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Step aside, Andy Serkis. You’re not the only one making waves with impressive motion-capture performances. Sharlto Copley was transformed into the A.I. Chappie in Neill Blomkamp’s latest through what the actor referred to in the past as "a poor man’s motion capture." The means are both impressive and time consuming for everyone involved, and Copley has honored all the animators behind this transformation with a unique shoutout.
We spoke to Copley during the Chappie press junket, during which he sported a custom-made black shirt. On it were the names of the more than 200 animators who brought the film’s robot to life by "animating every movement frame by frame." As the South African actor told Cinema Blend, "Any time you see Chappie, I’m there doing the scene."
If you’re unfamiliar with performance capture, this is how it’s done. In order to create what we see on the screen, Copley wore a grey suit decked out with various tracking markers, which allow the cameras to better record his precise motions. In post-production, animators then pore over the footage and use these recorded movements as a template to animate the Chappie character. According to Copley, the animators spent months after filming working on the actor’s movements, and this shirt -- worn during the press day -- was a simple way to give them thanks for their efforts.
Chappie is Copley’s third film with Blomkamp. The first film was District 9, in which the actor played a government official exposed to the biotechnology of aliens. The second was Elysium, playing a hired assassin for the wealthy class living in a luxurious space station while the poor slum it up on Earth. Though Chappie has received harsh criticism so far, Copley’s performance is impressive. He’s not your run-of-the-mill, all-knowing robot. When he’s first activated, Chappie is an infant, learning the ways of the world and human interaction at an accelerated rate. Through his creator, played by Dev Patel, Chappie realizes there are others who find the idea of artificial intelligence dangerous. (Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver’s characters, for example.) As Jackman told us in a separate interview, he believes his character’s thinking is important. "Even Bill Gates says, 'I think we should be wary of artificial intelligence,’" he commented.
Chappie opens in theaters this weekend, and though we didn't really care for the movie all that much, it's worth checking out Sharlto Copley in action.