Fox’s campaign for Andy Serkis to receive recognition from the Academy for his motion-capture performance as the wide-eyed chimpanzee-turned fiery ape revolutionary Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a testament to the respectability that Serkis has afforded the art of mo-cap acting (that he has yet to receive such acknowledgement can be attributed to the ongoing debate over the merits of emoting through ‘computer-generated makeup’).
Before Rise was released, Serkis had begun taking steps to bring an even more ambitious allegorical story told through the eyes of anthropomorphic animals to cinematic life using mo-cap technology, with a new adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The tentative plan at the time was for Rise director Rupert Wyatt to sit at the helm, with Serkis tackling a motion-capture role (or two).
Reports are in that Serkis now plans to direct Animal Farm, having gotten a crash-course in demanding filmmaking while serving some 200 days as a second-unit director on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy (in which Serkis reprises his iconic mo-cap role as the fractured Gollum). Moreover, his London-based performance-capture studio The Imaginarium (co-founded by Jonathan Cavendish) has secured the rights to the forthcoming book series The Bone Season.
On the topic of Animal Farm, Serkis told THR:
“We are in proof-of-concept stage at the moment, designing characters and experimenting on our stage with the designs. It is quite a wide canvas as to how much and how far we can take performance capture with quadrupeds and how much we will be using facial [capture]. We are not discounting the use of keyframe animation or puppeteering parts of animals. We are in an experimental phase; it’s terribly exciting.”
Orwell’s source material, of course, makes not-so-subtle reference to the rise of Communism and the Soviet Union, though Serkis mentions “We’re keeping it fable-istic and [aimed at] a family audience. We are not going to handle the politics in a heavy-handed fashion.” That might be for the best, as the political subtext is so fundamental a component of Orwell’s novel that it’s impossible to remove without massive changes to the story; hence, letting the metaphors arise more organically is a good way to go.
Serkis also indicated that Animal Farm will follow in Rise‘s footsteps, with regards to it being told from a genuine non-human perspective, saying “The point of view that we take will be slightly different to how it is normally portrayed and the characters, [we] are examining this in a new light.”
With regards to Samantha Shannon’s unpublished Bone Season novel, here is a semi-official description:
The Bone Season begins in 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. She works as an envoy between secret cells: she drops in an out of people’s minds. For Paige is a lucid dreamer, a clairvoyant, and in her world, the world of Scion, she commits high treason simply by breathing. It is raining the day her life changes forever. Attacked, kidnapped and transported to Oxford, a city that has been kept secret for two hundred years, she meets Warden, a Rephaite with dark honey skin and heavy-lidded yellow eyes. He is the single most beautiful and frightening thing she has every laid eyes on – and he will become her “keeper”.
Cavendish commented on Bone Season, saying:
“These books have conjured up with extraordinary detail and delicacy of drama an imaginary future set in a dystopian world. We are just starting to develop that for a series of motion pictures.”
We will keep you posted on the status of both Animal Farm and The Bone Season as more information is released.