It’s time once again to go on a Film Journey, and today we are talking about Andy Serkis – the face behind … well the face behind quite a lot of pixels!
After establishing himself in theatre and a few on-screen roles, Andy Serkis became best known for his work as a motion capture artist. Whilst that sounds vaguely scatalogical, motion capture is a technology that has been in use for many years now. It’s a computer aided process by which the physical performance of real actors gets digitised and used by animators to create computer generated creatures on screen. AKA, that thing when you see actors in what looks like cycling clothes with ping-pong balls stuck on them.
But we digress … why are we talking about him today? Well, out in UK cinemas this week is
FILM ONE: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)
It’s the third ‘ape’ film in the trilogy of the remakes from the classic, but somewhat campy series. This time around, after the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar, (the main simian, played by Serkis since the first film), wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. Whilst the film serves up all kinds of popcorn fodder goodness, it’s really not your run of the mill summer blockbuster; dealing with topics like racism, bullying and abuse.
Since the first film, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011), the motion capture technology has come on in leaps and bounds; allowing for greater realism in CG characters; especially in terms of the capture of facial expression in performance.
Whilst Serkis is now synonymous with motion capture, (indeed, he has even founded his own motion capture studio called The Imaginarium), it has taken the awards voters time to catch up a little with how the technology works. There is serious Oscar talk around his performance of Caesar this time round.
Which is all well and good, but what about the animators? Well, this is a big discussion right now. The technology allows for a very realistic capture of the actors’ performance – what you see on screen, the emotion through facial expression for example, has come directly from the actor. The animators have added to that performance with tweaks to the aesthetic and also subtle additions to the performance, based on the physical attributes of the character – for example, a human actor can emote with two eyes, but the animator will need to help that performance on a character with three eyes. Pretty bad example, but hopefully gets the process across.
So what’s our next film?
Well, we’re going to break with the ‘rules’ of #FilmJourneys and for our second film … and we are going to give you six films to watch instead!
FILM TWO: THE LORD OF THE RINGS & The HOBBIT TRILOGIES (2001-2014)
These films, based on the Tolkien novels, have been a massive success and really cemented Andy Serkis as the ‘go-to’ motion capture actor after the world got to see his Gollum, the creepy, split-personality, cave-dwelling figure that has been the keep of the one ring to rule them all.
Originally, Serkis auditioned for the part thinking he would just be providing a voice, but when director Peter Jackson saw just how much energy Andy imbued his performance with, Jackson chose to go the motion capture route and the rest, as they say, is history.
Interesting to note that Serkis also did a lot of second unit directing on the films too; something he has been, rightfully, proud of.
FILM THREE: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN AND THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (2011)
Reporter Tintin, clever dog Snowy and his friends go on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Captain Haddock’s ancestor.
Here, Serkis plays Captain Haddock and he walks that fine line between scene-stealing and brilliant, stand-out performance.
When I first saw this film, it instantly became one of my all-time favourites. It’s Steven Spielberg back at his 80s best, combined with the true spirit of the Tintin books, (fortunately minus the racism), wrapped up in a visually stunning film with great humour and wonderful performances. Well, well worth a watch.
So there you have it. We have gone from apes, to a reporter and his dog to lords and rings! I’m sure there is something for everyone. To make sure our audience members can found out who we are talking about, we have the usual honourable mentions. First some films where his performance is motion capture work and then some films in which Serkis can actually be seen; no motion capture, no reductions to ‘voice only’
HONOURABLE MENTIONS (where you don’t see his face!):
– Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens
– King Kong
– Flushed Away
– The Simpsons
HONOURABLE MENTIONS (where you DO see his face!):
– Inkheart (2008)
– The Prestige (2006)
– Burke And Hare (2010) despite it having Simon Pegg in it