If you're like most of us here in the Earth Touch office, your weekend viewing plans probably involve a few post-apocalyptic primates. We're talking, of course, about the new Planet of the Apes film, which promises to deliver both spectacular CGI and a powerful simian story – what's not to love here for a team of wildlife film nutters?

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, ten years have passed since the last film left us hanging, and the scope and scale of the new project presented filmmakers with some serious technical challenges.

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Actor Andy Serkis sports one of Weta's motion capture suits during filming. Image: Imaginarium UK/Twitter

There was, for a start, a problem with population size: with alpha chimp Caesar now presiding over an entire colony of his furry brethren, there were a lot more apes to animate this time around (humans, for reasons of the viral kind, are few and far between in the new film). Thanks to some wizardry from renowned visual effects company Weta Digital, Caesar's fictional tribe got a helping hand from real-life chimps at New Zealand's Wellington Zoo. The zoo's chimps and their colourful personalities were digitally replicated to fill the roles of 'background apes', Weta's Joe Letteri tells the NZ Herald.

But that's by far not the only bit of magic Weta has spun here. "The thing that happened between Rise [the previous instalment in the Apes saga] and our film is that Weta has taken a quantum leap forward," the film's director Matt Reeves tells IGN. 

Every colony of articulate apes needs a place to call home – and the film's vast outdoor sets called for an immense amount of composition or 'comping' work by Weta's animation team. That meant taking all the layers of camera footage, graphics and effects, and putting them together (check out these unbelievable examples of comping work from The Avengers and Game of Thrones).

The span of the Dawn fictional world has everyone very excited, including our own animators. "It's amazing," gushes Earth Touch animator Adriaan Landman. "They comp everything in – the rain, the sets – it's an incredible amount of work". In fact, the Weta team toiled for a whole year to fine-tune their tech for the film.

The final product is a unique fusion of the best that actors and animators can deliver – a seamless blend of computer-generated and live-action images. On set, hi-tech motion-capture gadgetry allowed precise details of the actors' performances to be recorded. Dozens of carefully arranged cameras tracked their movements across the tree-covered exterior sets. Head rigs and specially designed jumpsuits fitted with body marker strands in key locations (particularly the joints) recorded not only full-body ape action, but also the most subtle facial movements. Watch:

Outfitted in their grey jumpsuits and unencumbered by the constraints of using only their voices to bring an animated character to life, the actors were physically free to pursue their 'inner ape'. With the help of Terry Notary, an expert in motion-capture performance, they took lessons in ape body language. That meant hunkering down to the correct primate posture and digging deep to find their simian self. There was also the ape-like quadruped running gait to master, made possible by special 'arm extendors' (watch the actors have a go here). 

"This film plays on an interesting blend between human and ape. The fact that they used motion capture makes the apes relatable to us, which I think is largely why so many people are finding themselves rooting for the apes. Their emotions, their behaviour were so closely matched to people – the actors really dug into the characters," says Adriaan.

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The human-like Caesar, as played by Serkis. Image: Imaginarium UK/Twitter

The vast torrent of data captured on set was sent off to Weta, who got to work layering on the computer-generated effects, suturing all of the captured details onto photo-realistic ape models. Software developed specially for the project allowed the Weta crew to bring the apes' fictional world to life, from building vast jungle scenes to filling in intricate details like the apes' wet fur. 

And aside from amazing us, such advances in CGI could also change the lives of real animals for the better in the not-too-distant future.

"It's going to be interesting, I think, how these new techniques will change the way we use animals in film," Adriaan points out. With several films featuring real animals running into abuse controversies, advances that would eliminate the need for animal actors would be a big step in the right direction. 

"It's becoming easier and more cost-effective to animate rather than using trained animals. In future – we're not quite there yet, but soon – there will be no need to have trained animals in film." 

If you've already feasted your eyes on the new film, we want to hear about it – leave us a comment!