CENTURY CITY, CA—Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the second film in the classic sci-fi series to be re-envisioned by 20th Century Fox, posed much more of a challenge to the sound crew than director Tim Burton’s reboot did a decade ago.
Introducing a special presentation on the Fox lot in mid-December by the Motion Picture Sound Editors featuring the director, picture editor and sound crew from Rise, Tom Rothman, co-chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, observed that the movie pushed the outside of the envelope of technology. “No part of it was easy or routine or familiar,” he said.
Unlike Burton’s film, on which co-supervising sound editor John A. Larsen also worked, Rise did not utilize actors in animal costumes. “I thought this one would be somewhat the same, but I didn’t know that we didn’t have English-speaking apes this time,” admitted Larsen. Rise instead features an entirely computergenerated cast of ape characters, created by Weta Digital, that are based upon performances by a handful of motion-capture (mo-cap) actors, including skilled creature impersonators Andy Serkis and Terry Notary.
With no humans appearing in many scenes, it fell to the sound team to find unique voices for each ape, explained co-supervising sound editor Chuck Michael. “It actually took a mixture of the real chimpanzees that we recorded with some vocal performances from Andy and the other performance-capture actors, melding those two together.”
But while the mo-cap actors did vocalize on set, noted director Rupert Wyatt, “We don’t sound like apes. Although some of our actors, like Terry Notary, sounded remarkably like a chimp (I mean that as a compliment), he was an exception. When we got to the edit, we were left with essentially a silent movie.”
Fox’s library of ape sounds was insufficient to support a full-length feature, shared Michael. Additional ape recordings were made at Chimp Haven, a non-profit rescue and retirement center for chimpanzees in Louisiana.
However, Notary’s original vocal performance as Rocket in a fight scene with central ape character Caesar, performed by Serkis, made it into the film. “We had Terry come back in and try to do some of his ADR, but we couldn’t get that performance from him,” said Michael. “There was nothing else that had that sort of power and intensity. We processed it a fair amount, but at the heart, it’s all of his vocals there.”
Capturing clean on-set dialog was difficult, according to production mixer David Husby, not least because Weta’s motion-capture technology, which can record the detailed physical movements of up to six actors at one time, is wireless. “Every kind of transmission at every kind of frequency was happening,” recalled Husby. “It was a challenging environment, to say the least. “ An additional challenge in Rise was that Caesar is the first ape to learn to speak. “We start out almost exclusively with real chimpanzee noises, and we transition and move him towards a more human sound, the smarter he gets,” explained Michael.
Caesar’s first word, a pivotal moment, required some finessing. “My concern was that maybe it wasn’t as clear as it needed to be that he’s actually saying a word,” said Michael. “A lot of it was manipulating Andy’s vocals and the chimp vocals, to try to get the two together. You don’t want separate sounds.”
For another scene, featuring Richard Ridings as Buck, a gorilla, the team used film speed manipulation during ADR to better replicate a gorilla’s low-frequency vocal range. “We had the picture playing at 170 percent; we asked him to do his performance to a very fast picture,” he elaborated.
Re-recording mixer Ron Bartlett, who mixed alongside Doug M. Hemphill, noted that score composer Patrick Doyle carefully orchestrated around the ape vocalizations. “If you have ape sounds and they’re in a higher pitched range, you’re not going to write music with flutes and high strings,” noted Bartlett.
The lack of dialog drove the team to rely on other elements to tell the story, Wyatt observed. “So often in films the reliance in telling the story is dialog-based. We were given this great opportunity to tell the story through sound design, through score, and to give the apes their voice through those mediums.”
Motion Picture Sound Editors
20th Century Fox