Hail Caesar! The leader of the new ape revolution in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes has finally made his debut, courtesy of this world-exclusive process shot which reveals how Weta Digital (the same people who made Gollum, Kong and Avatar's Na'vi) transformed Andy 'Lord Of Performance Capture' Serkis into the genetically-enhanced chimp who, in Rupert Wyatt's prequel to/reboot of the Planet Of The Apes franchise, kicks off the world-changing events that will one day lead to the devastation of humanity.
Empire's been there all the way, from watching Serkis at (physically exhausting) work on the Vancouver set - in grey jumpsuit, on arm-extending crutches, with green dots all over his face - to witnessing his performance in full Weta-created, photo-realistic ape mode at Weta Digital's base in Wellington, New Zealand, eight months later. It's truly impressive stuff - another leap forward for Weta from the achievements of Lord Of The Rings and Avatar, not least because it's the first movie to pull off performance-capture in an entirely live-action 'real world' setting.
"The main thing we're trying to do is create these completely believable ape characters and treat them completely in a live-action sense," explains senior visual effects supervisor Joe Leterri when Empire meets him at Weta. "This actually grew most directly out of what we were doing on Avatar, but here we brought the motion capture completely onto the live-action stage. We had to hide all of the motion-capture cameras all over the live-action sets. And so we could have Andy Serkis, and any of the other actors playing the apes in the set with the [non-ape] actors actually performing."
As you can tell from the shot, the original Apes movies - and their prosthetic make-up - weren't really a reference for Weta, or indeed Serkis, who were more keen to base their performances on real apes. Serkis, of course, has previous form here, having played King Kong. But Caesar, he tells us, is a very different character. "Kong was purely a gorilla, so I went all-out to to make that work and play the psychology and DNA of a pure gorilla," he says. "But this is much more mercurial and 'shifting sands' in terms of who this creature is, because he's brought up with human beings, and then he's inherited this drug which has enhanced his intelligence, so you have to almost forget he's a chimp, really. We've been experimenting with treating him much more as a human being, really. It feels more like a human drama story."
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is due out later this year in the UK. The official site is now live, and is called "Apes Will Rise". Yes, and Titans will clash, but enough with the fortune telling already.
Plus, here's the teaser trailer for you. What do you reckon? Excited? Let us know in the comment box below.