War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the most challenging films in Andy Serkis' career

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Oct 9, 2016, 4:46 PM EDT

In a scene shown at New York Comic Con in the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes, the ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his “men” have two encounters with humans. In the first encounter, well, RIP to that guy. In the second, they meet a little girl. Caesar has a harsh but final opinion. His best friend Maurice responds more compassionately. 

What was exciting about this scene is that we saw it in a semi-processed state: While Caesar was completely rendered as an ape, we saw Maurice and other apes either portrayed by their human counterparts covered in motion-capture dots and lycra suits or appearing as half-rendered hairless figures. 

That's the delight of War for the Planet of the Apes, the descendant of the performance-capture technology used by director Peter Jackson in Lord of the Rings to make his CGI character of Gollum (also played by Serkis) completely real. When the work is finished, the digital apes will look as authentic as any other actor.

The effects will take perhaps least seven more months of post-processing, according to producer Dylan Clark, who spoke to the press along with director Matt Reeves and star Serkis at NYCC. 

But there are advantages to this laborious process: Reeves says editing motion captured actors gives him the freedom to tweak the script on the fly, as he did on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War’s prequel. (Reeves was given a tight shooting schedule, so Dawn was filmed from a first-draft script.)

“The great thing about performance capture is you can go in and you can alter [the shot.] You can have Andy go in to his studio…and chang[e] what’s in the the shot you’ve already shot.”

Although the Planet of the Apes series relies completely on special effects, Reeves emphasize that this is a character-driven story. Protagonist Caesar began is highly intelligent ape raised by humans who liberates and enhances the intelligence captured apes. As humans die from a pandemic, the apes begin to take power--and the humans aren't willing to concede. Throughout this, Caesar is betrayed by his former friend Koba and learns that apes and humans are very much alike in their capacity for violence. Despite his edict that "Apes not kill apes," Caesar kills Koba. 

Clark calls Caesar’s story arc a “mythic journey in all of its grandeur,” while Reeves says, “The journey is not a war between apes and humans only. It’s a war in Caesar’s heart.”

Because of this, Andy Serkis says, it was one of the most demanding shoots that he’s ever been on. “This was not an easy film to make. It was emotionally exhausting. The level that I had to operate on playing this character was probably the most challenging I’ve ever had to do.

As an actor, he said, “You're going for the truth of the situation. You’re altering your chemistry as a human being. You’re lying to yourself, to take yourself to a place where you believe this place is true.” Because “the stakes are so high, the emotions are so raw…day in and day out it was very taxing. It was really demanding."

The other hard part about the film? “Just tolerating Andy Serkis [and his] mood swingings,” joked Clark.