Thesps ape simian movements for pic

Terry Notary played central role in creating 'Apes' characters

Terry Notary played three of the apes in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which debuts Friday, and is credited as an actor. But that title doesn’t do justice to his central role in creating all of the film’s primate characters.

He was also the apes’ choreographer, movement coach and stunt coordinator — skills he’s applied on a string of high-profile pics that include “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Avatar” and the upcoming “Tintin.” He’s now working on Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” movies.

Notary researched the film by collecting, as he says, “every single video with apes I could get my hands on,” including footage he shot at the zoo. He went over the footage with “Apes” helmer Rupert Wyatt and recommended movements.

Visually, the movie’s apes are entirely digital creations but their walking, jumping and body language are based on the motion-captured perfs of a handful of actors that Notary coached, including Andy Serkis (who did an earlier turn as a simian in 2005 playing Kong in Jackson’s “King Kong”).

Notary, a former UCLA gymnast and Cirque du Soleil performer, spent about six weeks training the thesps, educating them in the ways of the three types of apes that appear in the film.

“It all boils down to subtleties,” Notary said. “The big stuff, the leaps, that’s easy.”

The hard part: “Being absolutely still and still being in the character.”

Production on “Apes” was helped by advances in mo-cap technology. Previously confined to studio spaces, it now allows outdoor filming for action sequences. Actors in gray Velcro suits were endowed with arm extensions (to simulate the apes’ long forelimbs), equipped with battery packs, studded with LED lights, wired for sound and rigged with cameras on their heads. They “leaped over real cars, got chased and shot at, and dodged explosions,” said Notary.

Being on outside sets “helped the performers because they were in a real situation” and could actually see the objects they were interacting with.”

Shooting took place in Vancouver in spaces equipped with scores of cameras that captured every detail of the action. Data from those cameras as well as from the gear on the actors’ bodies was sent to New Zealand’s Weta Digital, which then created the digital, photorealistic apes that appear in the film.

In addition to working with Weta’s vfx team, Notary relied on extensive pre-visualizations — detailed moving storyboards that previewed entire scenes and helped the director block them out. The pre-vis was coordinated by Pixel Liberation Front’s Duane Floch, who was brought into the process by “Apes” co-producer Kurt Williams. (Williams also served as a vfx producer, but, like Notary, only has one credit.)

More than 500 “Apes” shots were pre-visualized. These scenarios were vetted by Wyatt, sent to Weta to help the studio with its bidding process, and to editorial to inform the cutting the film.

They also eased anxieties among studio execs.

“We actually had something for them to look at,” Floch said.

Bookings & Signings

Cinematographer Joaquin Sedillo is booked on CW’s “Gossip Girl” and season 2 of VH1’s “Single Ladies.”

Montana Artists signed d.p.’s Brian Rigney Hubbard (“Circumstance”) and Frank Byers (“Hollywood & Wine”); and editor Debra Weinfeld (“Necessary Roughness”).

Agency booked exec producer/UPMs Scott Ferguson on Henry Alex Rubin’s “Disconnect” and Cherylanne Martin on Robert Zemeckis’ “Flight”; UPM Warren Carr on Tony Gilroy’s “The Bourne Legacy”; 1st AD Chad Rosen Sarah Siegel Magness’ “Long Time Gone”; stunt coordinator Mike Smith on Jonathan Lucas and Scott Moore’s “21 and Over”; and vfx supervisor Jake Braver on ABC’s “Pan Am.”

Montana booked costume designers Lizz Wolf on Simon West’s “The Expendables 2,” Alexis Scott on Olatunde Osunsanmi’s “Evidence,” Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko on FX’s “American Horror Story,” Sabrina Rosen on NBC’s “Community” and Suttirat Larlarb on Danny Boyle’s “Trance”; d.p.’s Bruce Finn on Disney Channel’s “So Random,” Robert La Bonge on Lifetime’s “Army Wives,” Michael McMurray on CBC movie “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town,” Brad Rushing on S.V. Krishna’s “Divorce Invitation,” George Mooradian on an untitled Rob Schneider project for CBS, Gale Tattersall on Fox’s “House,” David Robert Jones on Chris Nelson’s “Gay Dude,” Marshall Adams on CBS’ “CSI: NY” and Attila Szalay on USA pilot “Wild Card.

Agency booked production designers Matthew C. Jacobs on “Army Wives,” Stephen Marsh on CBS movie “Gamers,” Doug Meerdink on Akiva Schaffer’s “Neighborhood Watch,” Eric Fraser on TNT movie “Innocent” and Tom Hannam on Sky miniseries “Labyrinth”; editors Richard Schwadel on Disney Channel movie “Shrinking Violet,” Gary Levy on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” Paul Trejo on NBC’s “Awake,” Peter Ellis on NBC’s “Community” and Alan Cody on ABC’s “The River.”

Want to comment or suggest a column topic?

Email peter.caranicas@variety.com

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