What inspired a visual effects master?
December 23rd, 2011
06:16 PM ET

What inspired a visual effects master?

Without a doubt, two of the most visually stunning movies of the year are "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and the newly released "Adventures of Tintin."

The visual effects for both came from WETA Workshop (best known for "Lord of the Rings") and both were overseen by Joe Letteri, whose career goes back to "Jurassic Park," the special edition of "Star Wars: A New Hope," and the second and third "LOTR" movies.

Like many fans of the films he worked on, Letteri was inspired by effects he saw in movies growing up.

"There was the original 'King Kong' (Letteri worked on the 2005 version of that as well), the Ray Harryhausen films, 'Star Wars.' All of these things start you into a new world," he told CNN Geek Out. "It's a way to allow you to create."

Recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a prequel to the much-beloved movie series, was widely recognized by fans and critics as adding a new element to the mythology, much of which was attributed to the effects that created the first "self-aware" ape, Cesar, performed by "Lord of the Rings' " Andy Serkis.

"I think this was a really great way to go back and tell the story that's hinted at in the first films," said Letteri. "In the first film, you've got very human chimps. It's in the future, so the fact that you've got actors playing it as walking upright with human mannerisms and human characteristics - that makes sense. But for our film, you're seeing it from the beginning."

This movie presented a challenge to Letteri: "I think the main thing was the evolution that happens throughout the film. It happens on two levels. You've got Caesar going from an infant to an adult to an adolescent to a full-grown chimp, so we actually see him through three phases in the film. That's new; that's something I've never had to do before."

About Serkis, whose performance has garnered Oscar buzz, Letteri said, "It's a matter of being a really good actor. First and foremost, that's the part that matters. One of the things that Andy has to do when shooting a movie is make all the other actors that are working with him and the director and the crew look at him as if it's Cesar they're looking at before we will believe it as an audience. The way Andy will do that is just project himself as Cesar. That comes through in the way everyone kind of responds. They'd get so emotionally caught up in what he's doing that they respond in like fashion."

Letteri ranks "Apes" among the many breakthrough moments in visual effects during his career, among them a tyrannosaurus rex breaking through a fence in "Jurassic Park."

"(Another was 'LOTR's') Gollum, just because you've got now a living, breathing, talking character performed with other characters side by side," he said. "With 'Avatar,' just creating this fantasy world from scratch. And I think, Cesar, because you're now back in the real world - you're seeing something that's live and organic."

Letteri's current projects include the Superman reboot, "Man of Steel," and a couple of little prequel films called "The Hobbit."

"I think there will be a different look (to 'The Hobbit'). The period is 80 years earlier. But overall, the feel should be the same. We're still going back to Middle Earth, we wanted to have that familiarity to it."

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soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Jules

    I stumbled across this by chance, 30 minutes after I started the download of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" from iTunes. Now, I'm looking forward to it so much more! Especially, now knowing Cesar is played by "Smeagol." I didn't know who Letteri was before, but he has my attention now! 🙂

    December 27, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  2. Cgstudent

    If you aren't familiar with the technical requirements to make the CG effects in this movie, you cannot truly appreciate, let alone, criticize it. As a student within the field, I can say that the facial animation of Caesar is quite impressive, and probably involved one of the most complicated facial rigs, never before seen in other movies.

    December 27, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Cgstudent

      nvm, it was mo-capped....

      December 27, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  3. awdam

    Favors mooshelle but more life-like and prettier!

    December 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  4. Rod C. Venger

    LOL. Over the veterans day holiday I saw Avatar while I was on vacation. I can't believe you stupid people paid real money to see it! The supposed $450 million profit this apes movie made isn't a pat on the back for it's effects but a sad commentary on the whole "A fool and his money are soon parted" bit. And I'll bet OWS will be first in line to see Tin Tin too! The irony is fascinating

    December 26, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • chewie1

      What the he...

      December 27, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • John

      Rod the only credit I give you is for using what I assume is your real name. The rest of what you wrote is pure garbage.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • Jules

      @chewie1 Lol, he's probably drunk. If not, pity him. He obviously suffers from a severe superiority complex.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  5. Rod C. Venger

    "Organic" computer effects. Uh huh. That's artsy-fartsy babble to sell movie tickets. Guy goes into makeup, does his lines, the computers do the rest.

    December 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  6. MiGrant

    Boy, do I beg to differ! The CG effects SUCKED!!! Neither realistic nor 100% anime, just a sloppy, ugly, totally fake imitation...The special effects in the first Plenet of the Apes were much better!..Two thumbs DOWN on this one...A BIG disappointment...

    December 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Jesse

      I missed "Plenet: of the Apes. Was it that good?

      December 27, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  7. mike

    Was this movie based on the release of the slaves after the civil war or racemixing?

    December 26, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Whiskey bravo

      Of course it is Mike. Your mother may even get an Oscar for playing the role of Ceasar without makeup.

      December 26, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
      • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

        It's not her. The monkey isn't hairy enough.

        December 26, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  8. dee

    Yes CGI is getting better and better...and yes we can go WOW..WOW..WOW..at better CGI...and yes some have poor everything else...poor acting, poor story line...and on and on....but I felt Rise of the Planet of the Apes was not one of them. Can farely say the acting and story were very good too and yes the CGI was fantastic and a big WOW..factor..put those two together and you have awesome movie...I have not seen Tin Tin...just not my type of movie, but is getting big notice too.

    December 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  9. Your Panties in Texas

    I am an Ape, a real honest to goodness Ape.

    December 26, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  10. hal9thou

    I was very pleasantly surprise with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and have found it to be one of the best movies of the year. The special effects of Caasar are the ones to be beat now. Sorry. Gollom!

    December 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

      You honestly thought this was better than Cars 2? You must be kidding me!

      December 26, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  11. Wall Street Bankster

    Great, let's continue going WOW WOW WOW over special effects while characters, story, and plotlines go to hell.

    And the movie industry can't figure out why ticket sales are plummetting.....

    Anyway, vote in the 99% to congress for real change!!!!!!!

    December 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • James

      Where have you been? The CGI effects in the movie were amazing, got over 450 million dollar profit, earned numerous accolades, and not to mention an average score of 91% from top critics. Please stop "bandwagoning" on the idea of CGI effects = bad. You suck at arguing that. Oh and also the CGI movies that you consider that have a bad plot line has earned over 800 million in profit i.e. Transformers 3.

      December 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
      • Silva

        What makes a mokney evil? Where does an evil mokney's soul go after death?Where does "mokney business" really mean?How did the phrase "mokney on my back" originate?

        September 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • travis

      Pretty sure Rise of the Planet of the Apes was recognized for more than just it's special effects. But it sure doesn't hurt for them to look good.

      December 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  12. Sierra Lost

    Tin Tin you list as "without a doubt"... The same year tbat tbe latest Transformers movie came out? Tin Tin might have been a more Oscar noteworthy film but as with The Planet of the Apes the visual envelope is when live action and animation cross paths. Other than that Tin Tin and Family Guy have more in common.

    So, with respect, there is doubt in your opening statement.

    December 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  13. Ape Man

    Planet of the Apes was surprisingly good. Movie was the definition of EPIC.

    December 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

      Early Post Impressionistic Cr...

      December 26, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Jesse

      Though it was good with terrific effects, it was not even remotely the definition of "epic." Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, and Avatar could be considered "epics" by definition. ROTPOTA was set in one city, had a relatively small cast, and had a single major action sequence that spanned... a bridge. A solid film (though with lots of logic holes), but nowhere near epic. LIke the word "genius," epic is a word that is way, way overused.

      December 27, 2011 at 12:52 am |
      • Nipster D. Hipster

        I. like you, think that those words are totally too mainstream. It's not like this movie had the most lifelike CG ever. It didn't even have a good cast. I mean James Franco was cool until he got nominated for an oscar. Honestly it was okay. Not realistic in the slightest. You're so deck, Jesse.

        December 27, 2011 at 1:37 am |