Andy Serkis and the case for motion capture

Ok, ok, I know it’s been done, but I want to present my case for the use of motion capture. I suppose the reason for this is I recently saw two films which I felt, really help its case: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Adventures of Tin Tin: Secret of the Unicorn. Both good.

The case for: Andy Serkis
Simple as that. If it wasn’t for Mr Serkis and his excellent work we’d quite possibly never have had the following characters: Gollum (Lord of the Rings), Kong (King Kong), Captain Haddock (Tin Tin), Caesar (Planet of the Apes).

Now perhaps another actor could have stepped into the void, but sometimes it just takes a unique individual to achieve the type of performances he achieved.

I’ve read articles where Serkis has spoken about how other actors he’s spoken to in the past thought that what he did was voiceover, like animation. You speak into a microphone with no movement – at least none that gets recorded, then the ape or whatever it may be gets animated in afterwards. These are big A-list actors that thought this way.

Admittedly this was a few years ago, perhaps perceptions have changed. Although if you take IMDb for example, it shows his credit on the first Lord of the Rings as ‘Gollum (voice)’, which goes to show there’s still a way to go. Or maybe IMDb just need to update their website.

It’s also worth noting that motion capture is different to live actors on a digital background, think Sin City or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

angelina jolie beowulfThe case against: dead eyes
The two biggest problems in the early days have been summed up well in this article, which argues that Tin Tin is the last shot for motion capture. It argues the two main issues were a) dead eyes and b) making the world feel believable, especially how the characters move.

For me, films like The Polar Express (2004), King Kong (2005) and Beowulf (2007) laid the foundations for what followed. They could not have been expected to get it right first time.

King Kong at the time seemed an impressive stride forward. It didn’t have to be as intimate as Beowulf, which was hit and miss in terms of drawing you into a believable world. Angelina Jolie was relatively easy to capture, because she’s beautiful. Ray Winstone as a fit, young warrior, not so much.

The blue revolution
Avatar (2009) pushed things forward. The Director, James Cameron, went to great lengths to achieve realistic movements of the actors, including showing us the emotion contained in their eyes. Considering Avatar came out just two years after Beowulf, this was a phenomenal achievement.

Yet even Avatar wasn’t as intimate as say, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). In terms of realistic movement and the range of emotion in the ape Caesar’s eyes, it was truly impressive. Serkis popping up yet again.

tin tin andy serkisThen what we had were two giants of modern cinema and storytelling come together – Spielberg and Jackson – to give us the next step, Tin Tin (2011). Initially, within the first five minutes of watching this film, I was unsure. It seemed quite glossy to me. Then I realised that wasn’t an error, it was how they had designed Tin Tin’s world.

After that, I was lost in a good way! The story was classic Spielberg, a standout character, perhaps, was Snowy the dog. Although Serkis (again!) as Captain Haddock gave a captivating performance. Watch his eyes when memories about his past begin to resurface.

The furry revolution
So after apes, blue creatures and comic-book Belgian detectives, next came a teddy bear, Ted (2012). Again, pushing motion capture further than before. Seth Macfarlane voiced and performed. Not only does the bear seem to ‘fit’ into the real world perfectly, but it’s also the first time motion capture has been used in a comedy film. A critically well received comedy film too.

Again, like with all technology – particularly 3D in the last few years – we’re bound to get a lot of studios and Directors jumping on the bandwagon, churning out any old rubbish. For now, we’re mostly getting decent, solid stories (Tin Tin) and exciting action (Planet of the Apes), and now comedy (Ted).

So the future of motion capture is looking bright. As Andy Serkis describes it, ‘photography didn’t replace painting, it’s just another medium’.

Let’s finish with the adult trailer for Ted (you have to log in to You Tube to view this one, worth it though). Love Wahlberg’s quick-fire delivery of a list of white trash female names. Nothing to do with motion capture, just funny.

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