I trained to become an ape for 'War For The Planet of the Apes'

Karin Konoval and Terry Notary give Yahoo’s Stefan Pape a crash course in aping (20th Century Fox)
Karin Konoval and Terry Notary give Yahoo’s Stefan Pape a crash course in aping (20th Century Fox)

The reputation of the new Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy – which concluded with 2017’s War For The Planet of the Apes – has arguably now surpassed that of the original run of five films that began in 1968 with Planet of the Apes. One huge factor in that is the portrayal of the apes themselves. State of the art visual effects coupled with revolutionary performance capture technology has replaced the rubber masks and hairy costumes, giving us truly lifelike apes that help immerse us in the dystopian ape-led future.

To help get an understanding of what went in to the creation of Caesar, Rocket, Maurice, Koba, Bad Ape, and the countless other simian characters in Rise, Dawn, and War For The Planet of the Apes, Yahoo Movies headed to New York Comic Con for a crash course in becoming an ape.

Pape the ape, reporting for duty (20th Century Fox)
Pape the ape, reporting for duty (20th Century Fox)

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox and Weta Digital, a remarkable motion capture experience had been installed at the huge Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, allowing fans of the franchise to wear a mo-cap suit and partake in one of the film’s most memorable sequences; to ride a horse simulator and see yourself, as Caesar, on the big screen.

I had the pleasure/disadvantage of going up first, while an eager audience formed to watch me, quite literally, make a monkey of myself. The whole experience was enriched thanks to the tutorial beforehand, with two of the film’s most important members, Terry Notary (Rocket) and Karin Konoval (Maurice). Needless to say, and as can be seen in the video below – it was harder than it initially looked. For when physically embodying an ape, it seems you need to get into their mind first.

“We start with what makes us human and figure what that is and let that all go. When you boil all that away what you’re left with is an animal.” Notary explained when we asked about his process of becoming Rocket, who serves at one of Caesar’s head lieutenants.

Notary, who also played the title role in Kong: Skull Island, and can be seen as both Teen Groot and Cull Obsidian in Avengers: Infinity War in the near future, added, “The best version of myself and the most truthful version of myself is Rocket. That’s what I’ve learnt from that character,”

Konoval, who plays the mature, male orangutan Maurice, agreed with her co-star. “I felt like that about Maurice as well, I will actually in real life go into my inner Maurice, because it’s a great place to make decisions from, Maurice’s wisdom and patience, and knowing when to act and when not to.”

So what did I learn? I learnt that it’s really bloody hard to walk and think like an ape. And yet in spite of my own self-deprecation, after I finished monkeying around on the arm stilts provided, the audience very politely gave me a pity clap, while Notary claimed I was ‘a natural’. Still trying to figure out if that’s a compliment or not.

After perfecting my movement, which was particular challenging when having to run like an ape, it was time to get into the mo-cap attire – and while looking a little like a dinner lady, when I mounted that fake horse I felt invisible, until it started, anyway. The task was simple, I had to ride the simulator while watching an ape on screen – I was in control, if I felt inclined to do the YMCA, Caesar would’ve followed (why didn’t I think of that?). The aim was to duck at the right moments and not to hit my head on a branch and fall off the animal. I didn’t last very long.

Weta turned us into an ape with worrying ease (20th Century Fox)
Weta turned us into an ape with worrying ease (20th Century Fox)

But there was no use dwelling on the shame, it was the New York Comic-Con. People have literally come dressed up as aliens – it was hard to stand out amongst the crowd of diligent, and creative cosplayers. As queues formed, The War For the Planet of the Apes event proved to be a popular one – and you can see why too, as the third endeavour rounded off an excellent trilogy of films, particularly profound as we adopt the this primitive perspective and take a candid, unique look at humanity in the process, and the sheer futility of war.

As Andy Serkis said when Yahoo Movies interviewed him for the forthcoming home entertainment release, “One of the great things in making a movie like this is that you are able to produce a grand piece of entertainment that actually says something, which is a rare thing in this day and age, and I really value what these films mean.”

Now we just have to hope there’s going to be a fourth film, and if so, after my accomplished performance in New York I’m fully expecting a call.

Planet of the Papes, anyone?

War for the Planet of the Apes is available on Digital Download now and 4K Ultra HD™, 3D Blu-ray™, Blu-ray™ and DVD on 27 November. Watch a new deleted scene where Caesar learns the fate of Dawn‘s Malcolm below.

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