Brian Penikas and the Ape Mania Troop

This week, our next Planet of the Fans interview features Hollywood make-up artist Brian Penikas, the head ape behind the Apemania reenactment troupe! Penikas took us through how the Apes franchise helped cultivate his passion for films and movie effects, and how this passion led him to start what would become his passion project. Apemania has been performing at Planet of the Apes events all over the world since 1998, delighting fans with their authentic, fully-costumed performances that truly embrace the legacy of the franchise.

Read our inspiring conversation with him below!

What is your favorite Apes movie and why does it stand out to you?

I would have to say the very first film is my favorite of all of them--that it was the one that started it all.

I always liked how natural the characters were, each ape character especially. The look, The design, and the performances made the characters… well... believable.

The original POTA was simple and straightforward. It told its story, and told so well that, as a kid, you didn’t question the fact that the apes spoke English at all, even though they were on a different planet than earth--or so we thought.

On the same note, who is your favorite Apes character and why?

Oh they're all great. As a kid, I always wanted to create an army of gorillas on horseback terrorizing the neighborhood, because “that would be SO cool!”

The two stand outs will always be Dr. Zira and her passionate performance, especially (she owned it, and we loved her!), and Zaius. He was scary, period! He was not to be trusted and was to be feared.

Cornelius didn't get much screen time in the first film, but even so, he was very believable. Roddy and Kim's performance nuances are really amazing. Even when they were not speaking, or the center of the scene’s attention, they were keeping their characters alive and believable. And that says a great deal for a performer to be able to “act” through all that rubber and hair and bring a character to full life. Amazing.

Describe what it was like the first time you watched an Apes movie. Did it have any lasting effects on your appreciation for movies or the sci-fi franchise?

I want to say that I did not see the first film “first”. I think ESCAPE was the first one I ever saw, and that was on a television broadcast. I remember being excited that they had filmed the ending in the San Pedro warship scrapyard. I knew that area well, because my family made trips down there often. It was an exciting place to see as a kid.

I later saw the first Planet of the Apes on television, and I remember watching it on a black-and-white TV set in my bedroom after doing my Saturday lawn mowing chores. I remember totally being caught off guard by the end of the film. Did not see that ending coming at all!

And of course the social and political statement of man destroying the planet was very very relevant for the time. We were still doing "drop drills" at school and the air-raid siren tests were going off the last Friday of every month. The cold war was very much in our faces every day and the threat of nuclear annihilation was a very, VERY, real part of life back then.

And as for lasting effects or “ape-preciation,” it was really great to be part of the 30th anniversary celebration when they screened POTA at the academy. That was the first time I saw the original film on the big screen and MAN THAT WAS QUITE A NIGHT TOO! I remember, as the lights went out before the film started, thinking to myself, “ Here I am, sitting (with the Apemania team) in the very theater where they hand out the Oscars, getting ready to watch Planet of the Apes on the big screen for the first time, with Kim Hunter sitting in front of me, Chuck Heston and Roddy McDowall to the right of me, Rick Baker behind me… and I’m in a friggen apes make-up!” How surreal!!!

This year is the 50th anniversary of the franchise. How do you think these films have withstood the test of time? What is it about these films that are timeless to you?

What's interesting about the classic Planet of the Apes saga are its characters and how they're ingrained into your psyche.

Back in 2008, while we were doing a European tour for Fox for the 40th anniversary, we were at the Brandenburg gate in Berlin for a photo/video shoot with media interviews and stuff (to promote the 40th anniversary blu-ray release), and there was a large group of tourists gathering out front as we “ape-proached.”

There were these two older British ladies that, as the apes walked by, one said questioningly, as if she was testing her memory, “Cornelius?” Hearing her, I turned to her and I said. “Yes, you are correct. That is Cornelius!" She was so happy that she got the name right and proud of herself at the same time! I was the wrangler that night, not in costume, but that lady’s “personal” reaction made me think about the fact again that the first film is such a good and successful bit of storytelling that the characters, in that case 40 years later, were still remembered by people who saw the film when it originally came out! You can't say that about many new films today. Storytelling just isn't the same these days. You can walk out of a theater after seeing a film today and not remember half of the character’s names. Not the case with the original Planet of the Apes.

What about these films inspired you to create your own Planet of the Apes works? How do you hope your works have expanded or added value to the Apes universe?

Well, in the beginning for me, it was just another way to get together with friends and have fun not being ourselves! To dress up and go out in public with fellow apes fans (who are all industry professionals) it's like a great little bit of ad-lib. improv, and it's fun.

As far as value-added, we've restored so many original props and brought them back to life from disintegration for private collections and museums, that it makes me feel good to know that those items will continue to be enjoyed by folks for years and years to come.

And our work with creating screen-accurate replicas for cosplayers over the years, in a small way, has brought that childhood fantasy of building an ape army, into existence. That army has gone global--a whole lot bigger than just running up and down my childhood street! The whole cosplayer phenomenon is certainly breathing new and continued life into the apes!

So as for Apemania’s impersonations/tribute bits, again it's fun. Although it’s a great deal, an insanely great deal, of work to get them all ready for an event, it's great to see the characters in action, every time. That’s the big pay-off and thrill for me. I can't tell you how many times people come up to us when we're going-ape to tell us about fond memories and what effect the original Apes films had on them in their earlier years. It's always great to see/hear people’s reactions and interact with people who are always charmed by the classic Apes characters.

Attribution: Photos and video content belong to the Apemania acting troupe at apemania.com. Featured with permission from owners.