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About The Production (Cont'd)

"I rescued George when he was two years old. He's not just a friend. He's family." - Davis

"I've had the pleasure of sharing the screen with a lot of phenomenal actors, but never a gorilla," Johnson says.

For the film's central relationship to ring true in a meaningful way, it was vital that audiences accept George as Davis does: a genuine personality, thoughtful, playful, loving and funny, or suddenly angry and frightened. For Peyton, that meant a performance-capture character through which an actor could convey the level of emotion to bring this animal fully to life on screen.

"I do a lot of effects-driven movies," the director says, "but I'm still a big fan of shooting as much as I can in-camera. And since the most important dynamic in this movie is between Davis and George, to not build things around two actors in those roles seemed foolhardy. I want audiences to fall in love with George." To that end, Peyton cast performance-capture actor Jason Liles, noting, "We took a scan of his face and put it into George, so George's eyes are Jason's eyes, George's expressions are Jason's expressions."

One of the many benefits of this approach is the humor and light-heartedness Liles imbues in the character, especially in the beginning of the story. "George is like a teenager in many ways," says renowned visual effects supervisor Colin Strause, reuniting here with Peyton after their "San Andreas" collaboration. "George is a prankster. He has a lot of private jokes with Davis and that's something Jason very believably expresses. Despite George's extraordinary physical transformation, you can't treat him like a visual effect."

Strause employed an optical capture system involving a surround-set of 32 cameras tuned to the reflective surfaces of the mo-cap suit as well as four so-called witness cameras, standard feature lenses used for backup reference. Watching the sequence play out on a screen, they then knew how big he would be compared to the other set pieces in a scene, to be sure all the movements sync up.

At times when Johnson, Harris, or another of the cast interacted with overgrown versions of George against a green-screen setup, Peyton would raise Liles onto a platform so they could maintain eye contact with him rather than with an inanimate placeholder.

Liles trained extensively with stunt performer and movement coach Terry Notary, known for the "Planet of the Apes" films, to learn how to sit, stand, and present himself like a gorilla-as much a psychological as a physical process, incorporating beats of stillness and the conscious use of energy. Additionally, Liles wore prosthetics to extend his forearms.

Complicating matters was the fact that the 6-foot, 9-inch actor was constantly adjusting for George's evolving bulk. Peyton affirms, "Depending on whether you're playing a 500-pound, a 1000-pound or an 18,000-pound gorilla, it changes how you move to represent that. "Beyond that, there's the acting, and the pacing, as any other actor would do. It's a lot to keep track of. Jason worked his butt off for us, he did a masterful job and it really paid off."

Two months prior to production, the filmmakers reached out to Tara Stoinski, CEO and Chief Scientific Officer at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, to consult about such things as personality and behavior, as well as to gain a greater understanding of the status of the species around the world. The Fossey foundation is attached to the Atlanta Zoo, which houses the country's largest captive gorilla population. The filmmaking team spent time here as well, as did Liles, observing and consulting with additional experts.

Additionally, the production enlisted sign language coach Paul Kelly to teach Liles and Johnson what they needed to know, as this is how George converses with his human friend. Kelly also worked closely with Notary because gorillas signing is often modified and simpler, owing to their limited dexterity. For certain words that have no standard sign, like "poacher," Kelly substituted something appropriate, like "hunter," and then cut that to "hunt," which would be enough for Davis and George to get their point across.

To offer input for the lab scenes' layout and protocol, the filmmakers also brought in chemical and bioengineer James Dahlman, whose specialty was in vivo gene editing at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, as the production's genetic lab tech advisor.


The film's biggest set piece is the climactic battle that tears up 10 square blocks of a partially evacuated downtown Chicago as audiences have never seen-assuming they've never seen a gargantuan mutant crocodile scaling a skyscraper and a 13-ton airborne wolf shooting spines from its tail. "Using the CRISPR technology gave us a lot of creative latitude. Not only do we have three monstrous creatures in this movie, but they are continually growing and taking on new strengths and abilities that weren't there to start with," says Rickard.

At their peak growth, the ravenous wolf is 50 feet high and 85 feet long, weighing in at 13.8 tons, while the croc clocks in at 60.7 feet by 225, and an astonishing 150 tons, with jaws that crush through buildings and vehicles like they were cotton candy.

A significant amount of the battlefield was laid out to scale in physical sets across the 30- acre backlot of Third Rail Studios in Atlanta-formerly a GM assembly plant-which served as the production's home base. The rest was digitally expanded. A team including renowned aerial cinematographer Fred North traveled to Chicago to capture detailed visuals around which the production then constructed their sets.

Weta Digital's team, led by VFX Supervisor Erik Winquist, were exclusively responsible for the creatures, while Hydraulx VFX, co-founded by Colin Strause, handled almost everything else. The goal was for the actors to interact with CG monsters and great slabs of falling concrete, steel and glass as realistically as possible, with tangible foreground and mid-ground settings blending into deeper background extensions because, as much as Peyton commits to putting moviegoers into the thrill of the action, he likes to do the same for his cast.

When it came to the creatures attacking the tower where Davis and Kate are trapped with Claire and Brett Wyden, Strause says, "We built almost 70% of the rooftop. It had green screen all around it for the digital extensions but it was a three-and-a-half-story set, and the whole thing was engineered to shake. Everything moved." In the scene where George is jumping up and tearing off the antenna, amidst an ongoing military assault with A-10 jet fighters, he says, "we were throwing real pieces of debris at the actors and it really looked like it was all coming down on them."

Peyton recalls, "At one point, I turned to Dwayne and asked, 'Have you ever done anything on this scale before?' and he said 'No, brother, I have never done anything like this.' This is taking the training wheels off, pushing it to the limit, and let's go for it."

From the actors' standpoint, Johnson says, "It was invaluable, because when there is visible destruction all around, twisted metal, concrete, and smoke machines, and a great crew to make sure everything is right and everything is safe, that's as good as it gets for a performer. You're in it. You're experiencing it as much as you can within the world of acting."

Strause, who worked closely throughout with director of photography Jaron Presant and production designer Barry Chusid-both fellow "San Andreas" alums-outlines some of the process involving Federal Plaza: "It's an entire city block, plus side streets, and our backlot was large enough so we could lay it out to scale. We took the pre-viz and figured out where the humans would be-not the creature shots, because they were all digital-and mapped everyone's path from an overhead view. The art department then broke it into regions, or islands, that we could rotate, and we worked with Barry to spread them out so Jaron could get the lighting and gear around them. They looked like completely disconnected pieces, but they were all parts of the puzzle."

Further integrating the real and digital, Strause says, "We used a system called N-Cam, which is a little virtual camera system that attaches to the front of your film camera that can show you the CG extension in real time on the set. So, once you get it lined up, whenever you tilt up, you can see in the viewfinder the green screen with Dwayne, or the CG structures, or the animals, which is helpful because when you're shooting a huge space with a very tall creature and small humans in the foreground, you have to make sure you won't be looking at the creature's knees in every shot. Dwayne is going to look amazing, but he has to look amazing with a 50-foot wolf and a 40-foot gorilla in the background, and if you can't focus on everything at the same time you won't be able to tie him into the action correctly."

Chusid comments, "I love working with Brad because he's so specific. We go from the script to the 3D model, and then move through that to figure out where his shots are and what's achievable. We do boards and pre-viz, we build the set, and if there are stunts we have [supervising stunt coordinator] Allan Poppleton figuring out the choreography while we're building it. We worked with Colin to position the creatures and everything we can't see, and also with practical effects for things like the C-17 plane, because that's a big plane and we have to build it somewhere and there's not enough room on the stage."

The plane was constructed on the studio's backlot in both its full form and a truncated section that could turn on a gimbal to a 60-degree angle. In the scene, an explosion blows a huge hole in its side, causing the plane to nosedive with Davis, Kate, George, and an unconscious Agent Russell aboard.

With flames and other effects added in post, Peyton says, "I wanted to shoot as much as possible in camera, and then just enhance it in post. The actors and the stunt team were suspended from cables, and Dwayne ricochets around the plane from one precarious handhold to another while objects are flying past. We had massive fans blowing, that were so loud the cast and crew had to shout to be heard. It was very complex, especially with George running wild and all the rigging that required. It took months of planning, but was absolutely worth it."

"Brad loves working with actors. He really listens. And when it comes to the technical side of things, he's brilliant," Flynn sums up. "He understands the camera, the lighting, the visual effects, every detail, and he prepares to the nth degree; he leaves nothing on the field. This is our third movie together, and I think he's one of the best action directors in the business."

For Peyton and the entire filmmaking team, the goal was to drive "Rampage" with fun, thrills, immersive action and spectacle-a fitting homage to the game, executed on a massive scale. That was their mandate and inspiration from day one. But, amidst all that, they never lose sight of the central themes of trust, loyalty, and friendship, which are woven not only throughout the story but into the film's score, from composer Andrew Lockington.

"The film moves through so many different moods: it's funny, moving, scary; there's adventure and peril. As a composer, to explore that breadth of emotion and contrast in the music is a real privilege," says Lockington, marking his fourth feature with fellow Canadian Peyton. Lockington incorporated some non-traditional elements, including The African Children's Choir, and Japanese Taiko drums, as well as the striking vocalizations of howler monkeys he recorded in Costa Rica, about which he says, "If you put that through electronics and ring modulators and stretch it out, the sound is fantastic. Also, the video game had a sound effect whenever the gorilla would punch a building. That type of sound wouldn't have made sense for the movie in its original form, but we synthesized our own 8-bit sound and incorporated it into the percussion."

The score moves from the natural to more electronically influenced as the story progresses, reflecting how the modern world is modifying the animal world-with one exception being the connection between Davis and George. "When they're together, the music returns to a specific theme, to help show that, despite all the chaos around them, they are united and nothing can get between these two best friends," says Lockington.

Peyton, who began working with the composer in the early days of productions, says," I try to see the movie entirely finished in my head before I roll camera, and that involves not just the visual but the auditory. I think a lot about how sound design and music impacts the storytelling. With 'Rampage,' we were building our own brand and defining our own world, and a large part of that was discovering what the music will sound like, so, for me, you can never have those discussions too early.

"What it all comes down to is the kind of experience and emotion you want to present," he concludes. "With 'Rampage,' I believe audiences will get all the action they love to see from Dwayne Johnson, the biggest movie star in the world, and they'll also see his heart. I grew up in a small town where there wasn't a lot to do, and going to the movies was my escape. It was a way to feel empowered and excited, and everything you want from a big movie on the big screen. That's why I was such a huge fan as a kid, and that's why I started making films."


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