In the first few minutes of the 2014 hit Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, not one human appears. A pack of majestic apes hunt deer through a lush rain forest, dense with trees that seem to reach upward forever. Their faces are expressive, their hair ripples in the gentlest breeze, and their muscles tense and relax beneath their skin. When a trigger-happy Homo sapiens finally barges in, it’s hard not to side with the apes – which is a testament to the skill and discipline of Fashion Institute and Technology grad Ben Kilgore and his colleagues at Weta digital, a visual-effects firm based in Wellington, New Zealand. Because, as most everyone knows, these are not animals or even people in animal costumes. They are glorious tangles of ones and zeroes – computer code translated into creatures that couldn’t seem more real.
© 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
To help collect animation data for Caesar, the ape-in-chief in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis donned a motion-capture suit and helmet and acted out the scenes opposite the human characters. Kilgore and his team translated Serkis’s movements and expressions into Caesar’s affecting performance.
As a lead technical director at Weta, Kilgore is in charge of creating computer-generated beasts for Hollywood films. He gave life to a menagerie of creatures in The Hobbit films, Mr. Fantastic’s rubber limbs in Fantastic Four (2015), and the apes in the recent Planet of the Apes reboots.
Kilgore was 13 when Terminator 2 hit theaters, and the T-1000 robot, a villain that seemed to be made of liquid metal, thrilled him. “I had to know how they did it”, he says. He enrolled in the Computer Animation and Interactive Media major at FIT in 2003 and quickly proved to be a star pupil. “I don’t think I’ve worked as hard as consistently on any project as I did at FIT,” Kilgore recalls.
Weta is doing the most cutting-edge computer animation work in the industry, and for that reason, Kilgore doesn’t plan on leaving New Zealand anytime soon. “The kind of work that comes to Weta,” he says, “doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.”
FIT’s Center for Continuing Professional Studies offers a variety of courses in computer graphics and many other areas of design. View courses and register at fitnyc.edu/continuing-ed