"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" uses advanced imaging tech to imagine an apocalyptic future—with an iPad cameo

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In what is certain to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" portrays two parallel societies grappling with fears, violence, betrayal and cross-cultural empathy, with a particularly poignant scene portraying a battered iPad (albeit running iOS 6).

The second film in the modern retelling of the cult classic series, "Dawn" portrays a dystopian future where humans struggle for survival as they also clash with an advanced evolutionary adaptation of highly intelligent apes.

It's set in a feral and crumbling future version of San Francisco, imagined into reality by Weta Digital, the visual effects team that also helped breathe immersive realism into a host of mythological characters in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" movies as well as the simian characters of 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Last summer at WWDC 2013, The Foundry demonstrated MARI, its 3D modeling software, and announced plans to port the advanced software (which originated at Weta) to Apple's OS X to take advantage of new Mac Pro hardware.

Matt Reeves, the director of Weta's latest "Dawn" production, joined Weta's Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon along with the new movie's cast members Andy Serkis, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke and Terry Notary in addressing questions about the production after a special media screening. The film opens on July 11.

An iPad offers a gripping performance

At one point in the movie, "Dreyfus," a bereaved widower thrust into a leadership role, played by Gary Oldman, recovers the use of an iPad. Once charged, it pulls up a series of photos portraying the family members he lost in the viral outbreak and chaotic warfare that establish the bleak setting of the film.

Incidentally, it wasn't just Oldman's character on screen that interacts with iOS. In front of the media, Oldman (along with other cast members) took out an iPhone 5s and placed it on the table, face down and Apple logo up, during the question and answer session.

Oldman has famously appeared in advertisements for the Android-based HTC M8 phone, telling TV audiences (literally) "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" before adding, "It doesn't matter what I say, because the new HTC is designed for people who form their own opinions. So go on then, ask the Internet."

The apparent inability of HTC's endorsement dollars (reportedly in the millions) to "form" Oldman's own opinion on the most desirable smartphone was embarrassingly similar to a series of parallel situations involving Samsung, where various athletes and celebrities have dropped sponsored Android devices for an iPhone shortly after getting paid.

On the big screen, the emotionally charged, tear jerking scene where Oldman flips through family photos on an iPad might also raise eyebrows among certain tech nerds who are aware that just a few months after Apple released iOS 7 last fall, more than 89 percent of all Apple devices had applied the update.

iOS 7 is readily apparent because it replaces iOS' bevels and drop shadows that first debuted on the original iPhone in 2007 with a clean new look featuring Jony Ive's design themes of "deference, clarity and depth."

Set at least a decade into the future, the appearance of iOS 6 in the new film seems oddly out of place, but of course production of the film began long before the update was released and then rapidly adopted by users in the real world. Set at least a decade into the future, the appearance of iOS 6 in the new film seems oddly out of place

The subtle anachronism of iOS 6 springs from the screen (well, at least for some of us techies) because everything else in the movie, from apes riding on horseback to spectacular battle scenes to the touching interactions visible in the often unspoken communication between characters— many of which are digitally fabricated— are all presented with such immersive and convincing reality that there's little else to distract from one's suspension of disbelief throughout the visually stunning and emotionally gripping blockbuster.

At the media event, AppleInsider was on hand to poise a question to the cast members, and so jumped to ask if they felt challenged to present their characters— members of a society that have been hanging on to a fragile existence in a tattered society for several years— while at the same time appearing beautiful and wearing sharp looking (and freshly laundered) clothing.

Every one of the A-List actors extemporaneously delivered a considered take on how they approached their roles, noting, for example, that one of the themes of the movie explored the efforts by both human and ape societies to "create a culture," with cleanliness being an important part of their efforts to create a viable civilization.

Equally impressive to the acting talent is the engineering work by Weta that embellished scenes with both synthetic characters and— in many cases— seamlessly "blended" portrayals which digitally stitched together performances by actors and their stunt doubles in a boundary-pushing new technical frontier of sophisticated film editing.

Director Matt Reeves detailed how filming the work required multiple passes, including a "plate" reshoot that films the background without actors, along with reference and clean passes to enable subsequent editing to include additional creatures and a transformation of the San Francisco setting.

At one point, Reeves noted that the footage captured over a year of working on various shots built up toward "a huge leap of faith," at times creating challenges where he "wasn't sure if the movie was going to work."

Weta technology provided advanced solutions to artistic problems, adapting what was formerly considered simple "motion capture" into modern "motion performance," where the emotionally expressive facial cues and body movements of an actor are mapped onto the design of a fictional character and reflected in their very different physical structure, right down to the hairs making up the apes' fur.

As Weta's Letteri noted, the new movie is "by far the most challenging performance capture we've ever done." Audiences will have an opportunity to experience the new film the weekend after next when it opens in the U.S. on July 11.