Andy Serkis Discusses The Art of Motion-Capture Acting

Published 3 years ago by

andy serkis rise planet apes sequel Andy Serkis Discusses The Art of Motion Capture Acting

Many people wouldn’t recognize Andy Serkis if they met him in person, yet they’re sure to remember many of the characters he’s portrayed onscreen, via the assistance of performance-capture technology.

Be it the raspy voiced bag of skin and bones that is Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the eponymous building-sized “monster” from King Kong, the genetically-altered chimp Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes – or, most recently, the burly alcoholic Captain Haddock from The Adventures of Tintin, Serkis has served as the heart and soul of many a memorable digitally-rendered character. Hence, the previous studio-backed pushes for him to receive an Oscar nod for his work in both the Rings trilogy and the Apes franchise reboot/prequel.

Despite the especially-massive push for Serkis to receive recognition for his performance as Caesar, the actor’s name was absent from the list of official 84th Academy Award nominations announced earlier this morning (at the time of writing this). Arguably, part of the reason behind both the Serkis snub and Tintin‘s being denied a Best Animated Feature nod is because many an Academy member is said to be wary of the mo-cap approach to character creation.

However, whether the big names and head honchos over in Hollywood like it or not, motion-capture performances aren’t going away; in fact, they’ve quickly become a staple of effects-heavy sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book movie blockbusters alike – as evidenced by the use of the technology on upcoming projects like The Avengers, The Hobbit, and Man of Steel, among others.

In other words: mo-cap acting is (seemingly) here to stay. But should it be held in the same respectable light as others forms of acting?

Well, not-so-surprisingly, Serkis feels it should, as he recently told Hero Complex:

“What’s fantastic is that there’s a real growing appreciation for performance-capture technology as a tool for acting. Over the years, people have asked me, “Do you think there should be a separate category for acting in the digital realm? Or hybrid sort of awards for digital characters?” and so on. And I’ve always really maintained that I don’t believe so. I think it should be considered acting, because it is. My part in it, what I do, as say the authorship of the role, the creation, the emotional content of the role, the physicality up until the point of delivering that for the director, it is acting.

“… This is not taking anything away from [visual effects technicians], because their work is accoladed and has been for some time. So for instance, [at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards], “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” won the visual effects award and that’s fantastic, and quite rightly so; the way that those apes are brought to life is extraordinary. What was great about getting a supporting actor nomination [for my work in 'Apes'] is that it clearly shows, it defines an understanding within the industry that it is acting.”

rise planet apes john lithgow Andy Serkis Discusses The Art of Motion Capture Acting

Andy Serkis "in costume" as Caesar in 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'

Serkis also adressed the concerns of actors and actresses about the increasing popularity of roles that rely on CGI “makeup” rather than old-fashioned prosthetics or facial dressings (ex. the Na’vi in Avatar):

“Actors often ask that question, “Are we going to be replaced by digital characters?” I think this is all part of the bigger debate about the notion of what performance capture really is all about. For me, I’ve never drawn a distinction between live-action acting and performance-capture acting. It is purely a technology. It’s a bunch of cameras that can record the actor’s performance in a different way. In terms of animation, animators are actors as well. They are fantastic actors. They have to draw from how they feel emotionally about the beat of a scene that they’re working on. They work collaboratively. They all have to understand the psyche of the role that they’re developing. And that will never change. It’s an art form.

“It’s like saying, “Well, now that photography has arrived, nobody can paint anymore.” Or, “Now that we’re shooting on digital, nobody can use film anymore.” No one’s saying anything is to the exclusivity of anything else. … Without taking away any of the visual effects work that animators and visual effects artists and programmers and technicians in the visual effects world, in my mind, it is a form of digital makeup. … But look, Pixar’s not going to go away. All of those great animation studios, they’re doing fantastic, beautiful work with scripts that are just brought to life in a different way. … [Performance capture is] such a liberating tool. I am quite evangelical about it to other actors because I think it’s such a wonderful — it’s a magic suit you put on that allows you to play anything regardless of your size, your sex, your color, whatever you are. As long as you have the acting chops and the desire to get inside a character, you can play anything. [So] I long for it to be accepted by the acting profession so that it can proliferate.”

For more from Serkis, including bits about his preparation for the role of Caesar and returning to the part of Gollum, check out the full interview over at Hero Complex.


How about it, then: do you agree with Serkis’ assertion that the “human factor” in mo-cap acting has a major impact on the final product? Or do you find yourself siding more with the Academy, feeling perhaps that the “jury is still out,” when it comes to the importance of human performers in creating digitally-rendered characters?

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Totally agree with everything Serkis says. I always thought he should have been nominated for his work as Gollum in any one of the LOTR movies. If the Hobbit movies are anywhere near as good as LOTR, maybe he’ll a get a nomination for one of those.

  2. Its funny how his last name is Serkis (Circus) and all he ever plays are monkeys. The dude is a loser.

    • It’s funny how you’re completely ignorant of the guy’s background credits, but don’t let that stop you from making yourself look more clueless.

    • You are obviously a wise, intelligent and thoughtful person.

    • Bunghole? Really? Are we 10?

      • That word always makes me giggle…

        My late Grandmother use to say it all the time instead of the A word…. it was humorous at the time and still brings back memories….

    • Are you familiar with Abe Lincolns famous quote “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”?

      Obviously not, when you win an oscar for best actor/actress/director or whatever else, let us know, maybe then we may take you serious.

      BTW, being a troll is a loser. Have a great day :D

    • So you think Albert Einstein was a monkey. Great. >_>

    • That I do. Sorry about the confusion, that was just a slip-up on my part.

      It’s been fixed, but thanks for catching it all the same. :-)

  3. After reading the Oscar nominations this morning, I felt they made a huge mistake not including him on the list. This is a debate that will continue on for years, and it is terrible that the performance of Serkis as Cesar will go unnoticed by the Academy just as his Lord of Rings performances did. It is a new medium and as long as fans such as myself appreciate watching motion-capture characters, it will continue to thrive. Perhaps someday, Serkis will get the recognition he deserves. Thank you Sandy for this article.

    • hey i did not give you permission to talk on my website.

      • Oh, here we flippin’ go…

  4. You forgot to mention his awesome video game roles as King Bohan and my personal favorite, Monkey from Enslaved Odyssey to the West. Both are great games and he really stood out in both of them. Ashame Enslaved was overlooked by gamers as it was an awesome game. Doubly ashamed people don’t recognize and RESPECT this guy’s talent. He deserves it. I agree wholeheartedly with what he’s saying.

  5. “However, whether the big names and head honchos over in Hollywood like it or not, motion-capture performances aren’t going away”

    We know that and they know that. Where does it even hint to the fact that Hwood would want it to go away?

    As for Serkis getting an award for it, until there is a category for it he shouldn’t.

    I have no doubt he is talented in what he does however what he does is assist computer artist/renderers to do their job.

    The Mo-cap is not 100% Andy Serkis.

    Special recognition award? You bet. He is the forefather of this process. As it grows he should get credit for seeing it through helping and enhancing it.

    In answer to your direct question: “do you agree with Serkis’ assertion that the “human factor” in mo-cap acting has a major impact on the final product?”

    Of course it does. However will it in 15 years when they have the computers to process human movement to a T?

    However the jury needs to remain out on Academy Noms until more people are in suits and it is a category because as stated it has impact even possibly a major impact on the final product however it is not %100 human.

    • Him and Doug Jones should get credit for being two of main guys who perform in the suits effectively. It’s probably not going to be recognized for years as “legit” acting, but like Serkis said it creates an opportunity for actors to play any part without worrying about having “the look”.

      One thing is not debatable though, Serkis appeared to do more acting in that mo-cap suit mimicking a chimp then Ryan Reynolds managed portraying a person in a CGI costume….

    • Why do other actors get to be assisted by make-up artists, editors, costume designers, directors, ect. if Andy Serkis isn’t allowed to be assisted by digital make-up artists?

      Does anyone care if an actor actually cried on cue, or had a make-up person put fake tear drops in their eyes? Because that’s essentially the kind of enhancement we’re talking about here…purely cosmetic.

  6. The real issue here is, how much of what we finally see on the screen (Gollum, Caesar, Kong, etc) is the result of Serkis’ acting chops, and how much is the result of the CGI experts?

    Even if Serkis does a mediocre job, the animators who create the final ‘skin’ are the ones that create what we actually see. So I’m uncomfortable with giving him the Oscar when his input is only maybe 40-70% (depending on how you see the relative contributions) of the final product.

    When Meryl Streep plays Maggie Thatcher, you don’t wonder whether the power of her eprformance comes from how good the make-up artists are. So in this case, I have to side with the Academy. It is definitely acting, but the finished product is too much of a collaboration for one person to walk away with the Oscar.

    • Completely agree. Let him get a lifetime achievement award that is all

    • You ask, how much of what is onscreen is a result of Anky Serkis’ acting? One answer: watch the special features of the LOTRs Extended Edition. He put in 100% into his acting. Even when they weren’t doing mo-cap, he was there in a white body suit on set doing ALL the ACTIONS of Gollum (except ones that are impossible that crawling vertically down a rock face). Each day his white suit was completely wrecked because he was crawling, writhing and hitting himself around on the ground because that is what Gollum does in the movie. Then he would have to do it all again in a mo-cap studio. The actions of Andy are at least 85% of the time EXACTLY what Gollum ended up doing in the final film; sometimes they were enhanced to make Gollum look stronger than the average human (or hobbit). Andy Serkis was acting with his voice and body and he deserves credit for all the effort he has put in to making these movies. The look is CGI; the acting is Anday Serkis.

  7. Yup

  8. So it comes down to this: bungholes and grandmas