‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Director Says Mo-Cap Performances Deserve Awards

Published 10 months ago by

Andy Serkis Dawn of the Planet of the Apes mo cap Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Director Says Mo Cap Performances Deserve Awards

The early buzz surrounding Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has been astoundingly positive. The film’s early reviews use words like “phenomenal” and “spectacular,” and our own Kofi Outlaw called the film ” ‘The Dark Knight’ of ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies.”

The previous film in the series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was a surprise hit when it released in 2011, winning over moviegoers and critics alike with its gripping, emotional story and incredible visual effects (read our review). But it was Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance as Caesar the ape that really had audiences raving.

Serkis first rose to prominence with his performance (also motion captured) as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. More so than any CGI rendered character before him, Gollum was a thinking, breathing character that believably appeared onscreen with human actors, and this was largely due to Serkis’ performance and his understanding of the technology. It was a role that not only put Serkis on the map, but it also made audiences and industry insiders take note of motion capture performances.

Since then – and especially after his truly remarkable portrayal of Caesar in Rise – the debate over whether motion capture performances should be considered equal to any actors’ performance has become more heated. And with the early buzz around Dawn being so favorable that many are tossing around Serkis’ latest performance as worthy of an Oscar nomination, it makes us wonder if the time for mo-cap performance to be given equal treatment is near.

Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis on the set of The Hobbit Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Director Says Mo Cap Performances Deserve Awards

Now, in our interview with Dawn the of the Planet of the Apes‘ director Matt Reeves, he voices his opinion on whether motion capture performances should receive nominations and awards just like any other onscreen performance. Said Reeves:

Well, if you ask me, of course I’m going to say yes, because I worked with them intimately and I know what they were as actors …  Most of the time, what I’d been looking at for the past year is just those performances. I’ve been looking at Andy and Toby [Kebbel] and the other ape actors and the other human actors … I’ve been looking at their performances intimately for a year, in addition to the year that I spent with them when we were rehearsing and shooting the movie. I think that the two of them are incredible. Andy and Toby are two of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. I think they are incredible.

When sitting in a movie theater, watching the finished product, it can be difficult to remember there are real actors behind those impressively rendered apes. But without them, those characters could so easily appear lifeless and innate.

Reeves also notes that motion capture performers can’t take all the credit, as the animators labor extensively to create the lifelike characters we take for granted. But again, he reiterates that the real soul of these characters stem from the actors’ performances:

A lot of people say, “Oh, well, but there’s a thing going on. It’s a device. The device is giving part of the performance.” It’s not actually true. You can’t have Caesar or Koba without Weta. It doesn’t exist. They create that. But you don’t have the heart and soul of those characters without Andy and Toby. If you are responding emotionally to their performances in whatever way, you are responding emotionally to Andy and Toby. And the genius of what Weta does is that it takes equal artistry to take something that is the performance of an actor and then find a way to make it translate onto the anatomy of an ape which is entirely different from their anatomy.

Andy’s face doesn’t look like Caesar’s face. Toby’s face doesn’t look like Koba’s face. Their bodies, their arms are different lengths. And all of these things are part of the illusion. Then there’s the hair simulations and the skin and all of this amazing stuff that Weta does. But all of that follows from the performance in terms of the emotion.

And it’s this dichotomy – the fact that Caesar or Gollum or any of the Na’vi from Avatar wouldn’t exist without both the actors and the animators – that gives people pause before agreeing that mo-capped performances deserve equal consideration at the Oscars, the Golden Globes, et cetera.

Reeves has an answer for that too, pointing out the obvious by saying:

People have said, “Maybe there should be a special category.” I’m saying “No, there really are two categories already that fit. One is best performance by an actor, and that is what Toby and Andy do. And then there is sort of best visual effects, and that is what Weta does.”

Andy Serkis motion capture performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Director Says Mo Cap Performances Deserve Awards

When put so concisely, the argument against including motion captured performances in the same award category as any actor’s performance might seem silly, especially if the animators are given their due in the best visual effects categories. If the purpose is to judge and award the best performance, then why not pull from every available and lauded performance?

Where do you stand on this argument of motion capture performances, Screen Rant readers? Sound off in the comments below! And GO HERE to read the rest of our interview with director Matt Reeves.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes releases in theaters this Friday, July 11th, 2014.

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  1. Yes Serkis deserves awards. Same for many other mo cappers such as Ruffalo,etc

    • Ruffalo….? Are you okay?

    • Ruffalo deserves the award for (supposedly) the Hulk? Seriously? Yelling and screaming like an idiot for the majority of the role doesn’t warrant a professional award. Actual well written and interesting characters like Gollum or Caesar deserve it.

  2. Andy would win the award every year and that’s a fact.

  3. No offense but it’s not just Any Serkis or Mark Ruffalo that complete a motion capture experience. Serkis is the best but I’m sure many, many people work long hours to bring these characters to life. It’s not on par with acting, in my opinion. A separate award for teams, sure, but to give credit to one guy for a CGI’d character is kind of an insult to the CGI teams. I know in SR land this won’t be a popular opinion but oh well.

    • I really think it should be a separate category that acknowledges the actor and the visual effects artists equally in the creation of the character. I don’t think it is really appropriate to nominate it in the current categories.

      • I agree. It is a step above voice overs, but a step below acting on screen, so an entirely different category altogether. I like Andy Serkis but am disappointed with him for not acknowledging the effects department each and every time he talks about one of “his” performances.

    • So it’s not a snub to all the make-up and costume people when actors and actresses get awards? Even when someone is ‘normally’ acted there are still a lot of people behind the look of the character.

  4. I’m going to paraphrase a comment on my FB wall regarding this article going on right now, and one that is similar in feeling to most of us in the Digital Arts…

    “If Andy Serkis didn’t disparage the hundreds of digital animators, modellers, texture artists, lighting artists, fur artists and riggers (essentially the core team required to skillfully create and render the performance, BASED on his Mo-Cap as a guide) as he constantly does, by calling what they do simply “digital makeup”, and inferring by that moniker that the performance (his) is entirely that of his own making, with a 3-d construct placed over his face to “capture” his every facial expression and emotion to the letter, while simultaneously inflating his own ego, I’d say yes.

    He does not. He does the opposite. The dude needs to take a humble pill and stop propagating the myth that it’s him and that the support crew are mere hangers on to his every grimace.

    It’s just obscene at this point.

    Do a search on his statements by typing “Andy Serkis- Digital Make up”. It’s amazing, his audacity.

    • Really. This again? I personally feel that you’re exaggerating his comments. The guy is not “disparaging digital artists”. In fact, he founded a mo cap studio called the Imaginarium that states that they work together to create these digital creatures, emphasis on the word together.

    • AGREED.
      I saw the him on Jimmy Fallon’s show a few days ago and he seemed a bit pompous in trying to take credit for the final character.
      in reality ANYONE can do what he does, the difference is – he is just 1st one of significance to play a lead role (Gollum) and with Peter Jackson’s support (and know Matt Reeves) – making it seem like he’s something better than sliced bread.

      any actor can perform like that – ie. – all the cast of Avatar, Mark Ruffalo, the other actors in this very movie doff
      didn’t take them years of training or anything. And over time as the technology becomes more used on more films, Andy Serkis won’t seem as “amazing” as some people insist – yes he’s a good voice actor and a good physically mime – but people need to stop pretending like he personally re-invented the acting wheel – all he did was get chosen to be the “1st”

      the reality is – ANYONE can perform ANY role – Mo-Cap or otherwise
      if a test was done – and viewers were shown two actors performing – but you didn’t say which one was Andy Serkis – there would be no distinguishable difference in the performance – you know because of the “digital make-up”

        • Thanks for the link. Interesting read, indeed.

            • Oh, yeah. I was actually referring to Randall William Cook’s comment, not the post itself.

  5. The problem is, there could be key-frame animation going on, which makes the performance in part not the actor’s.

    • That’s very true. There’s always clean-up, plus most of the time some animators are tweaking the performance. It’s not some magical copy and paste like a lot of people believe.

  6. Look, can we stop trying to antagonize Serkis and trying blowing up some non existent “fight” caused by some out of context phrasing and just enjoy these damn dirty apes come Friday?

    • I don’t think anyone is saying to not enjoy the films – it’s simply a question of fully recognizing the team and artists who make the final results possible.

      I was thinking about it – it’s kind of the same as how Darth Vader was “created” decades ago – who played him?
      James Earl Jones or David Prowse? answer: both of them

      the only significant addition with modern mo-cap is now the facial features are being incorporated … to a degree. cause no matter what the actor does – the animators can and do change the “performance” – however they / the Digital Effects team supervisor (with input from the director) see fit.

      in reality this is a “new” acting category that is achieved by a team – physical performer and digital artists
      similar to screenwriting – original works and adapted works – obviously tied together but TECHNICALLY there is a difference.

      • I get what you’re saying man and I agree that there should be some sort of award along the lines of “Best Collabrative Performance.” It’s just that I’m tired of all this fighting over what I see as insignificant. And I don’t think Serkis is trying to take all of the credit; in recent interviews he’s talked about what the whole process is like and he seems to really understand the process. The way I see it, of course he’s going to advocate for the actors, because that’s his profession. I also feel that all of these animators should stop trying to point fingers at one person as the cause of being overshadowed and make a better effort to get recognized, like by forming an animators union for example, and advocate for their profession more. Yeah I know that it’s the internet and this happens all the time, but can we at least stop pointing fingers and trying to start these fights over nothing?

        • I wouldn’t say anything I’ve read is “a fight” – but a necessary discussion – not among readers on this or other sites, but specifically for the actual people who do this work

          obviously these type of characters are going to continue appearing in more films and eventually tv shows
          and as a new “art form” added to the cinematic arts – it’s important to acknowledge who and why someone should be awarded or at minimum acknowledged for their work.

          the reason anyone would have comments against Andy Serkis is solely because he brings it on himself every time he does an interview and uses phrases like “digital make-up” or something like that. Without the digital ARTISTS his performance would not be in the movie – cause then he’d just be a normal dude in a grey suit with dots all over his face and doing a character voice.

          if the digital artists got invited to speak WITH Serkis on talk shows, etc – even if it was just 1 animator representing the team – THAN I don’t think people would have much against Serkis being a bit pompous in taking credit for “creating” his characters. But of course talk shows only ever want to interview the actors from movies. Heck even most directors, writers and producers don’t get be talk shows – except for the rare few who become “name” talent like Aaron Sorkin, Robert Rodriguez and a handful of others.

          the difference from what mo-cap performers do and what David Prowse did in Star Wars is that he’s doing both the body movement and the voice work. Frank Oz “played” Yoda – because he did both the puppetry work and the voice.

          may be what Andy Serkis should do is learn how to do all the digital work and then spend a year of working on the computer doing ALL the post-production work for his character and THEN he could take all the credit.

          new technology = new performances that never existed before thru TEAM EFFORT = new category of recognition
          Andy Serkis is just the face of the team who makes it all possible – and THAT is the problem – every interview he does he should name at minimum the Digital Effects Supervisor and may be a few other people – give them credit BY NAME publicly every time he’s interviewed. — not just refer to them as WETA – they have names and deserve the credit.

          • This. Exactly. On the money.

  7. Absolutely, as long as it’s an essential character on screen with more than 15 minutes + of screen time.

  8. Some day there will be the Andy Serkis award

  9. Mo cap award, perhaps. But is should be a technical award at the technical awards show. Therefore, not an acting award.

  10. Yep, more than 1 person creates these mo capped characters. Give it to the whole team (including body actor) responsible. Not sure what to name the award. Best Motion Capture? Best Digital Design?

    • Maybe “Best Motion Capture Design and Performance”.

    • But when an actor has makeup on the completely changes his/her appearance, the award is not given to the whole team behind the makeup and the performance. I think that these mo-cap actors are being ignored for there incredibly hard work

  11. I have enjoyed Serkis’ performances in the films I have seen him in and the digital effects in the films are clearly top notch. But this so-called “feud” sounds asinine. The use of mo-cap and digital effects as whatever type of enhancement everyone wants to call it is just an extension of what practical effects artists and the actor who wore tons of make-up and prosthetic applications.

    Nobody deserves more credit than anyone else and at the end of the day one assumes they are all paid adequately for their work. Whether mo-cap deserves to be recognized as acting is another debate and at this point the digital effects end does get recognized by the film industry and beyond so they should not be so defensive about what Serkis might say.

  12. Puling self-indulgent crybaby. Teachers do more important work for a fraction of the wages, no fame, no fans, no TV interviews, none of that.

  13. I agree that it is not not the same as acting, however Andy Serkis made a point in an interview that resonated with me: the CGI in motion capture is the digital equivalent of makeup. Actors act through make up the same as these actors are acting through the special effects. And just like makeup, motion capture involves more than just the actor to bring the performance to life, and yes, the animation process does change the facial expressions of the actor slightly. However that is the same as makeup. People have never argued whether or not actors wearing makeup should be excluded or put into a different category because there are other people involved in making the character. CGI is just makeup that gets put on after filming, and these amazing actors deserve recognition.