2015, around New Years, we started shooting October 2015 and we shot until March 2016 and then we finished just a few weeks ago. It was about two and a half years of my time and then probably roughly a year and a half of solid shots, just making everything correct. There were roughly 1,450 shots. The apes are almost in every shot of the movie as opposed to the previous movies. We are with Caesar almost the entire movie, which is great, but it was also a great challenge.

Also Read: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Is ‘What a Summer Movie Should Be,’ Critics Say

What part of the movie are you most proud of?

I think the biggest challenge — which was true from the last two movies — was to get the characters that we’re creating have the same emotional intensity and subtlety that the actors have on set … Because we’re deleting actors from the movie and replacing them with digital creations, we have to make sure that our digital creations fully  honor and respect what the actors gave on set and that they carry emotionally the same connection that we had with them when we were watching the performance. You know, every time we reviewed shots with Caesar, we had Andy Serkis’ performance side-by-side with Caesar to get the emotion right. There’s no program that does that for you, that’s only the skill and dedication of the sculptors and technical people.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Final Trailer Teases Huge Battle (Video)

‘War of the Planet of the Apes’ Casts Gabriel Chavarria for Lead

“War for the Planet of the Apes,” the latest installment in the long-running ape franchise, is being lauded for its stunning visual effects. Many say that the third film in the series is the most visually-enchanting one yet — and VFX Supervisor Dan Lemmon told TheWrap how he did it.

Lemmon spoke about the long and challenging process to get the movie off the ground in the two and a half years since the scripting stage. One challenge, he said, was that they had planned to shoot near the Rinjani volcano in Indonesia, but it erupted just a few weeks before shooting began. Luckily it all worked out as they found that Mt. St. Helens in Washington State was a better shooting location anyway.

Since “Dawn for the Planet of the Apes,” Lemmon and director Matt Reeves made a list of things they wanted to improve on in this movie, which included making the apes more realistic than ever before.

“[In “Dawn”] there are shots that are absolutely believable and then there are shots that are fine but you don’t get as sucked in, and quite engaged,” Lemmon said. “We spent a lot of time looking into that in terms of shot design and lighting choices, things that we could do to up the realism.”

And that included apes on horses: “There were some shots that worked great and others where I said, I don’t know if I totally I buy it, that an ape is riding a horse … It didn’t look right.”

Using new technology like a Ray tracer, Lemmon and his team were able to make light move between the apes’ fur more realistically, making the apes look more real than ever before.

“War for the Planet of the Apes” stars Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn and Woody Harrelson, and hits theaters on Friday.

Read TheWrap’s Q&A with Dan Lemmon below.

TheWrap: What was the process like creating the apes?
Dan Lemmon:
It’s always been about trying to make them look as real possible. Typically the stories [I work on] are stories where we are trying to draw the audience into a world that doesn’t exist. To take people to a space that is outside a normal experience. Anything that strikes the audience as not right, we are disrupting that illusion. We go to great lengths to make things as believable as possible but we have to work within the confines of our craft and the technology we have available. Because we’re aways pushing things forward, there’s always going to be improvement. It’s something Matt [Reeves] and I talk about a lot.

Matt came on with ‘Dawn.’  There are shots that are absolutely believable and then there are shots that are fine but you don’t get as sucked in, and quite engaged. What’s the difference between those shots? We spent a lot of time looking into that in terms of shot design and lighting choices, things that we could do to up the realism. Some light just naturally hides the tricks better. Like any magician, certain light will give away the gag. Technology keeps getting better and fur is a tricky problem, as of course, our creatures have fur. There are so many individual strains of hair, the computer has to work so hard for the picture. Also the processing power gets better and it unlocks certain tools that we can use to make the lighting more realistic. One of the tools is Ray tracing, it’s a way of modeling how light moves through the world in a more realistic way. The big change from the last film was the full use of Ray tracer, which does a lot of things really efficiently.

Was that the hardest part to get right the eyes, especially Caesar’s?
Because eyes are so fundamental to the audience’s ability to connect with the characters, it’s something we never let go. We are constantly trying to make them more realistic, more closely matched to what humans are used to seeing. Apart from the whites of their eyes, which are darker than humans, the apes’ eyes are very humanlike, which is one of the reasons why when you go to the zoo or you watch a nature documentary, humans connect to chimpanzees when they watch the behavior: you look in their eyes and you feel like you are looking in the mirror.

Did you have to do a lot of research on the monkeys to get everything right?
A friend of mine is an eye surgeon and he has some devices for looking closely at eyes and you can put dye in to and see how liquid and how tears sit. The movement is really important, almost more than the anatomy or the realism of the surface texture — it’s so critical in making people feel the apes are alive and thinking and making decisions. And those tiny micro-eye movements: When you’re talking with another human, you are looking at one eye and you’re shifting, and that’s when you understand that the person is taking in and processing what you are saying. Getting that right is important in conveying the same kind of emotion from the actors on the set.

Were the horses used in “War” real or digital?
There was a mixture — one of the things we had on our list that we wanted to improve from the last movie was apes on horses. There were some shots that worked great and others where I said, “I don’t know if I totally I buy it, that an ape is riding a horse … It didn’t look right.” In the last movie, the apes were bare-back — the feet were dangling there and you didn’t get the feeling they were connected, so we decided that apes have repurposed human saddles and we invented a new horse stirrup specifically for them. When we were editing, the human legs would frame-by-frame be removed and we replaced them with apes legs because human legs are longer. Sometimes the horses were really unsettled and it became distracting, in some shots we needed more apes and horses than we had available. In other shots, we had to have digital horses do what we didn’t want them to do in real life.

Was this film any different from previous “Apes” movies or other projects you’ve worked on?
“The Jungle Book” is an interesting comparison because we made digital apes and monkeys but the process was very different in that “Jungle Book” was mostly digitally created. We had a strip of set that the characters would walk on. But everything else we made up. You get to build a world, but the actors that were cast to play the “Jungle Book” characters, they were on voiceover contracts — they had to be in the sound booth and read some lines and work with Jon Favreau, they weren’t coming out to the set, so we didn’t have Christopher Walken on set. It’s harder to get authentic performances when you have the separation of time and space, independent of the other actor. We found that when we have the actors playing the characters physically, we get a much more spontaneous performance.

How long did this movie take to produce? 

Most of the movie was shot in British Columbia. We shot on Vancouver Island, we shot in a big empty lot near Vancouver airport and we shot in the mountains surrounding greater Vancouver for the forest and river locations. The desert stuff at the end of the movie, we had a team that shot footage from various places in California, and the end was shot at Mount St. Helens. We had planned to shoot at Rinjani volcano near Indonesia, in Bali, which is a semi-active volcano, but a couple weeks before we started shooting, it erupted so we scouted a couple places which included Crater Lake in Oregon and St. Helens in Washington, and St. Helens had better topography and tied better into the American desert from the original franchise. It ended up working out really well.

It was a pretty long process. I had early conversations with Matt [Reeves] beginning of 2015, around New Years, we started shooting October 2015 and we shot until March 2016 and then we finished just a few weeks ago. It was about two and a half years of my time and then probably roughly a year and a half of solid shots, just making everything correct. There were roughly 1,450 shots. The apes are almost in every shot of the movie as opposed to the previous movies. We are with Caesar almost the entire movie, which is great, but it was also a great challenge.

What part of the movie are you most proud of?

I think the biggest challenge — which was true from the last two movies — was to get the characters that we’re creating have the same emotional intensity and subtlety that the actors have on set … Because we’re deleting actors from the movie and replacing them with digital creations, we have to make sure that our digital creations fully  honor and respect what the actors gave on set and that they carry emotionally the same connection that we had with them when we were watching the performance. You know, every time we reviewed shots with Caesar, we had Andy Serkis’ performance side-by-side with Caesar to get the emotion right. There’s no program that does that for you, that’s only the skill and dedication of the sculptors and technical people.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'War for the Planet of the Apes' Final Trailer Teases Huge Battle (Video)

'War of the Planet of the Apes' Casts Gabriel Chavarria for Lead

Why PETA Is So in Love With ‘War For the Planet of the Apes’

“War For the Planet of the Apes,” like the previous films in the franchise, is full of apes and other primates, yet not a single real monkey was used during filming — something that thrills People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA’s Senior Vice President Lisa Lange praised the blockbuster as “the perfect example and proof that you don’t need to use animals in films about animals,” in a conversation with TheWrap.

“It shows that it’s doable,” she said. “All you have to do is care enough to make it happen. This is a perfect example of a filmmaker saying a film shouldn’t cost animals their welfare and comfort. We’re thrilled.”

Dan Lemmon, the film’s Visual Effects Supervisor, agrees. He told TheWrap that there are a lot of good reasons not to use animal actors, especially primates.

Also Read: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Review: Simian Saga Sewn Up Satisfactorily

“With primates, you are trying to do a lot of things that aren’t natural for them, trying to get them behave a certain way and there’s a lot of problems with that,” Lemmon said. “One practical challenge: Chimpanzees are so strong and can be so violent, once they are older than 5, they can’t be on movie sets. It’s just too unpredictable and dangerous. They aren’t actors — you can get them to do tricks but if you want to create a character that the audience believes is making complicated decisions and acting toe-to-toe with Woody Harrelson, you need highly-skilled actors.”

The rebooted “Apes” series has been widely lauded for the photo-realistic apes. But Lemmon said that before they started shooting “War,” the third entry in the new franchise, production made a list of what they wanted to improve from 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” He said they were able to fulfill their dreams due to advances in technology.

Lemmon told TheWrap that paying attention to light was a major factor in making their apes look more realistic than ever in “War.” To achieve this feat, his team used a new technology called Ray Tracing, which models the way light moves through the world — it allowed them to accurately portray the way light moves through the individual hairs of the ape’s fur.

While no real primates were used in the production of “War For the Planet of the Apes,” the filmmakers used some real horses in combination with digital ones on set.

Also Read: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Is ‘What a Summer Movie Should Be,’ Critics Say

“It’s of course a spectrum — it’s tough to make a Western without horses, for example,” he explained. “Even though we can make digital horses, to get an actor riding a horse, a digital horse — it’s really tough. However, sometimes, the horses were really unsettled and it became distracting, and in some shots we needed more apes and horses that we had available. In other shots, we had to have digital horses because we didn’t want the real horses do certain things in real life.”

Lange said the latest “Apes” installment is absolutely a step in the right direction in terms of saving animals from being abused on film sets — especially after a leaked video from the set of “A Dog’s Purpose” went viral earlier this year, with many animal lovers concerned about how the dog seemed in distress when forced into a pool of water.

“It’s a bit of a conundrum,” said Lange. “More and more people are interested in animal stories, and as a result, Hollywood is trying to capitalize on that. ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ is perfect example. If you can’t do it without animals being terrified like that dog in the pool or you can’t get animals living in good conditions, then the movie shouldn’t be made. It’s people like Andy Serkis, who have really helped push the needle on this issue. He is one of the reasons it’s worked so well, and he’s largely motivated by the animals interest. We need more Andy Serkis‘.”

Of course, using CGI-d animals instead of real animals requires a hefty budget: “War for the Planet of the Apes” cost a reported $150 million to produce. “The Revenant” broke ground with its portrayal of a bear with a $135 million budget. “The Jungle Book” had CGI animals and cost $175 million to make.

However, Lange doesn’t agree that you need a lot of money to replace animal actors: AMC’s “The Walking Dead” used a digital tiger instead of a real one in one of their episodes, and it looked pretty real. Their budget is a reported $3 million per episode.

“If they can create a tiger out of CGI in ‘The Walking Dead,’ anyone can do it,” she said. “And they did it because it was the right thing.”

“War For the Planet of the Apes” stars Serkis, Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Toby Kebbell and Amiah Miller. The Matt Reeves-directed third film in the revived franchise hits theaters on Friday.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ to Do Battle With ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ at Box Office

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Final Trailer Teases Huge Battle (Video)

“War For the Planet of the Apes,” like the previous films in the franchise, is full of apes and other primates, yet not a single real monkey was used during filming — something that thrills People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA’s Senior Vice President Lisa Lange praised the blockbuster as “the perfect example and proof that you don’t need to use animals in films about animals,” in a conversation with TheWrap.

“It shows that it’s doable,” she said. “All you have to do is care enough to make it happen. This is a perfect example of a filmmaker saying a film shouldn’t cost animals their welfare and comfort. We’re thrilled.”

Dan Lemmon, the film’s Visual Effects Supervisor, agrees. He told TheWrap that there are a lot of good reasons not to use animal actors, especially primates.

“With primates, you are trying to do a lot of things that aren’t natural for them, trying to get them behave a certain way and there’s a lot of problems with that,” Lemmon said. “One practical challenge: Chimpanzees are so strong and can be so violent, once they are older than 5, they can’t be on movie sets. It’s just too unpredictable and dangerous. They aren’t actors — you can get them to do tricks but if you want to create a character that the audience believes is making complicated decisions and acting toe-to-toe with Woody Harrelson, you need highly-skilled actors.”

The rebooted “Apes” series has been widely lauded for the photo-realistic apes. But Lemmon said that before they started shooting “War,” the third entry in the new franchise, production made a list of what they wanted to improve from 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” He said they were able to fulfill their dreams due to advances in technology.

Lemmon told TheWrap that paying attention to light was a major factor in making their apes look more realistic than ever in “War.” To achieve this feat, his team used a new technology called Ray Tracing, which models the way light moves through the world — it allowed them to accurately portray the way light moves through the individual hairs of the ape’s fur.

While no real primates were used in the production of “War For the Planet of the Apes,” the filmmakers used some real horses in combination with digital ones on set.

“It’s of course a spectrum — it’s tough to make a Western without horses, for example,” he explained. “Even though we can make digital horses, to get an actor riding a horse, a digital horse — it’s really tough. However, sometimes, the horses were really unsettled and it became distracting, and in some shots we needed more apes and horses that we had available. In other shots, we had to have digital horses because we didn’t want the real horses do certain things in real life.”

Lange said the latest “Apes” installment is absolutely a step in the right direction in terms of saving animals from being abused on film sets — especially after a leaked video from the set of “A Dog’s Purpose” went viral earlier this year, with many animal lovers concerned about how the dog seemed in distress when forced into a pool of water.

“It’s a bit of a conundrum,” said Lange. “More and more people are interested in animal stories, and as a result, Hollywood is trying to capitalize on that. ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ is perfect example. If you can’t do it without animals being terrified like that dog in the pool or you can’t get animals living in good conditions, then the movie shouldn’t be made. It’s people like Andy Serkis, who have really helped push the needle on this issue. He is one of the reasons it’s worked so well, and he’s largely motivated by the animals interest. We need more Andy Serkis‘.”

Of course, using CGI-d animals instead of real animals requires a hefty budget: “War for the Planet of the Apes” cost a reported $150 million to produce. “The Revenant” broke ground with its portrayal of a bear with a $135 million budget. “The Jungle Book” had CGI animals and cost $175 million to make.

However, Lange doesn’t agree that you need a lot of money to replace animal actors: AMC’s “The Walking Dead” used a digital tiger instead of a real one in one of their episodes, and it looked pretty real. Their budget is a reported $3 million per episode.

“If they can create a tiger out of CGI in ‘The Walking Dead,’ anyone can do it,” she said. “And they did it because it was the right thing.”

“War For the Planet of the Apes” stars Serkis, Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Toby Kebbell and Amiah Miller. The Matt Reeves-directed third film in the revived franchise hits theaters on Friday.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'War for the Planet of the Apes' to Do Battle With 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' at Box Office

'War for the Planet of the Apes' Final Trailer Teases Huge Battle (Video)