Over the last decade motion-capture characters have gone from being a rarity in genre blockbusters to being the norm in fantasy, sci-fi and superhero movies nowadays. Past films by Marvel Studios to date have made heavy use of the mo-cap technology, be it to create Iron Man’s armor or turn Mark Ruffalo into a giant green rage monster. This summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy will likewise make extensive use of the technology, to create such outlandish characters as the walking tree-like alien that is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).
By comparison, fellow Guardian Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is being realized through CGI animation based on both real-life raccoons and the movements of on-set actor (and director James Gunn’s brother) Sean Gunn. It’s a different approach than that on the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where the non-human simians’ facial expressions and body movements are based solely on the actors’ captured performances (with realistic ape characteristics animated over them like digital makeup).
Guardians will also make use of good old-fashioned practical makeup effects (prosthetics, face paint, etc.), which is how Zoe Saldana – a veteran of the mo-cap school of acting thanks to Avatar – and ex-Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan have been transformed into, respectively, the green-skinned Gamora and bald, blue-ish Nebula.
The pair have what appears to be an extensive fight sequence in the film to boot; shooting that scene must’ve been a more difficult experience – thanks to them being decked out in cumbersome getups and costumes – compared to filming in the tighter and lighter mo-cap suits (i.e. those worn by several of the latest Planet of the Apes franchise installment’s cast members).
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The above Nebula pic from Guardians was posted to Instagram by James Gunn, while the latter Apes behind the scenes image is an exclusive to Empire. That Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photo teases a sequence that takes in the “Ape Village” that Caesar (Andy Serkis) helped established, and where the Rise of the Planet of the Apes protagonist serves as a leader – a job that becomes all the more dangerous in this new film, as tensions with the surviving remnants of humanity give rise to disarray within the Apes’ ranks.
As Apes director Matt Reeves, (Cloverfield, Let Me In) told Empire:
“It’s an ape civilization movie.It’s a world you haven’t seen before, which is all about: what would these intelligent apes do if they returned to the wild and tried to create a place for their family… and then grow?”
Getting back to the actors in makeup/mo-cap discussion – it’ll be interesting to see how newcomers to the mo-cap world stack up against a seasoned vet like Serkis, in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Such character actors as Toby Kebbell (Wrath of the Titans) – one of the cast members featured in the above image – and Judy Greer (Arrested Development) are playing significant roles in the film, as Caesar’s fellow apes. Some experienced screen performers have thrived at the art of motion-capture their first time around, while others have left something to be desired with their debut attempt (see: Daniel Craig in The Adventures of Tintin), so it could go either way.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens in U.S. theaters on July 11th, 2014, followed a few weeks later by Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1st.
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