Butchers Hook Blog
Celebrating Andy Serkis in motion – From A Return of the King cameraman
Posted on 1:10pm Monday 16th Jan 2012
There's been a lot of talk recently about motion capture and CG as it becomes ever more prevalent in films, the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes and upcoming The Hobbit being two examples.
Looking back to when it was first introduced, we shouldn't forget why it was developed and the importance it has. Not, in my mind, to replace human actors, but to enable and enhance the actor’s craft within digital CG creations.
Working as a camera operator with Andy Serkis and Peter Jackson on the motion capture stage of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King showed me how much life could be breathed into what was originally going to be a mere computer character.
Firstly, Jackson was able to use Digital Video production footage of Andy's performance to work the rough edit around whilst awaiting the time intensive CG modelling and rendering to finish on the computers.
Secondly, the motion that was captured was used to make the CG model much more life-like and enabled the other actors to interact with a real person on set.
Thirdly, it wasn't just Motion Capture that was recorded on the stage. I was part of a team recording Andy's face in close-up so that facial expressions could also be accurately re-created by the animators.
Fourthly, and by no means least, MOCAP enables an actor like Andy to bring all those great thespian nuances to a film. Performance, interaction (great direction allows the characters to react, respond and antagonise) and improvisation. Andy Serkis would 'become' Gollum, and at times flip to Smeagol and back again with not only speed but subtlety.
People who dislike the increasing use of CG in films should remember that movie making is about creating magic, about making make-believe. At the end of The Lord of The Rings trilogy, before the hobbits are able to have their overextended self-congratulatory epilogue, Frodo bites the ring from Gollum's finger, Gollum then falls into Mount Doom. As he flails backwards into a sea of fire we watch his horror, not at his impending demise, but at his loss of the ring and then as he falls his glee that the ring is going with him. This dramatic scene was all made possible because Andy Serkis contorted himself over the back of a broken office chair in a draughty warehouse in a suburb of Wellington, New Zealand. As a member of production explained at the time this was a 'Kiwi job'. Who cares that the practicalities of shooting that scene - both for facial expression and motion capture -weren't salubrious, when the technology allowed it to be transformed into the magic that made the final cut.
This motion capture technology is being ever refined. Even when I worked on Return of the King the process had undergone many changes since The Fellowship of The Ring. Now with The Planet of the Apes motion capture is proving an important addition to many action/adventure films.
Technology has always augmented film making, often being explored before it is fully ready to suspend our disbelief, but it is the development of such technology that enables cinema to keep progressing, from sound to colour, to digital, to CG, (let’s just try and forget 3D, for now at least).