Ape School – The making of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes….

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Ape School - Actors go ape!

Before filming commenced on Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, the cast attended six weeks of ape school, which was spearheaded by movement coach Alain Gauthier. Gauthier grew up as an athlete, gymnast, and trampolinist, competing internationally before becoming one of the founding members of the internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil. He performed with the company until the mid-1990s when he moved into experimental dance theatre.

When the cast arrived for training, Gauthier’s first task was to make them hyper-aware of their bodies. He mapped out a series of exercises to augment and develop new neural pathways, to give them the tools to take on the ape form. Gauthier started the cast slowly, challenging them to act not from a psychological place but a physical one.

“Once they mastered the physical format, we worked to get the actor’s personality to come into the ape personality, which is something that requires observation and generosity on the part of the actor,” Gauthier explains. “And for me to make sure that I pointed in the right direction for them to become the beautiful character that they wanted to create.”

Andy Serkis, who had crafted the revelatory character of Caesar across the previous three films, was brought on as a special consultant at the ape school and was engaged to build out from Gauthier’s work, fine-tuning voices and characterizations. The actor, widely praised for his motion-capture work, understands the psychology of what drives the apes better than anyone.

“We brought Andy in as a consultant to talk with the actors and guide them through what was going to be a huge learning experience for them,” says Ball. “Andy had done many, many motion-capture characters in addition to Caesar, including Gollum from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and ‘King Kong,’ so he had a wealth of experience to offer his young protegees. Most of them had never done any motion capture before, and Andy was able to make them feel more comfortable and give them permission to look silly.”

Adds Owen Teague, “Andy helped us to understand the actual anatomical differences between our human bodies and the specific ape we were playing. We had to embrace our ape bodies, and then we followed each other around and mimicked each other. And out of that mimicry, we would see ourselves reflected in someone else, but exaggerated, and we would pick up on things that we would not have otherwise thought about.”

Sessions at the ape school were set up on the performance capture and Volume stages, where Serkis and the cast could watch their digital characters on screen and make small but vital adjustments. “We set up a big monitor, and Andy would throw situations for them to perform and give micro feedback that would make all the difference in the world,” says Hartwick. “We were so lucky that Andy had room in his schedule. It was a total joy for the cast.”

For the filmmakers, this logistical and spiritual handoff from Serkis was essential. “Caesar is dead, and we’re venturing on,” says producer Joe Hartwick, Jr., “but the godfather of motion-capture performance, anointing us forward…it just felt like that needed to happen.”

“Our big thing from day one is that you can’t pretend to be an ape,” says Ball, “and that is hard for actors. You are walking around with these silly suits and look completely ridiculous, so you must learn to get past that and just be authentic. It was a real struggle for all the guys at first, but they ended up loving it.”

related feature : Godzilla & Kong invade London for the Godzilla x Kong The New Empire premiere

related feature : Andy Serkis ‘Mowgli’ – reviewed here

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