'Give that ape an Oscar!'
Actors who make use of motion capture technology in order to portray apes and other creatures should be recognised at film awards, according to the director of the new “Planet of the Apes” film.
“They do deserve awards recognition and those categories are already there,” says Matt Reeves. Andy Serkis, he says, should be in contention for best actor prizes for his portrayal of ape leader Caesar.
"If you're moved by Caesar you're moved by him. He's putting his heart and soul into it. If you're responding emotionally to Caesar, you're really responding emotionally to what he has played,” says Reeves.
Serkis has emerged as a leading proponent of motion or performance capture, mostly thanks to his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. The technology maps the movements and facial expressions of a human actor onto a digital creation that can then be made to interact seamlessly with other human actors in a real-life setting.
The 50-year-old first portrayed Caesar, an ape bestowed with superior intelligence, in 2011's “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, a prequel to the original “Planet of the Apes” film released in 1968.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, released in the UK and Ireland this week, continues the story that film began, as Caesar faces fresh threats to his family and tribe from a band of survivors of a deadly pandemic that has decimated the earth's human population.
US actress Judy Greer and British actor Toby Kebbell are among the other performers to appear in ape form in the film, which has been enthusiastically received by critics on both sides of the Atlantic.
Opinions vary over whether a performance dependent on assistance from visual effects technicians can be considered comparable to one given on screen by a flesh-and-blood actor.
Serkis has argued that the process should be considered as 'digital make-up', a controversial term some believe minimises the contribution made by computer animators towards the end result.
Reeves is quick to praise the work of New Zealand-based Weta Digital, the company behind the photo-realistic animals seen in his film and its predecessor. “What they do takes such incredible artistry, because they are following the performance,” he explains. “My feeling is that there are two categories that apply to the artistry in this film that are in the Oscars already. One is performance by an actor, because that's what Andy is and that's what he does. The other is best visual effects, and there's no question that's what Weta are doing.”
The costly and time-consuming technique differs from that used in the original Planet of the Apes film and its sequels, which employed then-revolutionary cosmetic make-up effects. “From a film-making perspective, what motion capture provides is so far beyond what you can do with prosthetic make-up,” Reeves argues.