Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of the original movie series, which is a cult favorite. A prequel to the futuristic story of the 1968 Charlton Heston film, Rise is set in present-day San Francisco, years before apes take over the world. James Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist looking to discover a cure for Alzheimer's disease. His drug trials are done on, you guessed it, chimps.
After an experiment goes awry, he finds himself caring for Caesar, a baby chimp whose intelligence has been dramatically increased by the testing. Caesar is easily the star of the film, as the chimp that's responsible for galvanizing apes against the oppressive practices of humans. (By the way, no one should be surprised when PETA has a field day with this plot.)
Early on, the film's director Rupert Wyatt decided that they wouldn't be using live chimps in the film (too complicated and unpredictable) so he initially struggled with a way to portray them. “Then performance capture came along in terms of providing us with that opportunity,” he tells TIME, referring to the fast-evolving technique of using computer-generated characters based on real actors' performances.
Once it was decided that CGI apes were the way to go, it wasn't that much of a surprise that Andy Serkis was cast in the role of Caesar. Serkis, who played Kong in King Kong and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, is no stranger to CGI technology and performance-capture acting. And thanks to his nuanced performance and Peter Jackson's digital technology company Weta Digital, Caesar is the most believable character in the film (sorry, James).
Though he makes bringing Caesar to life look easy, Serkis admits that it was a challenge. “You're trying to do that without dialogue,” he says. “It's all conveyed through the eyes and through body language and through projecting your emotions.”
But whatever challenges Serkis faced, his performance helped the rest of the cast. Previous CGI movies have been filmed in front of a green screen, with some characters added in post-production, which, as you can imagine, would be an added hurdle for actors. However, in Rise, every interaction between Caesar and the other characters was filmed in real-time. Frieda Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire fame, who plays Franco's girlfriend Caroline, says she didn't find acting across from a faux-chimp difficult. “It would have been a challenge if Andy did not play Caesar,” she says. “I feel it was easier having Andy play the whole emotion in order for us as actors to play off of him.”
And it'll likely be Andy-as-Caesar's emotion that wins over even the biggest CGI skeptics. It's also a prime example of a way the latest film trumps the original (yeah, I said it, and I'm pretty sure Richard Corliss agrees with me). It's Caesar's amazing evolution that makes the movie and that performance is thanks to Serkis's talents via performance capture...
Aping Reality: Behind the Scenes of 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'