Two of this year’s Oscar-nominated visual effects teams found themselves tasked with creating believable interaction between animated beings and live actors, but each took a different path to making fantasy characters auds would accept.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” used Weta Digital’s famed performance capture methods — newly refined for this show — to turn actors into apes. By contrast, “Guardians of the Galaxy” turned to more conventional character animation.
The “Apes” team aimed for subtle facial expressions for their chimp, gorilla and orangutan principals, while the “Guardians” crew wanted to ensure comic timing could flourish for cynical bounty hunter Rocket Raccoon and his “muscle,” the plant-creature Groot.
“We had the brother of the director, Sean Gunn, standing in on set for Rocket,” says Stephane Ceretti, vfx supervisor for “Guardians.” “That helped a lot in terms of creating the right eyeline. But also because he could improvise lines with the other actors and crack everyone up, which you need in a loose comedy.” An actor stood in for Groot as well, both wearing greenscreen suits.
Later Bradley Cooper came in to do the voice work for Rocket, and Vin Diesel voiced Groot. The animators incorporated their mannerisms into the characters, but only by observing them.
“Apes” director Matt Reeves also wanted to take their performance capture equipment further into the field for location shooting.
“He really wanted that feeling that we’re out with the chimps,” says vfx supervisor Joe Letteri. “Very tribal. Very dirty. He wanted to take you into this wet, rainy forest and so for the first time we really had to make this gear mobile.” The new equipment proved robust enough to survive the elements for long days of shooting.
“What I’m excited about is the fact that we created this ensemble cast that includes not just chimps but chimps and humans acting together.”