The art of motion capture, or performance capture as preferred by artists involved, has been around for a lot longer than you might think with the first example dating all the way back to 1915 when animator Max Fleischer invented Rotoscope. This concept meant that artists could use live action and essentially trace over it, capturing a realistic movement to the cartoon characters on screen. The technique was subsequently used by Walt Disney in a lot of his films such as Snow White and The Seven Dwarves and Alice In Wonderland, but the idea would take decades to evolve and develop into what we see motion capture as today. It wasn’t until the 90’s where film makers started using the art form for live action productions with characters in both The Mummy and The Phantom Menace being brought to life through the movements and performances of actors. Even so, it wasn’t until the first part of The Lord Of The Rings was released in 2001, that people really started to take notice of the technique with the promise of the fully realised character of Gollum.
Rotoscoping had been used almost thirty years prior to Peter Jackson’s trilogy on Ralph Bakshi’s much maligned animated version of The Lord Of The Rings, so there’s a slight irony that it would be the very same material to finally bring performance capture into the public consciousness. One of Tolkien’s most important and memorable characters, Jackson knew that it was important to get Gollum right and so with the help of Weta Workshop, whose work on the trilogy skyrocketed the company to Hollywood’s go to for special effects and production design, created the now iconic antagonist. Since the release The Lord Of The Rings, the technology advanced and motion captured creations were becoming more frequent in main stream cinema with Jackson once again using it for the 2005 remake of King Kong. Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin (both produced by Jackson) have used the effect heavily as have the more recent Planet Of The Apes films.
One name that has become synonymous with the art form other than Jackson’s is Andy Serkis, the actor behind the digital creations who has played Gollum, King Kong, Captain Haddock in Tintin and Caesar in the Planet Of The Apes. He’s more recently been involved in work on Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars Episode VII in not just an acting capacity but as an advocate and teacher of performance capture. Since Gollum became such a huge success, there has been a great debate surrounding the concept of performance capture and who should really get the credit for said performance. The amount of work that goes into bringing these characters to life is inarguable and the visual effects that Weta have created have only gotten more impressive and detailed as time has progressed. In this years Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, I was blown away by just how great the Apes looked, particularly their fur which in some sequences felt so real that I could almost touch it myself. However, whilst the effects are undeniably wondrous it’s arguably the performance itself that brings to life the heart and soul of the character.
This has been Serkis’ main argument for the acknowledgment of the work involved in motion capture and one that has been taken up by the movie going public as well. Back when The Lord Of The Rings was released, there was a campaign for Serkis to get an oscar nod for his role as Gollum and the very same thing is happening right now with his turn as Caesar in DOTPOTA. Considering the visual effects work has been acknowledged in the past with awards aplenty, it only seems right that the same should apply with the actual performances themselves. Through his truly impressive and at time unrecognisable voice work as various characters, as well as in depth understanding of movement; Andy Serkis has proven a more developed actor than most working today and as technology has improved, you can really see his work behind his computer generated façade.
The ultimate transformative tool for an actor, performance capture is becoming more than just Andy Serkis however and again, in the most recent Apes film, one of the highlights was Toby Kebbell’s turn as friend turned foe, Koba. With the technology available, film makers can be more fantastical than ever with their creations and this will undoubtedly lead to a requirement for more performers to take up the mantle of Serkis and his colleagues. With this in mind, it’s perhaps more of a question as to when will motion captured performances be considered in award season as opposed to should. The truth is that acting has always been a collaborative experience and directors could quite easily take credit for some of the best pieces of acting to have graced the screen. The same applies here and as only one part of the team work involved in performance capture has been so far acknowledged with awards, it seems about time that the other part, the acting, is taken into consideration too.
So what do you think about performance capture? Do you think Andy Serkis deserves the credit owed to him or not?
There’s no Monday’s Movie Musings next week as I’m busy making my lists and checking them twice, but make sure to come back on Monday 15th December for my top ten worse films of 2014.