Many may not know the name Andy Serkis but they sure know the characters he played. Serkis has made a name for himself playing Gollum in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, Kong in ‘King Kong’ and most recently as Caesar in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes.’ 20th Century Fox has been heavily campaigning for the actor to get an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category, but will the Academy actually nominate someone who did not technically appear on screen?
Serkis is credited with perfecting the art of “performance capture.” In the past (and even now in some instances), it used to be that the actor who had to use the motion capture suit would film their role in another studio while the live action would take place on another set. The actors on the live action set would have to use an object (like a tennis ball) that would indicate where the other actor was supposed to be and act off that. Later the two would then be combined to create the scene. In performance capture, the actor in the motion capture suit is filmed on performance capture cameras at the same time the other actors are filming on live cameras. Since the scene is occurring at the same time, the actors can play off each other.
It is this fact that many feel that Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination. In an open letter to Deadline, James Franco wrote why he feels Serkis should be nominated. Below are a few excerpts from his letter:
“Andy Serkis is the undisputed master of the newest kind of acting called “performance capture,” and it is time that Serkis gets credit for the innovative artist that he is…Audiences are used to large scale effects: impossible explosion, space travel, fantastic fairytale worlds, boys in tights swinging around New York, men with Squids for faces, but there is still a disconnection that happens when a character’s outer surface is rendered in a computer like Caesar’s was. We want to forget that there is a human underneath, the effects are so well rendered we either forget that the spark of life in its eyes and the life in its limbs is informed by a breathing human or we are so drawn into the ontology of the character we can’t grasp its artistic origins or exactly how it was created…but we don’t give artistic credit where it is due…every gesture, every facial expression, every sound he made was captured, his performance was captured. Then, what the WETA effects team did was to essentially “paint” the look of Caesar over Andy’s performance. This is not animation as much as it’s digital “make-up.” There are plenty of Oscar winning performances that depended on prosthetic make-up to help create the characters: John Hurt’s in ‘The Elephant Man,’ Nicole Kidman’s in ‘The Hours,’ Sean Penn’s in ‘Milk’. Those actors depended on make-up artists to augment the look of their characters, but the performance underneath came solely from the actors. Well, that’s exactly the same position that Andy is in, his problem is that the digital “make-up” is so convincing that it makes people forget that he provides the soul of Caesar. That soul, the thing that was so compelling about that film, came from Andy, and the way he rendered that soul is of equal importance, if not more important than the photo realistic surface of the character…Caesar is a fully realized character, not human, and not quite ape; this is no Lassie and this is no Roger Rabbit, it is the creation of an actor doing something that I dare say no other actor could have done at this moment”
Frankly, I agree with Franco. The emotional pull you get while watching Caesar would not have been possible with CGI alone. If you have any doubt, watch the video below that shows a before and after CGI of Serkis’ performance of the same scene. After watching it, wouldn’t you agree he deserves at least a nomination?
(video courtesy of HitFlix)