Andy Serkis Calls Motion Capture 'Digital Makeup', Riles Up Animators

Thanks to the release of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, many fans and movie-goers have been advocating for Andy Serkis to start earning more recognition for his outstanding work in the field of performance capture. He's been the mo-cap star of a series of blockbusters over the last 15 years, and his latest blockbuster only further cements him as one of Hollywood's greatest talent . But the question of how much of the performance is Andy Serkis and how much of it is special effects technicians has begun to create conflict within the ranks of those that helped get Serkis' Caesar to the big screen.

The whole controversy began with an interview that Andy Serkis did with Io9 . Discussing how far performance capture has come in the last few years, the actor said,

"But also the way that Weta digital, whom I've worked with on all 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. ."

Serkis, who is currently directing a partially performance-capture adaptation of The Jungle Book , has used terms like "digital makeup" in a way that some animators feel minimizes their contribution. While many would consider Serkis' work pure collaboration, they see Serkis as going out of the way to make it known he is the one responsible for the heart and soul of characters like Gollum. Animators complained to sites like Film Drunk by stating, "Without the VFX guys, he’s just a British guy in a leotard pretending to be a magical creature."

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves, however, has downplayed this. Speaking to Slashfilm about the controversy, the filmmaker said,

"They are up in arms about it, sure. Well here’s the thing, that term [Digital Make-up], it’s been explained to me was actually coined by Weta... I think there is a misunderstanding about what exactly happens. The performance if you’re affected emotionally by what’s happening, which you are when you watch Caesar, you’re affected by Andy... And then I think that there are people at outside companies, not Weta, who are up in arms because that description makes it sound as if there’s a kind of button that can be pushed that could create that. But there’s two levels of the highest kind of artistry that are going on in order to create Caesar. One is a performance. And that is 100 percent Andy. "

Reeves goes on to explain, in full detail, the nature of collaboration that occurs between Serkis and the animators. It's highly detailed, complex stuff, and well worth clicking over to read, if only to hear the depth of respect Reeves has not only for the motion-capture actors, but also the animators.

Animator Joe Letteri, meanwhile, broke it down to the folks at ScienceFiction .

"Matt [Reeves] is obviously directing it, he’s constructing the film, he’s constructing the narrative, and he’s working with the actors to bring out the moment – what’s the heart of the performance. But, yeah, we have to take that all on board and we have to do a lot of that behind the scenes to present it back to him in a finished fashion…Yeah, it’s a combination of the actors and the animators. The machine is only there as a tool to allow us to store information, amplify things that we do. None of that is machine generated; it’s all done by the artists, either actors or animators."

Is one side more right than the other? Feel free to debate whether it's Serkis or the animators who deserve most of the credit for performance capture in the comments section below.