Motion Capture

Andy Serkis Smeagol Hobbit

When the biggest movie of the calendar year is a nearly three-hour festival of noise starring automotive robots, it’s easy to fear that the human element of filmmaking is slowly being lost to digital effects and bottom line corporate interests. But the career of Andy Serkis provides a powerful demonstration as to how the human capacity for imagination and feeling can work with, not against, the utilities of motion picture technology towards groundbreaking ends. Serkis considers himself an actor first and foremost, but he occupies a unique and privileged place across so many film properties that could otherwise easily be bereft of inspiration, content to live in the uncanny valley of requisite CGI. Serkis’ work requires his presence during all levels of production, and in so doing he operates as a medium between a filmmaker’s vision and their collaboration with cast and crew both in front of and behind the camera. His body is, in summary, the place in which the material and immaterial aspects of 21st century filmmaking play out. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the guy who only sometimes plays a human being.


Culture Warrior

The performance was so compelling, and the digital handiwork so real, that critics believed it would be a huge oversight if the Academy didn’t find a way to recognize this historical milestone. Audiences were compelled and engrossed with a CGI creature whose features and expressions were so detailed that he seemed to integrate seamlessly with his flesh-and-blood cohorts on the silver screen, occasionally even going so far as surpassing them in terms of the quality of his performance. The character was Gollum, the film was The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and the performer was a talented but then little-known British actor named Andy Serkis. Almost a decade since, Serkis has since found his rightful place as the premier motion capture performer working in Hollywood, but he is still yet to be recognized by the Academy for his work. I imagine that the debates over his snub for Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes will surmise yet again with another standout performance, just as this year’s debate closely resembles the one contested over Gollum nine years ago.



Whereas Pixar has dominated the category in recent years, the sense that Cars 2 isn’t a shoe-in for awards season is offering a spotlight to a wider field. In fact, it’s also a wider field that will beget more nominees – if there are 16 eligible in the given year, 5 nominees will make the short list. If the numbers stay steady, this would mark the third time since the Best Animated Feature‘s inception in 2001 that there are more than 3 films up for the big prize. According to The Wrap, the list of films that have been submitted for consideration include: The Adventures of Tintin, Alois Nebel, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Arthur Christmas, Cars 2, A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Gnomeo & Juliet, Happy Feet Two, Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, Kung Fu Panda 2, Mars Needs Moms, Puss in Boots, Rango, Rio, The Smurfs, Winnie the Pooh, and Wrinkles. Just because they’ve been submitted doesn’t meant they’re all eligible. Several haven’t done qualifying runs in Los Angeles theaters, and many are questionable because of their use of motion capture or live-action blend. In the mo-cap cases of Tintin, Happy Feet Two and Mars Needs Moms, filmmakers have been asked to discuss their methods and intentions with the process in order to prove eligible. The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks are also animation/live-action hybrids, so their fate is unclear at this time. Without them, and without, say, the Czech Republic’s rotoscoped Alois Nebel, the […]


Rise of the Planet of the Apes

One of the great challenges of telling a story about apes is that you either have to have thousands of well-trained apes for the project, or you need superior technology to bring human actors to simian life through motion capture. Really, you have to do all that without making it look silly, so it’s fortunate that WETA has had so much experience in the past few years bringing mo-cap to the heights it’s at today. This quick, informative featurette shows off WETA’s talents alongside the blinding brilliance of Andy Serkis (with side-by-side video of his performance and what it would become) and seeks to shed a bit of light on where the tech is at this point, and how they utilized the emotions of a human to build Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It’s still unclear how they’ll conquer us considering we’ve got guns and tanks, and they have sticks, but this featurette is still very, very cool.



While waiting for Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson for The Adevtnures of Tintin press conference, I kept imagining how the duo would magically enter the room. First of all, their podium was slightly bigger than most there. Not too much bigger, but most certainly bigger. But what if it was gigantic? What if they wanted to stare down on all of us attending like Gods? As for their entrance, digital materializing infront of us would’ve been cool. Or if the duo showed up in a pair of mo-cap suits. Or if they were carried in on a Tintin themed throne. Surprisingly and sadly, neither of them entered the room that way. Once Spielberg and Jackson got to the press event, they delivered their thoughts on 3D, the determination of Tintin, and what they learned about each other during their first Tintin adventure:


Apes Rising

A significant portion of the 20th Century Fox Panel was dedicated to the upcoming August release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a prequel to the popular Apes franchise that focuses on Caesar, a laboratory animal that first gets smart and then gets revenge. The panel started with a “research clip” that showed rebel soldiers in Africa teasing a chimpanzee by mocking it. Aping it, if you will. The chimpanzee got the last laugh, and most of the laughs in between, when he picked up an AK-47 assault rifle and within seconds figured out that pulling the trigger made it go bang, and the bang sound made all the mean men run away like little girls. After the clip played, director Rupert Wyatt came out and discussed animal rights before Caesar himself stole the show.


Movie Camera Technology

James Cameron is always on the brink of revolution. Really, the dude needs to take a breather. At this year’s CinemaCon, the tech-centric director couldn’t shut up about 3D, faster frame rates and improved camera systems while everyone around him was salivating for a detail or two on his plans for the Avatar sequels. Forget that — there are shutter speeds to be discussed! We’re all about Peter Jackson hyping The Hobbit shooting 48 fps on RED digital 3D and legendary effects guru Douglas Trumbull heading back to directing with a tech-first approach, but at some point, isn’t the equipment standing in the way of great storytelling? We’ll give the benefit of the doubt to these three men, but whether any of their advancements are really “the future of movies,” won’t be known for a few years. Unfortunately, just because you’re brilliant and you say something is awesome…doesn’t mean it’s awesome. Here’s a look back at some of the other “game-changing” inventions that were supposed to change the way we watch movies, but never really picked up steam.



I’m hoping that a casting director for Robert Zemeckis asked Cary Elwes to star in Yellow Submarine, and he answered, “As you wish.”



Poster goodness for I Love You Phillip Morris and A Christmas Carol.

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published: 01.26.2015
published: 01.26.2015
published: 01.26.2015
published: 01.26.2015
B-, C-

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