Why PETA Is So in Love With ‘War For the Planet of the Apes’

Filmmakers didn’t use a single real primate in making of blockbuster — but you wouldn’t know that watching the film

“War For the Planet of the Apes,” like the previous films in the franchise, is full of apes and other primates, yet not a single real monkey was used during filming — something that thrills People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA’s Senior Vice President Lisa Lange praised the blockbuster as “the perfect example and proof that you don’t need to use animals in films about animals,” in a conversation with TheWrap.

“It shows that it’s doable,” she said. “All you have to do is care enough to make it happen. This is a perfect example of a filmmaker saying a film shouldn’t cost animals their welfare and comfort. We’re thrilled.”

Dan Lemmon, the film’s Visual Effects Supervisor, agrees. He told TheWrap that there are a lot of good reasons not to use animal actors, especially primates.

“With primates, you are trying to do a lot of things that aren’t natural for them, trying to get them behave a certain way and there’s a lot of problems with that,” Lemmon said. “One practical challenge: Chimpanzees are so strong and can be so violent, once they are older than 5, they can’t be on movie sets. It’s just too unpredictable and dangerous. They aren’t actors — you can get them to do tricks but if you want to create a character that the audience believes is making complicated decisions and acting toe-to-toe with Woody Harrelson, you need highly-skilled actors.”

The rebooted “Apes” series has been widely lauded for the photo-realistic apes. But Lemmon said that before they started shooting “War,” the third entry in the new franchise, production made a list of what they wanted to improve from 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” He said they were able to fulfill their dreams due to advances in technology.

Lemmon told TheWrap that paying attention to light was a major factor in making their apes look more realistic than ever in “War.” To achieve this feat, his team used a new technology called Ray Tracing, which models the way light moves through the world — it allowed them to accurately portray the way light moves through the individual hairs of the ape’s fur.

While no real primates were used in the production of “War For the Planet of the Apes,” the filmmakers used some real horses in combination with digital ones on set.

“It’s of course a spectrum — it’s tough to make a Western without horses, for example,” he explained. “Even though we can make digital horses, to get an actor riding a horse, a digital horse — it’s really tough. However, sometimes, the horses were really unsettled and it became distracting, and in some shots we needed more apes and horses that we had available. In other shots, we had to have digital horses because we didn’t want the real horses do certain things in real life.”

Lange said the latest “Apes” installment is absolutely a step in the right direction in terms of saving animals from being abused on film sets — especially after a leaked video from the set of “A Dog’s Purpose” went viral earlier this year, with many animal lovers concerned about how the dog seemed in distress when forced into a pool of water.

“It’s a bit of a conundrum,” said Lange. “More and more people are interested in animal stories, and as a result, Hollywood is trying to capitalize on that. ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ is perfect example. If you can’t do it without animals being terrified like that dog in the pool or you can’t get animals living in good conditions, then the movie shouldn’t be made. It’s people like Andy Serkis, who have really helped push the needle on this issue. He is one of the reasons it’s worked so well, and he’s largely motivated by the animals interest. We need more Andy Serkis‘.”

Of course, using CGI-d animals instead of real animals requires a hefty budget: “War for the Planet of the Apes” cost a reported $150 million to produce. “The Revenant” broke ground with its portrayal of a bear with a $135 million budget. “The Jungle Book” had CGI animals and cost $175 million to make.

However, Lange doesn’t agree that you need a lot of money to replace animal actors: AMC’s “The Walking Dead” used a digital tiger instead of a real one in one of their episodes, and it looked pretty real. Their budget is a reported $3 million per episode.

“If they can create a tiger out of CGI in ‘The Walking Dead,’ anyone can do it,” she said. “And they did it because it was the right thing.”

“War For the Planet of the Apes” stars Serkis, Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Toby Kebbell and Amiah Miller. The Matt Reeves-directed third film in the revived franchise hits theaters on Friday.