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Andy Serkis: Future of Motion Capture Is Wearing Real People’s Faces, Such as Abraham Lincoln’s

Whether people want to hear it or not, Serkis says mo-cap is getting closer than ever to being "digital makeup."

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, Andy Serkis, 2011. TM & copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved/Courtesy Everett Collection

Andy Serkis on the set of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

Andy Serkis has riled up the film industry in the past for referring to motion capture technology as “digital makeup,” but he remains committed to that term while discussing the future of mo-cap in a recent interview with Total Film magazine. Serkis, whose performance as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is considered a landmark breakthrough for mo-cap, is in awe of how well the technology is advancing since his “Rings” days 20 years ago. In fact, Serkis said mo-cap is getting so advanced that it’s only a matter of time before actors can use the technology to wear the faces of real-life historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln.

“In terms of performance, capture, the method of facial capture is evolving all the time and the detail, the nuances in the end, the actual root performance that you get out of an actor, and the translation of that into the final thing is getting closer and closer,” Serkis said. “One would see that through, for instance, the ‘[Planet of the] Apes’ movies. And even going back and doing ‘The Hobbit’ after many years, Gollum in ‘The Hobbit’ was on another level in terms of facial capture.”

Serkis continued, “People have criticized me before for saying it’s like digital makeup, but it is becoming that. I think you will be able to play someone from history from photogrammetry and have a real Abraham Lincoln’s face that you’re playing rather than a sculpted one.”

Serkis has often said mo-cap was heading in this direction. During an appearance at the 2019 IBC Show in Amsterdam, the actor and director put forth an idea that mo-cap could be “the end of typecasting,” adding, “[Because of motion capture technology], there should be great opportunities for disabled actors to play able-bodied characters.” Serkis stopped short from fully endorsing other examples.

“[With performance capture], it would be possible for an actor of color to play Abraham Lincoln and for me, as a middle-class white man, to play Martin Luther King,” Serkis said. “The question is whether that is ethically right. Diversity is hugely important so I can understand sensitivities about this.”

Another hot button issue that concerns performance capture is the resurrection of dead actors onscreen. Serkis said “serious issues” are raised by the ability to “create photorealistic characters, to digitally de-age actors, or digitally resurrect performances from actors who have passed.” Peter Cushing’s digital role in the 2016 tentpole “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” sparked a debate about the ethical issues of putting a dead performer back on screen. Cushing died in 1994, well over two decades before he appeared in “Rogue One.”

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