There’s something uncanny about apes and the notion of them running the world. No, scratch that, more than uncanny, there’s something downright freaky about it. And it certainly captivates us. The story of Planet of the Apes first emerged as a novel (in French) called La Planète des Singes by award-winning novelist Pierre Boulle.
Legend has it that Boulle was inspired by the human-like expressions of gorillas at the zoo. This prompted him to contemplate the relationship between man and ape. The end result? The novel, and then the birth of the hit science fiction movies that sometimes haunt our notions of the future. Popular Everything will now take you behind the scenes to have a look at rare shots of Planet of the Apes in the making. Grab a banana and Enjoy!
Getting Down to Monkey Business
In the 1960s, Boulle’s agent pitched La Planète des Singes to American producer Arthur P. Jacobs who happened to be in Paris looking for production ideas. Having just turned down a pitch for King Kong, when he heard the story of La Planète des Singes, he surprisingly got fired up. The creative juices started flowing, and thus Planet of the Apes kicked off.
Actually, the kick-off wasn’t that snappy. Although Jacobs himself was intrigued and fell in love with the idea, filmmakers seemed to take their time monkey-ing around with it. Only after three years did filmmakers take a real interest and agree to take on the project. Turned out to be a good call.
A Change of Seasons
In the 1960s, change was in the air. With the rise of the counterculture, inspired by the Woodstock festival, the world was in the midst of a revolution. This also penetrated the film industry. New things were being tried. Ambitions were being realized. And Planet of the Apes is a prime example.
But physical seasonal changes were also an important factor. When it got really hot, the cast and crew could take off some layers. But this solution obviously didn’t apply to those wearing ape masks. Although they were designed to be porous and breathable, the masks still posed a comfort challenge to the actors. Everything, throughout the scenes and in between them, had to be done with masks on.
Welcome to the Year 3978
As you probably know, Planet of the Apes is about an ape-dominated future, where humans are no longer at the top of society. The relationship between apes and men accompanied the production from its inception to its release.
In the film, the apes incarcerate the humans and tell them what to do. In an interesting point of contrast though, in the above shot, we see the director of the film, Franklin J. Schaffner giving some orders (or instructions) to some apes. This is the opposite of the paradigm we see in the film.
Inspiration and Manifestation
Inspiration for these all-too-human apes came from Boulle’s trips to the zoo. This is beautifully manifest in the costumes. The apes are indeed, well, apes, but the costumes make them look uncannily human.
This, of course, adds to the magic of the movie and seriously contributes to the main premise: apes have replaced humans as Earth’s top dogs. In the year 3978 apes are no longer behind cages while passersby gawk at their “primitivity”. In the future, humans have taken up the trade.
From Hospitals to Hollywood
Clearly, the makeup and costume artists for Planet of the Apes are hyper-talented geniuses. Leading their vanguard was John Chambers. He started his prosthetics career in a hospital – creating artificial noses, chins, ears, and other body parts for disfigured patients.
He eventually decided that he didn’t want to work in such a sad and mentally straining environment, so he decided to try his luck in Hollywood. And lucky he was. His creativity, skills, and overall genius won him the first Oscar ever given for makeup! Wow. It’s as if the Oscars had to invent a whole new category of awards just to accommodate his talent.
The Art of Artificials
No doubt, prosthetics is a serious and demanding craft – for both makeup artists and actors. Applying the ape masks was quite an ordeal, often taking up multiple hours or the better part of a day. Here, a makeup artist puts the finishing touches on Cornelius, played by Roddy McDowall.
Both look concentrated on their respective activities with their respective utensils. Sitting in a chair for hours and going about your activities while an ape-face is being plastered on you must take some getting used to!
Hey! Apes Are Cute Too!
Reportedly, one of the focuses of the costumes for Planet of the Apes was to make them totally look like apes, but also to retain as much humanness as possible. This, according to makeup mastermind John Chambers, had a couple of different goals. One of them was to emphasize the uncanny. In fiction in general when something is not quite human, but kind of close, it has a creepy effect on the viewer.
In this cool image, we see Kim Hunter having a smoke while her makeup is being done for the role of Dr. Zira. The second reason for retaining a level of humanness in the ape costumes is to preserve elements of attractiveness. Even though there is something really uncanny about this picture, you can’t say that there isn’t also something cute about it.
Setting the Scene
Most of the scenes were shot around Page, Glen Canyon, and Lake Powell, in northern Arizona. The scenes in the movie range from forest to plains to cities, so Arizona was perfect as it offers quite a diverse range of scenery. In this picture, we can see members of the cast and crew setting up for a shooting session.
The city, or more accurately, the ape village, where much of the movie takes place, was built in Malibu Creek State Park just north-west of Los Angeles. Some other scenes were filmed in Malibu. The sunny weather there provided the filmmakers with consistent great conditions for filming.
Making Planet of the Apes was an ambitious project. In the end, however, it certainly paid off. In the films, the apes generally treat humans very poorly. The whole premise is pretty bleak in general. It even draws on Cold War-inspired themes. Namely, that humans destroyed the world in a nuclear confrontation, and brought about the demise of society.
One of the beautiful things about digging deep into the behind-the-scenes happenings of the production is that we get the opportunity to see a nice contrast. Even though the film does deal with a heavy subject matter, the crew and cast can often be seen having a jolly time. In the above picture, on the left we see John Chambers goofing around with the cast. On the right, we see Dr. Zaius, played by Maurice Evans, chilling and enjoying a smoke.
Overcoming Some Difficulties
In the end, Planet of the Apes turned into an iconic hit and cult classic. But this doesn’t mean that it was always smooth sailing. For one, the budget – from the start – was estimated to be at about six million dollars. No small sum in the 1960s (or now). Another concern was how to provide costumes for over 200 actors, including ape-dressed extras.
The film was made before the days of computer-generated imagery, so this meant that every single costume for every single ape had to be made by hand. Thankfully, John Chambers, as the absolute god of disguises, was able to pull it off to a remarkably successful degree.
The Evolution of Movie Makeup
One thing that can be said for sure is that making Planet of the Apes required the crew and cast to navigate a sharp learning curve. In many regards, the art of makeup and disguise was still in its infancy. Here, we see actor Maurice Evans sitting through a painstakingly long makeup session. Over the subsequent years, efficiency and speed of makeup application improved, but at the beginning, it was super difficult for all artists.
One of the difficult parts of the makeup craft for this legendary film was making sure the masks were constructed and applied in a way where the actors could still talk clearly. Not to mention eat and drink. Making the mouthpieces was especially difficult to get right.
The Requirements of Realism
One of the issues filmmakers and producers worried about was how to create the costumes and the settings in such a way that they didn’t look ridiculous. There are a lot of things to take into account here, and this proved to be a big challenge.
Costume lord John Chambers was worried that with the demand to make the ape masks look kind of human, but also creepy, in the end, they would look silly. Innumerous hours were spent thinking of how to design the masks so that they fit snuggly in between the scary, the human, and the far-fetched. In the above picture, we can see Chambers reviewing some of the masks with another member of the production crew.
Allegories and Trailers
The story of Planet of the Apes is certainly deep. It includes many complex sociological and political elements. It makes us question our place in the world and makes us wonder what our future has in store for us. How does this translate to activities for the cast and crew?
Franklin J. Schaffer, the director of the film, was a true perfectionist. It was not uncommon for him to call it a wrap and spend the rest of the day revising parts of the script, story, or setting. Sometimes, the actors could be in costume for the whole day while waiting for the filming to resume. In this great picture, we see Dr. Zaius, played by Maurice Evans, chilling out, living life, and waiting to get back to work.
The Art of Secrecy
From the get-go, the makers of Planet of the Apes emphasized secrecy and tried extremely hard to maintain the element of surprise. They knew they were on to something big and exciting, so they went through great lengths to keep their competitors in the dark.
Especially when it came to costumes and makeup, the creators were very anxious about their secrets being discovered. The makers were incredibly strict when it came to the flow of information on and off of the set. Actors and crew were pretty much required to take an oath of secrecy, and no pictures were permitted to be published until the film premiered.
From Novel to Cultural Pillar
When Planet of the Apes made its debut, it was instantly met with critical acclaim. By many, it’s considered one of (if not ‘the’) strongest films of the 1960s. The film was praised for its ingenuity when it comes to costume and story.
Its stunning box-office reception went on to prompt the creation of four more Planet of the Apes films throughout the 1970s. Possibly the most novel element in the production was the innovative costume creation. Don’t forget the origins: Planet of the Apes started as a French novel, and smashed its way into pop culture!
Where Are We at Today?
Today, in 2020, we’ve come a long way since making hundreds of foam and spirit gum ape masks for a movie. These days, we have computer-generated imagery, we have a huge selection of silicone products, and we have the full arsenal of 21st century Hollywood props available.
But hey, the filmmakers and actors obviously nailed it using what they had. Keep in mind that although for us 2020 readers, these pictures are “vintage,” the costume technology we see in them was cutting edge. It was literally history in the making.
The Planet of the Apes project was a huge undertaking. It started with a super high budget. The makeup and costume demands were insane. The story was deep and dystopic. But thankfully the crew and cast were 100% on board from day one.
Everyone reports that although the production was challenging, the people involved were extremely helpful and each did his or her part to facilitate the making of the cinematic masterpiece. In the amusing frame (left), we see Dr. Zaius, played by Maurice Evans, contributing more than acting: he even taking part in the costume process by painting his own nails! On the right hand, we can see him chilling on set.
Initially, the role of Dr. Zira was offered to Ingrid Bergman. But after some consideration, she turned down the role. The role was then offered to Kim Hunter, who can be seen here during one of the film’s infamous makeup sessions. Hunter eagerly took up the offer and went on to become a superstar.
Bergman later confided to her daughter that she deeply regrets turning down the role. She was surprised at the film’s huge success and she laments the fact that she gave up the opportunity to work with now acclaimed actors and crew.
All the King’s Apes
Before the birth of computer-generated imagery, moviemakers were required to find actual people to fill all the extra roles. Since Planet of the Apes takes place within a full-fledged ape society, tons of extras were required. Over 200 to be precise. Although their roles were mostly seen in the background, the extra actors still needed to play by the rules.
The extras were good sports, as they too sat through extensive makeup sessions. Everyone, including the extras, was required to wear their masks even during breaks because the masks took so long to put on and take off. All of the actors’ meals were liquified and fed to them through a straw. Talk about taking your job seriously!
Not for Everyone
The iconic role of Dr. Zaius was originally supposed to be played by Edward G. Robinson. But once he started learning about the production process, he started to get cold feet. He quickly decided that the complex makeup and costume proceedings were just too much for him to handle.
He eventually renounced the role, and it was offered to Maurice Evans – who jumped on it. Maurice proved to be a huge sport when it came to the makeup process. He was a patient and professional player, calmly sitting through the hundreds (or thousands) of makeup.
Living and Breathing the Costume
By the time the Planet of the Apes idea hit Hollywood, Roddy McDowall, who played Cornelius, was already an experienced actor. In order to encourage his fellow actors to realize their roles, he reportedly told them to make a point of scratching, scrunching up the faces and blinking frequently (to seem realistic).
Legend has it that once McDowall finished the makeup process for the day, he became a real prankster. He allegedly even drove around with his mask on, shocking his fellow motorists. As we see above, the textures of the masks looked very realistic and ape-like. He probably gave some people a good scare.
On Mingling, or Monkey-ing Around
An essential part of any creative process is the connection between art and artist. Crew members need to put themselves in the actors’ masks, and actors should put themselves in the crew’s shoes. On the set of Planet of the Apes, this quality really shines through. Relationships and friendships were formed, and the actors even contributed to the writing of the storyline.
Linda Harrison (Nova) and producer Richard D. Zanuck ended up married with children. Charlton Heston (George Taylor) even ended up influencing the decision about which of three possible endings to choose. In this photo, we can see the actors mingling with the crew. It looks like Heston is even giving the producer some kind of pointer.
Acting Takes a Little Bit of Sacrifice
Making Planet of the Apes was not an easy undertaking. Huge budgets, long hours, crazy makeup sessions, and intricate scenery requirements were difficult challenges all the participants had to overcome. Back in the 1960s, smoking cigarettes was ubiquitous. But it was pretty much impossible to comfortably and safely get the cigarette up to your lips if you had an ape mask on.
As a solution, the actors were given cigarette holders, making them (see above) look like rather posh primates. Kim Hunter, who played Dr. Zira, found the mask so claustrophobic that she took a valium each morning to cope.
Almost all iconic movies have their own sweetheart. Star Wars has Princess Leia. Marry Poppins has, well, Marry Poppins. In some sense, no Hollywood blockbuster is complete without its Hollywood honey. Planet of the Apes features bombshell Nova, played by Linda Harrison, who never disappointed us.
Here we see Harrison smiling away at us while she’s on set in between scenes. During the production process, she was actually pregnant with producer Richard D. Zanuck’s child. But she didn’t start showing until the end of the production.
Days at the Zoo
Pierre Boulle, the French novelist who wrote La Planète des Singes, the story on which Planet of the Apes is based, took inspiration from observing apes at the zoo. John Chambers, the mastermind of the production’s costumes, also was inspired by real-life apes.
Getting ready for the production process, he frequented the zoo, where he closely observed gorillas, baboons, and chimpanzees in order to make the masks as realistic as possible. Chamber’s empirical observation skills, combined with his renowned talent for creating prosthetic ears, noses, and other body parts came together to give us the evolutionary masks worn in the film.
Pros of the Props
Before computer-generated imagery, all props and costumes were made entirely by hand. Of course, the masks and makeup were a real ordeal. But also, we shouldn’t forget about the sets. Many of the locations involved intricate buildings, landscape modifications, and technology.
Making all of the different materials involved in the production was a serious business. In the above shot, we get a little taste of the complexity involved. We see the crew working on a semi-submerged piece of the ship that crash-landed. This behemoth was of course made from real steel, wood, and plastic – no computers here.
No Expenses Barred
In the 1960s it was unusual for movie projects to be so ambitious. Planet of the Apes involved many aspects that were exorbitantly expensive to render. Costumes, set materials, and long hours were all elements that went into the process, making things pricey.
Also, some of the actors were already sort of high profile, meaning they too didn’t come cheap. For example, the screen test for Charlton Heston (seen above) cost $5,000. Which, taking inflation into account, is about $37,000 today. A screen test is about 3 minutes long…
Dichotomies and Differences
Everyone involved in the production of Planet of the Apes had a different job that contributed to the end product. But when looking at these intriguing photos from behind the scenes, it’s also interesting to think about the contrasts that existed between the expectations of various participants.
Hollywood actors and producers in high profile movies are always paid extremely high salaries. And this was no exception during the times of Planet of the Apes. Filmers, builders, technicians, and other off-set personnel are typically paid less. Actors, though, arguably had the toughest job. When most members of the crew come to work in casual clothes, actors playing apes needed to go through entire days wearing sweltering masks.
No Shortage of Down Time
Planet of the Apes, in the 1960s, was innovative. This meant, among other things, that participants involved in the production needed to be accommodating to a dynamic and shifting work-environment. The shooting took place at various locations in multiple states, for example.
But with the dynamic work environment, also came lots and lots of downtime. It was not uncommon for one part of the production (writers for example) to devote a lot of time to redoing part of the movie on the spot. This meant that the other people involved had to simply wait around. Sometimes for the whole day. Tough luck for the apes. Above, we see one of these waiting-around sessions in progress.
Castes of the Cast and Crew
The apes in Planet of the Apes include gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans (and humans). Interestingly, on set, the actors tended to segregate themselves according to ape species. Gorillas hung out with gorillas, chimps with chimps, and so on. Apparently, there was no push from the makers for this to happen: it just sort of fell into place.
The main theme in the movie is the social disparity between apes and humans. Apes rule the world and the humans that make their way to their society end up at a status that is worse than second-class citizenship. Therefore it’s interesting that during the production, we see cases of segregation according to species.
Cameras: Then and Now
In the 1960s, when Planet of the Apes was filmed, cameras were analog rather than digital. This means that rather than digitally capturing and storing the film, cameras back then shot on film stock. This conjures up thoughts of projectors and big reels of film, which is exactly the case here. Large productions usually required boxes that were used for storing the physical film.
This contrasts sharply with our modern cameras, which require a simple file on the computer to store the footage. The list of differences between cameras then and now is extensive. Differences in required storage space, size of the devices, quality, ease of use, and price are all things that make us realize how far we’ve come in terms of cinematography equipment.
After starting with a huge budget, around 6 million dollars, it quickly became clear that more resources would be required. Because the project involved such ambitious aspects – intricate sets and costumes for 200 people, for example – the budget needed to be expanded.
When the budget was increased and there still wasn’t enough money, the producers needed to start taking some shortcuts. Costume King John Chamber, for instance, was asked to just provide the background apes with simpler masks (that were nonetheless complex), rather than sitting each extra down for an hours-long makeup session. In the end, it paid off. The Box Office revenue was about 33 million dollars!
Setting the Scene for Dystopia
The story of Planet of the Apes is certainly dystopic. Humans screw up the world through nuclear confrontations and permanently destroy the future. Fast forward over 2000 years: apes rule the world. With a dystopic narrative, a dystopic setting is a must. Most of the scenes are shot in Arizona and California. For the dystopic flavor to really come through, Arizona was absolutely perfect.
Much of the Arizona landscape offers vast expanses of desert and desolate-looking scenery. For significant parts of the film, characters are wandering around the terra firma, with not another soul in sight. Another nice touch that contributed to the science fiction vibe is the almost moon-like or otherworldly landscape Arizona provided. Only at the end of the film do we find out that the whole movie actually takes place on Earth.
Materials, Masks, and Molds
For Planet of the Apes, John Chambers, master of costumes, broke barriers, pushed the limits of Hollywood and defined new standards for costume design. The name of the game was realism. As you can see in the close up below, the textures of the masks looked freakishly life-like.
They used lots of foam. They also used spirit gum, which is an alcohol-based adhesive. These materials were not hard to come by, and they were generally inexpensive. But without the magical hands of Mr. Chambers, and the diligent work of his personally-trained army of co-artists, none of it would have been possible.
Eating, Smoking, Drinking, and More
It’s clear that the masks used in Planet of the Apes were innovative, even revolutionary for their time. But this didn’t come for free. In fact, many of the actors reported that they presented lots of challenges. Eating was difficult, to say the least. Actors often needed their food to be liquified. Drinks needed to be served through long straws. Sometimes consuming food and drink made a huge mess.
As we see in the above image, eating was sometimes more easily done in front of a mirror. Smoking too was difficult. People smoked all the time, and the actors were given cigarette holders. Unfortunately, when the actors smoked, smoke would get trapped and form residue inside the mask, further contributing to their claustrophobic feel.
Concern and Vindications
There were a lot of reservations swirling around before the production actually set off. The first draft on the script was deemed largely unusable, and new writers consequently had to be brought on board to continue the project. There were also apprehensions about the unique costumes: filmmakers feared they would look ridiculous in the end. In those days, in the 1960s, talking apes were considered to be the stuff of B-movies.
There were also doubts about the extensive set requirements. At first, producers toyed with the idea of having the apes live in an advanced futuristic society. But the project leaders soon realized this would add further demands to an already-demanding undertaking. Therefore it was decided that the apes would live in a sort of backward theocratic society, in villages, and among rather desolate landscapes. But the movie ultimately did excellently!
A Prodigy Is Born
John Chambers is the master architect of the costumes and masks in Planet of the Apes, but with over 200 people to turn into apes, he couldn’t have done it all by himself. Among his apprentices was Ken Chase. Chambers soon realized that Chase had major talent and sharp skills, so he gave him near-complete autonomy when it came to designing and implementing the costume scheme for Dr. Zaius (played by Maurice Evans).
There were multiple types of apes in the movie: chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Dr. Zaius (seen above) was an orangutan and he was one of the leading roles. Chase designed the mask from start to finish. It was no small task to design and put the mask on because it required real originality and creativity – two areas where Chase obviously shined.
Enemies on Film, Friends on Set
Central to Planet of the Apes is the divide between apes and humans. The apes rule the world, and the humans are treated very poorly; abused and enslaved. This brings up an interesting disparity. On camera, apes and humans are obviously enemies. But when one looks behind the scenes, a totally different picture emerges.
Apes and humans get along great! Actors playing ape roles went through intense hours-long makeup sessions, and then they had to wear the costumes all day. So when we look at these pics from the production, it’s common to see apes and humans shmoozing and chilling out together between shooting sessions.
Science Fiction in Motion
During the 1960s, science fiction as a genre was undergoing a transformation. Prior to the release of the Planet of the Apes, science fiction as a suitable genre for Hollywood films started to show viability with the release of Fantastic Voyage. Planet of the Apes, which originated from a novel by Pierre Boulle, showed real science fiction potential.
Costumes were made to look like a mix between tribalistic and futuristic, for example. And the producers and designers really nailed it. On lots of the apes’ clothing, we can see various forms of strange insignia and writing. This element emphasizes both the human element of the apes, and the science fiction flavor of the story. When paying attention, the viewer can notice all sorts of these interesting little details throughout the film.
Opportunities Not Missed
By the time producers started casting for Planet of the Apes, some of the actors were already known. Charlton Heston, for example (left), had already played in multiple roles in Hollywood films. In fact, when he heard about the idea for the film, he read Boulle’s novel on which the film was based. He was not impressed, but he still agreed to take the role.
Roddy McDowall, too, was already sort of well known, having played in successful productions such as The Twilight Zone. Once the production got going, he was enthusiastically on board. He even worked in an advisory capacity for the other actors playing apes. He worked hard to emphasize realism – going to the zoo to study apes, and diligently taking note of their quirks.
Don’t Forget the Humans!
A central element in Planet of the Apes is the dynamic between apes and the lower caste of beings: humans. In the movie, the lead human roles – those of George Taylor, Dodge, and last but not least, Nova, were performed by Charlton Heston, Robert Gunner, and Linda Harrison, respectively.
Linda Harrison became romantically involved with one of the producers, Richard D. Zanuck, during the movie-making. After the production, they got married and had two children. In the above picture, Harrison is photographed smiling away during production. Some of these actors were already successful, but Planet of the Apes propelled them to superstardom.