Following the success of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Hollywood is once again faced with a challenge: how to fairly reward motion capture performers and digital effects artists for the collaborative effort of bringing CGI characters to life. For years, movie fans have been pushing for the Academy (among other film organizations) to reward performers like Andy Serkis for their acting work. Still, most award shows do not recognize motion-capture in performance - with no category to celebrate the accomplishments of actors who do not appear as flesh and blood on screen.
Yet, as motion-capture performers have pushed the boundaries of what movie and TV viewers can expect from their characters (in terms of relatable emotion), visual effects studios are pushing the boundaries of capture-technology and digital artistry – posing the challenging question: Where Does Andy Serkis End and Animation Begin? Over the past month, we’ve seen a variety of opinions offered-up on the subject from a variety of sources – including Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves as well as actors, producers, effects supervisors, as well as critics – and now Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helmer Jonathan Liebesman is offering his thoughts on the topic.
Certain longtime TMNT fans remain skeptical of the upcoming reboot but, in spite of controversial/modern redesigns for the titular Turtles, Liebesman is well-equipped to comment on the line between actor and digital effects – since Industrial Light and Magic developed revolutionary motion-capture technology to turn twenty-something human actors into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Nevertheless, during our chat with the director at Comic-Con 2014, Liebesman lays out very clear (albeit personal) definitions with regard to the line between performers and VFX artists.
Even though the filmmaker is grateful to the effects teams that helped bring his Turtles to life, the director outright stated that, in his opinion, Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar:
Liebesman: I believe you cannot get a great performance without a great actor and animators are almost there to retarget that performance onto the characters you create. So when they say “Andy Serkis deserves the Oscar,” he does deserve the Oscar. He does an amazing performance. He makes you believe that Caesar is real and so those were the shoulders we were standing on. So we cast the actors that embodied each Turtle – and their performance was translated.
In the same vein, producer Andrew Form expressed support for the artists that turn motion capture performances into believable and emotive digital creations. Yet, the Platinum Dunes filmmaker maintains that quality acting talent is instrumental in establishing a framework – promising those performances shine through the CGI translation process.
Form: Also, people say they see Andy Serkis in Caesar. If you took pictures of the actors next to their Turtle, you’d definitely see their faces in these Turtles. Like he said, Andy Serkis deserves the Oscar, it is their performance. Noel Fisher as Michelangelo, you see him in Michelangelo. You really do, if you look at them side-by-side.
Even the biggest TMNT reboot fans will be unlikely to campaign for Pete Ploszek (Leonardo), Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), or Danny Woodburn (Splinter) to be awarded for motion capture work in the upcoming film. As a result, some readers will dismiss Liebesman and Form’s comments entirely.
That said, just because Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles prioritizes campy action over emotionally charged drama does not mean that these filmmakers aren’t qualified to comment on the fine line between actors and animation. In fact, if Liebesman and Form are confident that their TMNT actors drove performance in their respective on-screen counterparts (tongue-in-cheek mutant heroes), shouldn’t that be even more reason to recognize motion-capture actors that drive performance in evocative and game-changing roles like Caesar? As usual, this isn’t to take anything away from the artists that, as Liebesman asserts, “retarget” motion-capture performances onto digital creations.
There are a lot of opinions on what needs to be done: allow motion-capture artists into traditional performance categories, create a new category for motion-capture performances (that would include both the actor and the visual effects team), among others. Still, there’s no doubt that, whether you side with the actors, the effects companies, or want to see them receive joint recognition, Hollywood is going to need to address the issue – since performers and effects teams are going to keep pushing the debate forward with increasingly powerful on-screen characters.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will open in theaters on August 8th, 2014.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is currently playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as future movie, TV, and gaming news.