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.”
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?