In his never-ending quest to be recognized as a serious thespian, character actor Andy Serkis continues to minimize the role of the animators who make his performances possible. With each interview he gives, Serkis seems to do more and more of the work, and the digital artists less and less. According to Serkis, just about the only things he doesn’t do at this point is build his own motion capture rigs and provide his own craft services.
Now that he’s set to direct an entirely motion capture version of The Jungle Book for Warner Bros., Serkis is even more dead set on diminishing the animators in the filmmaking process—at least in the interviews that he gives to the media, if not necessarily in reality. In an interview that Serkis did recently, he made one of his most preposterous statements yet: that he ‘authors’ his performances entirely himself, without the creative input of any other artist. According to Serkis, the only thing that the digital artists at Weta do is paint ‘digital makeup’ over his immaculate acting. Says one-man-band Serkis:
The technology has evolved in the sense that it’s become more transparent. You don’t really realize that it’s there at all anymore. And even more importantly, the perception has changed — the use of the authored performance is much more respected.
The technology is one thing, but basically one has to remember that it is only technology. Performance capture is another bunch of cameras. It’s 360 degree cameras filming an actor, and I think it’s the understanding of that has changed, and that’s happened because we’ve gone from a single character like Gollum to multiple characters in films like Avatar. It suddenly went from being an outside, peripheral activity and a singular activity to virtual production. Avatar was a groundbreaking movie. And [in terms of] performance capture live on set, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a game changer there because it enabled you to be actually out on location shooting the movie. And then this movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is the biggest ever. In Rise we were shooting on sets for the first time. And with this, it’s the biggest on-location shoot with performance capture and multiple characters. There’s been a significant change.
But also the way that Weta digital, whom I’ve worked with on oct of those projects, that they have now schooled their animators to honor the performances that are given by the actors on set. And the teams of people who understand that way of working now are established. And that’s something that has really changed. It’s a given that they absolutely copy [the performance] to the letter, to the point in effect what they are doing is painting digital makeup onto actors’ performances. It’s that understanding which has changed as much as anything.
Reportedly, Serkis used the same “animators only apply digital makeup” line at the FMX conference in Stuttgart, Germany a few weeks ago. His latest comments haven’t drawn much attention, although a handful of animators have noticed the io9 interview that is excerpted above. The scariest observation was made by veteran CG animator Keith Lango who astutely noted on Twitter [see below] that though Serkis may not have any clue what he’s talking about, his comments accurately reflect the underlying desire of mainstream Hollywood. Certainly, James Cameron would approve.