How the lifelike visual effects in 'War for the Planet of the Apes' were created

ABC News' Ginger Zee goes behind the scenes at the effects studio Weta Digital.

ByTaylor Behrendt and Sam Wnek
July 13, 2017, 8:43 AM

— -- ABC News' Ginger Zee got a behind-the-scene glimpse into the making of the upcoming "War for the Planet of the Apes" film while visiting Weta Digital, the special effects studio where filmmakers transformed human actors into onscreen primates.

The company, spearheaded by famed director Peter Jackson and based in Wellington, New Zealand, pioneers the use of motion capture technology, dubbed "mo-cap," and created some of the lifelike visual effects in Academy Award-winning films such as "The Jungle Book," and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

PHOTO: ABC News' Ginger Zee experiments with the motion capture technology used to create primates in the "Planet of the Apes" series at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's the special effects company in Wellington, New Zealand.
ABC News' Ginger Zee experiments with the motion capture technology used to create primates in the "Planet of the Apes" series at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's the special effects company in Wellington, New Zealand.
Sam Wnek/ABC News

Filmmakers at Weta Digital said the upcoming "War for the Planet of the Apes" effects are some of the most spectacular and realistic yet, and described the attention to detail that went into the film.

"You know a piece of fur, and you dump snow on it in the real world, that's a very easy thing to do," Joe Letteri, the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Weta Digital, told ABC News. "In our world that's incredibly hard, because you have to understand how the snow accumulates across all these different hairs, and what they do to the hair and how it melts and falls off you."

PHOTO: ABC News' Ginger Zee experiments with the motion capture technology used to create primates in the "Planet of the Apes" series at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's the special effects company in Wellington, New Zealand.
ABC News' Ginger Zee experiments with the motion capture technology used to create primates in the "Planet of the Apes" series at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's the special effects company in Wellington, New Zealand.
Sam Wnek/ABC News

Most of the "War for the Planet of the Apes" film was shot in Canada, but about 30 percent it was made at Weta Digital in New Zealand, where actors were filmed on a stage in the studio while wearing mo-cap suits. Infrared cameras are able to capture an actor's every move by using LED lights when an actor dons a mo-cap suit.

At Weta Digital, Zee slipped into a mo-cap suit that had 53 sensors on it, allowing cameras to capture her every movement from head to toe, and got to experience firsthand being transformed. She was made to look like a female ape and the Weta Digital team recreated a scene from the film for her where she replaced the lead character of Caesar, who is played by Andy Serkis.

Allan Henry, a motion capture performer who has spent years studying the way apes behave and move, also offered her advice for how to recreate an animal's movement, saying, "The idea is your weight is distributed easily on all four points."

Zee even used arm extensions to help her get into character as she attempted to transform into a primate.

PHOTO: ABC News' Ginger Zee experiments with the motion capture technology used to create primates in the "Planet of the Apes" series at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's the special effects company in Wellington, New Zealand.
ABC News' Ginger Zee experiments with the motion capture technology used to create primates in the "Planet of the Apes" series at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's the special effects company in Wellington, New Zealand.
Sam Wnek/ABC News

Dan Lemmon, the Visual Effects Supervisor at Weta Digital said that acting in mo-cap suits can sometimes garner some especially raw performances from actors.

"In a way you strip it back to minimalist theater--there's no costume--you're a character and you're playing with another character and we add the details later," Lemmon said.

PHOTO: ABC News' Ginger Zee experiments with the motion capture technology used to create primates in the "Planet of the Apes" series at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's the special effects company in Wellington, New Zealand.
ABC News' Ginger Zee experiments with the motion capture technology used to create primates in the "Planet of the Apes" series at Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's the special effects company in Wellington, New Zealand.
Sam Wnek/ABC News

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events