Motion-capture is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary aspects in all of moviemaking, as it allows digital characters to be brought to life with a greater sense of realism. Actors playing these roles have their actual physical movements captured while they are on-set, and in post-production are covered with so-called "digital makeup" that is the CGI creation viewers see in the final product. Films such as The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and the rebooted Planet of the Apes would not be possible without these advancements, and now mo-cap is more prevalent than ever. Last year, one of the most notable instances was Alan Tudyk's standout work as scene-stealing droid K-2SO in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Over the past decade or so, there's been a great debate regarding mo-cap in the film industry. Many people would like to see these performances be recognized at awards shows like the Oscars, but the Academy's regulations are fickle in that department and seem unlikely to change. It seems odd for such an important step forward to be ignored completely, but Tudyk himself has an idea for a compromise he thinks might work.
When Screen Rant visited ILM earlier this month, we had the opportunity to speak with Tudyk and Rogue One animator Hal Hickel, who primarily worked on K-2SO. When asked about mo-cap and awards, the two had very interesting perspectives:
Tudyk: I would say they should be, because who doesn’t want an Oscar? But they should be a team. It would be a co-award because it is not just one or the other. [To Hickel] My art instructed your art. They meet. So, one wouldn’t work without the other.
Hickel: ... What I would say is I think absolutely a motion-capture performance should be honored in the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor category. Where I differ is, I think we already have an award for visual effects. So for a character who’s just amazing, who’s a motion-capture character – this is not motion-capture, but think of John Hurt as the Elephant Man. We don’t see his face in the whole film, but Oscar worthy performance. And, you could also nominate the make-up artist in the make-up category. That’s kind of how I think of it.
Tudyk's concept of a co-award is fascinating and may be able to appeal to both sides of the argument. When it comes to mo-cap, there is a question of actor vs. animator and who is ultimately responsible for what is on the big screen. As Tudyk says, it's a team effort. He portrayed K-2SO in what was lovingly called the "computer pajamas" and interacted with his co-stars during principal photography (making everyone's job easier). But when director Gareth Edwards wrapped, ILM was tasked with placing the "actual" droid in the footage. Hickel told us that they "skewed very closely to what Alan did" to preserve his performance, but they still had to manipulate the end result in some respects. For instance, K-2SO's eyes moved around to show emotion, something that wasn't possible to depict until ILM took over.
Of course, Hickel makes a solid point as well. John Hurt was nominated for his heartbreaking turn in The Elephant Man, even though he was completely obscured by awards-worthy makeup for the entire film. Hurt's appearance in that film was heavily altered by a different department that has their own Oscars category, so it reads as logical to keep everything separate. The "digital makeup" argument can be controversial since it seems to discredit what the VFX team does, but it's interesting that there are some animators in the industry who subscribe to that belief. Whether the Academy ever opens up to mo-cap remains to be seen, but Tudyk did have another fix if his co-award pitch isn't good enough: "Watch the movie with the actor in his pajamas and stilts."
Stay tuned to Screen Rant for more coverage from our visit to ILM!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be available on Blu-ray April 4, 2017.