ARTICLE: Should motion-capture performances be recognized by the Academy?


Last year Andy Serkis was placed in line once again for an Oscar nomination for playing another distinctively unusual non-human character. Caesar the lead primate in Dawn of The Planet of the Apes proves a further vindicating CGI role by Serkis who now prefers the alias Lil Mo-cap.

You don’t have to be a tech wizard to understand the significance of the nominations and what it means for the rapid-fire approaching future of film-making, “It is purely a technology. It’s a bunch of cameras that can record the actor’s performance in a different way” claims Serkis.  Not only is he set to use this digital make-up if you may, throughout a remake of The Jungle Book but Serkis has also anted up the pace in setting up his own motion-capture workshop in London, The Imaginarium Studios as one could imagine must be something like the Hogwarts of visual effects. A magical sphere where the godfather of this type of cinematic performance sets the standard for all to follow.

With performance capture you’ve got live-action combined with animation which then also collides with gaming technology. Anyone who’s played Fifa or any EA sports game can vouch that the onscreen player representing the real-life human one looks outstandingly alike, this is mainly due to motion-capturing composed with the help of cumbersome head-cams and sensor-embedded mo-cap suits.


Andy Serkis capturing Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A career synonymous with the term Motion capture, Serkis’s work is prominent in films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong which is why the word of recognition has been heard before. Unfortunately the Academy overlook’s big summer blockbuster films, and as remarkable as any of these computer animated wizardry crafted by Andy Serkis (presumably aided by a visual effects team suffering  9gag addictions), some folks-namely, Oscar voters – have had drawbacks accepting it as legitimate acting. For Serkis, it must be infuriating not being able to garner recognition from the Academy even if his current position is only as a team mascot. So exactly how does Hollywood fairly reward performers who have delved into motion capturing?

Opinions have been voiced, orbiting around the allowance of mo-cap performances to be judged accordingly with the more traditional “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” whilst others agree that a new category for motion-capture performances should be welcomed. Either way both performers and effects teams are challenging the issue by creating progressively powerful on-screen characters.

Whilst said performers have been receiving awards elsewhere, it’s the golden bald guy which is most yearned for, and rightfully so.

Closer to home the first motion capture studio opened its doors last year in East Africa whilst visible trends are quickly invading Mzansi too, where an array of local production houses have also included motion capture technologies on their show-reels.

Feels good doesn’t it? Furthermore, with the reassurance of Neil Blomkamp’s presence our chances of winning another Oscar seems healthier, Blomkamp has a certain knack for bringing together a melting pot of international stars in his films. As it stands Chappie, Blomkamps upcoming sci-fi darling, will feature Sharlto Copley donning the mo-cap suit whilst lending both his voice and physical gestures to portray the futuristic robot.

Watch the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer to see a sample of Andy Serkis’ work

Getting snubbed by the Oscars can be a traumatic ordeal unless you’re Leonardo DiCaprio who seemingly continues to be winning in life and pretty much everything else. Remember Avatar, James Cameron’s motion-capture marvel? Altogether it received nine nominations including Best Picture but Academy voters committed a snub fest of the highest order by ignoring all the actors. If by now you are still unclear on which team you’ll batting be for think about it this way; in future – film schools, workshops, festivals and even online tutorial’s will all refer to the state of Hollywood, a time where all the rage was about motion-capture and for such referrals to be kept tangible throughout history it may require its own hero. A hero who defiantly walked away with the golden gong for an alternative technologically-aided method of performance.

To surmise, great technological strides have been made in recent years – not forgetting the increasing role of animation in Hollywood. Actors and members of the Academy are gradually softening up to motion-capture techniques. Undeniably it’s for all to see that Serkis has broken new ground in acting, if there is any justice he will and should win an Oscar on the basis that performances like these have never been given before.


Kurt Mullins

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