Andy Serkis has been getting a fair amount of praise recently for his performance as Caesar in the Planet of the Apes prequel. I haven’t seen it yet, or will it be ever? Predictably so with pretty much every single Serkis CGI performance, there is much discussion about whether or not Serkis deserves the lion’s share of the acclaim/credit for the performance given that he is aided by animators. I side with those who believe he and other actors and actresses should be lauded for their performance, regardless of how it is given as long as it is quality (different discussion for a different day about ‘What is quality acting’). I don’t generally like to argue this because the people who usually side with the animators don’t know anything about what went on. There seems to be this odd assumption permeating underneath the surface of their argument that there is this magic button that the press and PRESTO there’s the final result who see in the movie.
I would like to say that I certainly am not minimizing the role of animators. It takes an incredible amount of work. You know what also takes a lot of work? The costume designers that dress the role players, make up artists that paint the faces/bodies and the dietitians/trainers that get them into the proper shape for the role. They play as large of a role aesthetically that animators do, but they are rarely given an credit unless it’s extremely obvious like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, John Hurt in The Elephant Man or any fantasy or British historical piece. The only time other contributing pieces are mentioning is when is when they are in the most grandiose fashion. It just happens that all performance capture is deemed grandiose.
Another thing that strikes me odd about the opposing side is that they never compare performance captured animation to regular ol’ CGI films. I can see why that comparison would be hard to make in film considering there are few that aren’t performance capture (PC) films that attempt realistic models to compare against in a parallel fashion. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. That’s an extremely hard comparison to justify considering most of the PC films have come out 6+ years since then and it will be considered a weighted comparison. The best example I can think of is actually in video games. Now, if you have time, go to Youtube and look up LA Noire’s facial motion capture and then go look at Mass Effect 3’s facial animation. The latter isn’t particularly bad, but the differences are vast once you’ve seen LA Noire and they’re pretty damn distracting in a ‘this can not be unseen’ type of way.
So with that in mind, for me the debate is pretty much settled in my mind. The actor plays a crucial enough role in the performance where he and she deserves the bulk of the credit. If that wasn’t true, then would we not be seeing studios do the animation by hand instead if they were able to get the exact same quality in animation?