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In the world of performance capture, there is no name bigger than Andy Serkis. The man helped revolutionize a new acting method when he played Gollum in Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and he has since cemented his legacy in the field with the modern Planet of the Apes movies. Nobody alive is more famous for their full-body performing skills than Serkis -- so he made a natural choice for actor Pilou Asbaek to turn to when he was making the new sci-fi war film Overlord.
The new Bad Robot production had its world premiere earlier this fall at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, and it was the day after that screening that I had the pleasure of sitting down with director Julius Avery and Pilou Asbaek -- who plays the villainous Commander Wafner in the film. Part of the film sees Asbaek's character injected with an experimental serum that sees him turn into an undead monster, and it was while discussing that aspect of the role that I learned about his Andy Serkis lessons. I asked about how the two men worked to define the effects of the serum, and the actor explained,
For Julius, we could discuss a lot of theoretical things, but it needs to be concrete, it needs to be something physical. So what we both agreed on is, 'Okay if you take a couple of lessons...' And I took lessons with Andy Serkis because he's the performance capture master. So when you inject [the serum], your body does something, because we need to see it go through the body so we know it works. And those are the things that are fun to play around with.
It should be noted that Pilou Asbaek doesn't actually do any specific motion capture work in Overlord, with the effects of the serum shown primarily through practical make-up, but the important thing here was figuring out how the character moves. Wafner goes through a physical transformation through the movie that changes the way his body operates, and it was with help from Andy Serkis that the actor wanted to fully explore that part of the performance.
Based on an original screenplay by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, Overlord begins in the hours before D-Day during World War II, and centers on a group of American soldiers executing a covert mission. In order for the invasion of Normandy Beach to happen, the heroes must take down a tower blocking communications -- but it's while sneaking into France that the men discover a Nazi plot that is far more nefarious and dangerous than anything the world has ever seen. They're mass producing super strong mutant zombies with special abilities -- and as Julius Avery puts it,
It's not quite perfected yet, and so there are side effects and... yeah! So you have to watch the film and see what those side effects are.
You can watch Pilou Asbaek and Julius Avery discuss the rules of the serum in Overlord and the Andy Serkis lessons by clicking play on the video below.