Planet Of The Apes' Groundbreaking Makeup Was A Literal Nightmare For One Of Its Stars

The nearly 60-year long "Planet of the Apes" film series runs the gamut in terms of quality. You have a masterpiece like the original 1968 film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, an utter catastrophe in the 2001 remake by Tim Burton, and everything in between. That being said, there's one thing that basically every film succeeds in, and that is the look of the apes themselves. Whether it's through revolutionary makeup techniques or extremely impressive performance capture technology, the rendering of these characters is distinctive and believable. Even the aforementioned 2001 catastrophe sports truly mind-blowing prosthetic work by Rick Baker that was rudely dismissed by the Academy.

As someone who is always going to prefer tactility in filmmaking, I gravitate more towards the makeup work than the performance capture, and it all comes from my admiration for the designs by John Chambers, who won an honorary Oscar for his work on "Planet of theĀ Apes" because the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category didn't exist yet. The prosthetics were a rather ingenious design. There would be a full face piece that would cover the eyebrows, nose, mouth, and chin. For the principal ape characters, they would then apply a more traditional makeup to the rest of the face before adding the hair pieces that would cover the cheeks and circle the whole head. The background ape performers, due to time and money, were given overhead, inarticulate ape masks instead.

Maintaining these prosthetics during production was not easy, and they worked around the clock to constantly make new pieces. John Chambers, Thomas R. Burman, and the whole makeup team were working overtime. Also stress-inducing is actually wearing all these prosthetics, and Kim Hunter, who played Dr. Zira in the original film, ended up feeling that stress on an unconscious level.

When a nap goes wrong

Agreeing to sign onto a picture that requires you to spend countless hours encased in prosthetic makeup sounds like an absolute nightmare to be. Kim Hunter played one of the leads in the film, which meant she would be encased in those prosthetics for an extremely long stretch of time. I don't just mean the weeks of production, but each shooting day too; she revealed in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation that she would arrive to set at 4 A.M. everyday and wouldn't be home until 9 P.M. Just brutal.

As Hunter was working so many hours, it was only natural that she'd try to sneak in a nap when she could. She did so when they were waiting for the sun one day, which meant lying flat on her back covered in ape makeup. She woke up due to a horrifying nightmare. Hunter told Cinefantastique magazine back in 1972:

"[E]ven asleep, your subconscious is aware of what is on, of these appliances that are on your face. In my dream, I knew from the neck up that I was a chimpanzee. My panic was that I couldn't see over the face to find out if the rest of me had become chimpanzee, whether I was human from the neck down, and I was never so frightened in my life ... I woke up and I was shaking. It took quite sometime to find myself again."

Remarkably, she agreed to do two more "Planet of the Apes" films, probably due in part to this role being her big comeback after being unjustly blacklisted. I don't know if I'd be strong enough to return for another film after a nightmare like that, or even the next day's filming. Good on Kim Hunter for pushing through.