Weta Digital advanced mo-cap for location filming
Filming on location for War for the Planet of the Apes, New Zealand effects house Weta Digital pushed the boundaries of motion capture (mo-cap), or performance capture.
The advanced technology is a form of digital make-up and has been used to render the ape characters in all three of the rebooted movies that star Andy Serkis as simian leader Caesar.
Performance capture was originally designed for use in a controlled studio setting often known as a ‘volume’, where dozens of fixed-position cameras are used to film actors and scan their performances into a computer.
Dejan Momcilovic was Weta’s motion capture supervisor on War for the Planet of the Apes. He has worked with the technology on 15 films dating back to Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong, which featured Serkis as Kong.
“The cameras typically do not get moved for months or years,” Momcilovic tells KFTV of the usual performance capture studio set up. “When it comes to an on-location shoot, we have to set up multiple configurations in the same day – basically build a working set up in hours, then keep modifying it several times a day.”
“There are no mo-cap cameras or markers that are built to work in the sun or rain since mo-cap was always assumed to be done in a light-controlled [studio] environment.
“Sunlight is brighter than the marker reflection so we had to build an active markers system comprised of high-powered LEDs and wireless control units. The equipment was not designed to be used in wet conditions either.”
The performance capture technology was modified and improved between each of the new Planet of the Apes films, with scanning cameras often attached to trees as improvised fixed rigs.
“Devices that were wired have been modified to work wirelessly [to work on location],” Momcilovic tells KFTV. “Each movie has used a higher resolution facial camera.”
Momcilovic was involved with James Cameron’s innovative 2009 sci-fi epic Avatar – which helped pioneer performance capture – and it’s likely the upcoming sequels will push the technology further still.