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Metro In Focus: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ digital make-up

andy-serkis-caesar-in-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apesRoddy McDowell’s 1974 appearance on the Carol Burnett Show was something a little different. How often do you see a big TV star singing a love duet with an ape?

Burnett introduced McDowell as, “one of Hollywood’s most familiar faces,” then feigned shock when the actor came onstage in a tuxedo, but in full Planet of the Apes facial make-up. McDowell starred in four of the Planet of the Apes films and in the TV series.

For the next few minutes they engaged in some tomfoolery—McDowell says he’s been working on his tan in Palm Springs and when asked which of his movies has had the most profound effect on him he sidesteps the obvious and recites a soliloquy from Cleopatra—before launching into a spirited version of the Jerome Kern love ballad They Didn’t Believe Me. By the end of the tune the audience roars as Burnett warbles, “When I told them how wonderful you are, They didn’t believe me,” as she mimes picking a bug off his lapel.

Later she thanks Roddy for undergoing the three-and-a-half hours it took to put on the make-up for that bit of funny business.

It’s not likely you’ll see Andy Serkis, star of the latest slice of simian cinema, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, partaking in the same kind of promotional monkey business.

Times have changed since McDowell had to endure untold hours in the make-up chair, then smoke using an extra long cigarette holder so as not to light his faux fur on fire. “It’s about a foot long and makes me look like the weirdest monkey you ever did see,” McDowell told Newsday.

These days Serkis, who is best known for his motion capture performance of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, performs on a soundstage in front of multiple cameras that film his performance from every angle. He wears a body suit dotted with spots that allow the computers to register even the slightest movement. Serkis calls this “a magic suit” that “allows you to play anything regardless of your size, your sex, your color, whatever you are.” Later, in post production the “digital make-up” adds in the costume and character details.

It saves hours in the make-up chair, but is no less a performance than McDowell’s more organic approach. “I’ve never drawn a distinction between live-action acting and performance-capture acting,” Serkis says. “It is purely a technology. It’s a bunch of cameras that can record the actor’s performance in a different way.”

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