NEW YORK – While films like Shrek and Final Fantasy have wowed audiences with their advances in digital technology, Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes relies on good old-fashioned needle, thread and makeup to make its lead apes come to life.
But will today's savvy movie audiences buy into the masks, or are they too addicted to the slick look of computer-generated animation to go for people wearing ape suits?
"It's pretty frightening because they looked so real," said Christine Cantella, costume buyer for Planet of the Apes. "[The actors] went to monkey school, and learned to move like monkeys and gorillas. Everything about this is real. You can't duplicate that on a computer."
In the movie, which opens Friday, six-time Academy Award-winner for makeup Rich Baker articulated the actor's masks to make their expressions visible — quite a contrast to Cornelius' and Zira's stiff lips and immobile cheeks in the 1968 original.
Shrek, on the other hand, was a technological breakthrough because of the stylized human characteristics of its animated creatures. According to the official movie site (www.shrek.com) the crew "created a complex facial animation system that encompassed everything from bone and muscle movement to the skin's natural reaction to light."
But even with all the advances in technology, some experts say nothing beats reality.
"In order for theater to work effectively, there must be some identification which takes place between the audience and the characters," said Jerry Tartaglia, a film professor at Adelphi University. "I believe that the average person has an easier time identifying with characters who have very human qualities, like 'Chewy' in Star Wars."
Others say its the subject matter that determines whether animation is convincing. "I think audiences feel comfortable with animated characters, as long as it is kid-oriented, like Disney Movies," said Tom Hutchinson, computer graphics supervisor for Planet of the Apes. "I have yet to see a successful CG (computer graphics) movie that is not geared toward either children or families."
Computer imagery is less successful in films such as Final Fantasy, which are aimed at older audiences, Hutchinson said.
Animator Robert Baldwin, whose past projects include Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles, believes digital animation isn't yet sophisticated enough to replace expert makeup.
"Right now, Planet of the Apes is only really achievable with makeup," he said. "The ability to do fur in CGI is only now coming into maturity. In Final Fantasy, only one character had flowing hair (Aki), and everyone else had a military style haircut."
Whether the characters are animated or made up with fake fur and spirit gum, the main ingredients in making a compelling film never changes, according to Hutchinson
"Successful movies have a great storyline and effects to go with it," Hutchinson said. "The Perfect Storm and Twister had ground-breaking effects, but the storylines were mediocre."
In the end, it all comes down to the "feeling" one gets while watching a movie, in observing how a character walks and talks.
Tartaglia is one of those movie-goers who prefers the personal touch of an actor in costume to special effects.
"Computer generated characters, while they may have some attributes with which humans can identify, ultimately lack the sense of 'soul' as in a human," he said.
Planet of the Apes is distributed by 20th Century Fox, which is owned by News Corp. The company also owns Fox News Channel, which operates FOXNews.com.