Andy Serkis. Andy Serkis.
motion capture

Andy Serkis Does Everything, Animators Do Nothing, Says Andy Serkis

In his never-ending quest to be recognized as a serious thespian, character actor Andy Serkis continues to minimize the role of the animators who make his performances possible. With each interview he gives, Serkis seems to do more and more of the work, and the digital artists less and less. According to Serkis, just about the only things he doesn’t do at this point is build his own motion capture rigs and provide his own craft services.

RELATED: Lord of the Rings Animation Supervisor Randall William Cook Speaks Out on Andy Serkis

Now that he’s set to direct an entirely motion capture version of The Jungle Book for Warner Bros., Serkis is even more dead set on diminishing the animators in the filmmaking process—at least in the interviews that he gives to the media, if not necessarily in reality. In an interview that Serkis did recently, he made one of his most preposterous statements yet: that he ‘authors’ his performances entirely himself, without the creative input of any other artist. According to Serkis, the only thing that the digital artists at Weta do is paint ‘digital makeup’ over his immaculate acting. Says one-man-band Serkis:

The technology has evolved in the sense that it’s become more transparent. You don’t really realize that it’s there at all anymore. And even more importantly, the perception has changed — the use of the authored performance is much more respected.

The technology is one thing, but basically one has to remember that it is only technology. Performance capture is another bunch of cameras. It’s 360 degree cameras filming an actor, and I think it’s the understanding of that has changed, and that’s happened because we’ve gone from a single character like Gollum to multiple characters in films like Avatar. It suddenly went from being an outside, peripheral activity and a singular activity to virtual production. Avatar was a groundbreaking movie. And [in terms of] performance capture live on set, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a game changer there because it enabled you to be actually out on location shooting the movie. And then this movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is the biggest ever. In Rise we were shooting on sets for the first time. And with this, it’s the biggest on-location shoot with performance capture and multiple characters. There’s been a significant change.

But also the way that Weta digital, whom I’ve worked with on oct of those projects, that they have now schooled their animators to honor the performances that are given by the actors on set. And the teams of people who understand that way of working now are established. And that’s something that has really changed. It’s a given that they absolutely copy [the performance] to the letter, to the point in effect what they are doing is painting digital makeup onto actors’ performances. It’s that understanding which has changed as much as anything.

Reportedly, Serkis used the same “animators only apply digital makeup” line at the FMX conference in Stuttgart, Germany a few weeks ago. His latest comments haven’t drawn much attention, although a handful of animators have noticed the io9 interview that is excerpted above.

serkis-apesSEE ALSO: Andy Serkis Is Giving More Credit to the Animators Now

The most troubling observation was made by veteran CG animator Keith Lango who noted on Twitter [see below] that though Serkis may not have any clue what he’s talking about, his comments accurately reflect the underlying desire of mainstream Hollywood. Certainly, James Cameron would approve.

  • Jonathan Lyons

    The guy acts like a monkey.

    • nope

      [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “It is OK to post with a nickname or alias, but your email address (which we will NEVER share publicly), must be a real, permanent email address. Comments with fake or non-permanent emails will be deleted.”]

  • otterhead

    Andy Serkis did not, in any way, say what your headline implies.

    • Max W

      He didn’t say they do NOTHING, but he did negate what they actually do. Painting onto an actor’s performance is not what animators do when dealing with mocap…

    • AmidAmidi

      He may have not used those exact words but it’s exactly what he’s implying. Serkis has been angling for awards recognition for years. He’s trying to set up animators with the live-action precedent of make-up/hair stylists so that he won’t have to share award recognition with them.

      Animators, however, are not the functional equivalent of make-up artists on his characters. They are integral to the core of his performance. A live actor’s performance could still exist without makeup or hair styling, but Serkis’ performance would be completely unconvincing without the efforts of animators. The animators have to make creative choices on top of his framework to make his characters believable.

      • otterhead

        No, that’s what you’ve chosen to read into his comments.

        What he’s doing here is touting (rightfully) the vast improvements in motion-capture technology at capturing the nuances of an actor’s performances. Of course animators still need to make creative choices to bring out the details and make it come to life, but when there’s better tech, there’s less guesswork involved. We’ve come a long way from the janky, dead-eyed mocap of Polar Express, and to me, that’s all Andy Serkis is saying. He isn’t disparaging animators. You can pretend he is, because that’s your job as a blog editor apparently, but that’s not what he’s saying.

        • jonhanson

          It may not be his intention but it’s the result. Animators have rarely gotten recognition in Hollywood and mo cap artists have gotten it worse because it’s the people in the suits who get to do all the self-promotion.

          I mean he’s obviously lauding the technology but by talking up animators who “absolutely copy [the performance] to the letter, to the point in effect what they are doing is painting digital makeup onto actors’ performances” he’s essentially saying that the mo cap animators have as much to do with the performance as makeup artists, which is painfully wrong. Not to disparage makeup artists of course but they don’t have to massage and repose every frame of a performance.

          • Strong Enough

            [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

        • Andrew

          The janky, dead eyed mocap of Polar Express is what you get when you throw mocap data into a 3D environment. It’s a result of 3d characters falling somewhere in the uncanny valley. Without an animator there to create visual appeal and to redo the animation you will never escape that until you can create a movie with photoreal characters. And at that point you’re better off just do it in live action.

        • joblo

          Calling animators “digital make up artists” is a passive aggressive way to downplay their involvement and overplay his. Whether or not he’s an ego-maniac, his is trying to puff up his contribution plain and simple. And per the other discussions, I don’t think mocap equals matching it perfectly. It’s reference. Norman Rockwell used reference. Clearly his paintings wouldn’t exist or look the way they do without his photo reference…but they wouldn’t look the way they do if they were just photos either. He exaggerated them and improved the composition. That’s the proper way to use reference

    • man

      I completely agree with what your saying ‘otterhead’ what hes saying is animators respect the performances that are given on the mocap stage which is 100% correct, that is what we do, we use the motion capture and then alter that mocap to make the cg character reflect exactly what the performance was on set, and thats why feature films are using that technology so much, because directors can direct a performance from their actors knowing they will see the same thing on screen later on. Sure he could of said a little more about how much effort the animators go through to re create what was seen on set from the the sometimes terrible mocap data they receive, but this is a man who understands the workflow, another way you could look at it is that he was trying to put mocap into basic terms so 90 year old hollywood investors with no idea about technology understand whats going.

  • Chá de Santo Damian

    Yeah, I remember Bill Tessier saying how in “The Polar Express” he was told to not modify anything from the acting of Tom Hanks, and look how this turned out =/
    Actors can be real divas

    • Mike

      To be fair, I’d say the other performances in that film needed a lot more work than Tom Hanks’.

  • Max W

    What a weenie. Let’s see him direct all the animators for his Jungle Book feature then, should be interesting.

  • wendy

    I think Andy has “Anthony Daniels Syndrome”… that begs the question. Who is better? Anthony or Andy?

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Pure egotism.

  • jonhanson

    Are we allowed to make insulting comments about people if they aren’t commenters? Because if so I’d like to say “fuck Andy Serkis.” But I won’t if that’s not allowed.

    Even though that’s what I’d like to say.

    • AmidAmidi

      I know you’re asking in jest, but this would be a good time to reiterate that name-calling is not allowed toward anybody on Cartoon Brew. We’ve already removed one comment which called Serkis a name.

      • jonhanson

        Half jest, half seriousness. I understand the policy with regards to commenters and writers but it feels like the lines get blurred when the topic of public figures comes up, I feel Seth McFarlane gets called a few things whenever he’s brought up, rightly so for the most part.

        Anyways feel free to delete my comment because it was made in a fit of passion though I stand by the intent.

  • Mark Mayerson

    If Andy Serkis is such a great actor, why isn’t he starring in live action films?

    • Steve

      He’s going to be in Star Wars Episode VII…..right?

    • Keith Melton

      You might want to check his resume. He has been in quite a number of works as a live actor.

    • Mike Truijens

      he actually played Albert Einstein in the film “Einstein & Eddington”, which also starred David Tennant as Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington.

    • iamsam

      Cause his is also kind of an ugly guy and Hollywood doesn’t really like ugly guys. He plays ugly guys, apes, monkeys and sick looking monsters pretty well be cause he is just not that attractive. He is a great actor though but Hollywood wants its leading men to be 6’3″ with abs of steel.

      Also I don’t think he is dissing animators. I think he is trying to say that for this film they animators are not to deviate from the actors movements or do anything creative in the cleanup and refining. It must be straight like tracing over the actual performance.

      • Ron

        Well…Steve Buscemi is not the most beautiful guy in Hollywood but he gets work!!!

        • Julia Howe

          ..can you say no to those eyes?

    • Luke Jenkins

      have you not seen Mojo, 24 hour party people, inkheart, or sex and drugs and rock and roll to name but a few? :)

  • James

    The animators have now been ‘schooled’? Maybe we should just leave out the ‘digital makeup’ and see how well his scenes pan out dressed in a spotty leotard complete with horribly hammy facial acting.

  • Taco

    I hope he falls flat on his smug face & grains enough sense to get over himself. Doesn’t he realise that in every movie he is basically ERASED & comped out of the shots by the digital FX team and replaced by the CGI character that he is technically just a STAND IN for, right… right?

  • DangerMaus

    “I know you’re asking in jest, but this would be a good time to reiterate
    that name-calling is not allowed toward anybody on Cartoon Brew. We’ve
    already removed one comment which called Serkis a name.”

    Whoops. I guess the last comment I made isn’t getting in then, Although, it was pretty mild but described his attitude perfectly.

  • the Gee

    This is a serious question. Does Serkis consider his acting to be animation acting or just straight acting that he does well? The distinction being does the performance he get work best for filmed live action (straight) or for something entirely animated? Does he speak of how he exaggerates or anything? Just curious.

  • vangaans

    I think the animators at Weta are brilliant. I think the performances of Andy Serkis are brilliant and I can see the animators lean heavily on his acting choices. Why wouldn’t you?

  • patbb

    Andy Serkis want to get all of the credit…
    All of the preciouuuuuussssss credit! ;)

    Eaten alive by his own greed to be famous.

  • Kenn Mc Donald

    Yep. That’s exactly what he said at FMX. With not a work of thanks in there anywhere. He really wants that Academy nod. As a veteran of many mocap movies I can tell you that animators are not “painting digital makeup” (which isn’t that easy either by the way.)

  • Lindsay Small-Butera

    Heartbreaking considering the state of VFX recognition in Hollywood.

  • binal

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

  • RoZa

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

  • Roger_Evans_58

    Not to be unduly argumentative but he did not use the word “only” and I feel this one word misquote makes all the difference in the world regarding intent. To say that animators are “only” applying digital make up would be an insult. To say animators are, in effect, painting digital makeup onto an actor’s performance is, in my opinion, an attempt to describe a complex process to a layman audience. And far from being ignorant about the process, in all the other interviews I’ve read, he reveals an innate understanding for the function of the animator which we all know is changing almost monthly as technology advances. So, while no one will suggest that CGI animation is easy, no one will argue against the notion that today’s animators have it far easier than their predecessors. Is that statement an insult to modern animators or simply an accurate summation of how the process has changed for the better? More to the real underlying and unspoken point of this thread, if the end result of CGI artists pursuing more efficient and intuitive animation tools is that more people can now compete in what used to be a more demanding and specialized field, who’s fault is it if CGI animators are seen more and more by the public as push button artists and by the industry as mere cogs in the very machine they helped to create? Ironically, I see Serkis being critiqued for trying to establish, for CGI performers, a level of respect that CGI animators crave but have been repeatedly denied by the industry.

  • Zhenting Zhou

    Actors Sh*ting on animation and animators… no one cares what actor says, less than no one people cares about what animators says…

  • fonz

    Please everyone that works on the jungle book just apply the rigs animation to the motion capture and then do nothing else, and submit it like it’s finished , I would love to see what it looks like but more so what his reaction would be

  • HilariousCow

    Performance actors should be wary of dissing Animators. Look what happened to Kevin Spacey:

  • elliot Lobell

    it really is sad that the mainstream hollywood execs see the animation industry as secondary…

    just reminds me of this website:

    • Lucius

      Hollywood has ALWAYS perceived animation as secondary to live action. It has recently begun to get under Hollywood’s craw that animation is pulling in a lot more box-office than live action. The industry will gladly take those profits but it won’t give equal respect to animators that it routinely does to actors or directors.

  • mikeluz

    This is entirely about award eligibility and industry recognition. He wants to slant the conversation in such a way that he could be nominated for best actor categories on films where the actor was doing mo-cap. Because the truth is that the performances of characters created digitally using mo-cap technology are a hybrid performance of the actor and the animators who inevitably tweak the performance to work with the anatomy of the fictional character depicted on screen.

    Andy Serkis wants an Oscar and as long as the academy looks at Mo-cap as a collaborative performance he will not be eligible. He is just trying to convince the public that the animators have nothing to do with the performance you see on screen.

  • DrD

    Nobody is going to pay to see a guy in leotard and sensors pretending to be an ape, alien or monster…without the digital make up, your performance, regardless of the quality is just going to look silly. It’s a process, you play a role but other people are integral to the end product, Mr. Serkis.

  • adam d

    easy peasy

  • Bennet

    Saying that is a very misleading headline is an understatement. He’s not saying that at all. Serkis obviously has deep knowledge and respect of the tech and people, but his
    priorities and views are as an actor. I think the problem here is a lot of motion capture animators are getting scared of the significant change that is occurring. The performance IS being more honored (in Serkis’ work at least). The need for having to keyframe a performance is slowly becoming extinct as tech becomes better. The performance creation side is being taken out of their hands and being given to the actor, as it should be. It doesn’t mean the digital work they will do will be of any less value, and it will take as just as much skill to do it well, but it does mean they will lose an aspect of the job they probably enjoyed most. That’s what I think the real issue is here that has hit a raw nerve.

    As for this blog, I think it’s very mean spirited and an unnecessary attack.

  • I won’t defend him because he’s still downplaying animators role, but what he says in the interview is FAR from what that article or the alarmist headline is implying.
    He made an irresponsible comparison but this seems like very irresponsible journalism to me.

    • Barry Munkton

      I agree. Amid likes to stir up controversy when there is none. Irresponsible journalism. But then Amid isn’t really a journalist is he?

  • Luis. A

    Gonna sprinkle some digital makeup on some animation…see if the glitter makes the performance shine a bit more.

  • Javier Barriola

    He is on Twitter now, the animation community should write him (respectfully) about those comments. I dont know if he is ignorant (which i doubt it) or he is begin just egotistical about what he does. Motion capture its a tool. its just a reference, the results would be the same, but some directors like to have something on set i guess. I would just love to see a movie with no animators, only mo cap, and see how pretty it looks without sense of weight

  • Bennet

    If they did, you would see a massive change from gollum in ‘the two towers’ to gollum in ‘The Hobbit’. That change would be an incredible amount more of Serkis’ performance, less clean up and not much keyframe animation. Maybe then, you would understand where he is coming from.

  • Barry Munkton

    Another needlessly inflammatory post by Amid in yet another shameless piece of rabble-rousing to generate hits.

    “In his never-ending quest to be recognized as a serious thespian” writes Amid, but the thing is, Andy Serkis was a respected thespian long before his mo-cap days and continues to do interesting work. Of course, Amid never sees anything that isn’t a cartoon or a big budget hollywood product.

  • Carlos

    After reading the full artcle, I think the headline is very misleading, one can only asume Serkis ignores the complicated proccess that exists after his performance -which I agree is a shame for an actor in his position, after more than 10 years of “digital performances”- he is the one who needs to be schooled in that matter in any case, but trying to create rage to an actor with words he never said, seems kind of low for Cartoon Brew :/

  • rnenno

    I’m going to give Serkis the benefit of the doubt because he’s done this so many times and understands the animator’s role in mocap, and say that he probably doesn’t actually believe these comments he’s making, but that it’s a way to draw Hollywood’s notice that the Academy should recognize mocap performances come award season time.

  • Jack Rabbit

    It’s as valid as animators calling the assistant animators cleanup artists. Its degrading an entire crew of people so that it looks like they are doing all the work. How does it feel?!?!?!

  • hmm

    Honestly I’m not really sure if Serkis is to blame, this kind of talk sounds like a backwashed producer-explanation of the process. I can’t tell you how many producers, giving the tour of “where the magic happens”, that I’ve heard to say similar things to the VIPs to assure them that, yes, they and what they do are the most important thing ever and everything is being done to preserve that. It’s not very often that the actors go over to the animators by themselves, usually they’re being escorted by a producer giving a tour who tells them an interesting but flattering version of the process and we keep quiet and when they leave roll our eyes or gag to our neighbor. I don’t think he means to belittle animators, I think he’s just kind of ignorant that it takes someone with the ability to understand his performance to recreate it effectively with technology.

    • Talkbacker With No Name

      Oh so you are not a digital makeup artist then. You are a tracer? :p

  • Bob Harper

    How many movies that have CG characters have been done without animators? I can think of plenty that have been done with out actors being performance/motion captured.

  • Talkbacker With No Name

    What a ridiculous article. It’s features like this that makes me not want to visit CB anymore.

  • BubblySoup

    oh my…. That’s going to be a floaty, unexciting and weightless result…. Can’t wait to see…

  • Jonathan Lyons

    If Serkis is producing his own mocap feature, I doubt it will go well. He not only disrespects animators, he fears they will ruin his work. One of Ed Catmull’s lesson’s is to hire people smarter than you. Serkis will let his ego get the best of him, and do the opposite.

  • CaJd554

    As an animator on the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I can guarantee every shot of Andy Serkis was plussed, refined, and sometimes completely altered and improved by the animation team. Motion capture tools ARE better, but no much more than glorified blocking in most cases. Especially in the closeup acting scenes—which most often needed complete reworking without any input from Serkis. He’s an OK actor—certainly not a great one. And the video of his acting (as opposed to the motion capture) was helpful in guiding the animators to the performance. I’m happy for Serkis’ ability to market his way to fame, but he really ought to respect and thank those who contributed as much as he did in the process.

  • Eden’s Cross

    I hope you realize that unadjusted motion capture is usually very lifeless and that telling an animator NOT to make any adjustments whatsoever is literally just applying digital makeup. Animators have to make adjustments to make the character come truly to life. INCLUDING THE EYES. For example. Don’t blame the animators.

  • Sky Adams

    Forgive me, but I think the statement is at it’s core correct. The only major error is that the animator is not the digital make-artist in most pipelines (unless it’s a very very small animation department.) Generally there is a pre-production stage (pre-visualization, character sketches etc,) then modelling, texturing, lighting, shading, rigging, animation, compositing, and color correction. Modelling, texturing and shading are not dissimilar to a ‘digital make-up artist’: modelling is often done with virtual clay (pixel pushing isn’t as popular,) which is not unlike modelling in clay for latex, hair strand placement is not unlike punching hair in latex, texturing and shading is not unlike using makeup and it’s often built up in layers as well. The animator is one of the last people in the pipeline, and in motion capture they get most of the data from the performance. There is still obviously an art to it as you have to tweak everything and make it look natural, but if you are purely looking at the character modeller/texturer it IS digital makeup art — but even then it’s still ART. It don’t doubt that it takes much of the prestige (and artistry) out of being an animator, as the animator isn’t creating the physical performance. But even then it’s not too different then building a physicality around the actor’s audio performance (usually tweaked after the initial animation is created.) I’m I missing something?

  • CG Animator

    “Polar Express’s characters seemed wooden because of their glassy dead eyes, which would be the animator’s fault, not the actors. ”

    Actually it’s Zemekis’ fault. He’s the one who told the animators to not deviate from the captured footage… so if the Tom Hanks character didn’t blink (real humans blink a lot less then animated characters) or dart his eyes then the animators sure as hell better not have him blink or dart his eyes. Even if it makes the animation look creepy.

    The mocap in LOTR, Avatar, and Apes works because the animators were given freedom to augment the performance if they needed to. That means adding detail to the facial performance and pushing the poses to give the characters weight. It’s NOT just digital makeup or pure motion capture. If anything, it’s a hybrid of mostly keyframe animation and a little bit of motion capture.

  • L_Ron_Backfromthegrave

    This type of post is pretty sinful for a website that is supposed to be a legitimate source of news: Specifically stirring outrage by using a misleading title to manipulate a reader’s opinion before reading the article itself, and then writing with a motive to persuade people to be as angry as you (over nothing) by spinning it to make things more ‘interesting.’

    It’s a cheap move especially for the guy who runs this site now to be calling out artists/actors/animators/directors from the safety of his office desk. Don’t get me wrong, you post some good quality news on here and do great things for the animation community by highlighting independent artists or giving notice to rising students with their thesis films…but why not just do that kind of stuff? You can gain traffic through meaningful and kind ways. I think you are smart enough to be doing more helpful things with this site and it’s clear you are trying new things.

    I’m not generalizing this site as negative. I just don’t understand why you write stuff like this. It’s purely drama that comes from a place of frustration or anxiety. All you get in return from spreading this to your audience is making them pessimistic. Just stick with being a news site, not “TMZ for animation.” We don’t need that in our world.

    I’m sure you get this a lot and I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it. Just take it as a reader’s opinion.

    • Kel

      I agree. This article is putting Andy’s words in negative light that I don’t think he intended them to be.

  • Engelus

    actually no it wouldn’t be the animators fault, glassy looking eyes would be the rendering programmer or shader artists fault, or alternatively that would probably be the art directors fault since they have final say on what is an acceptable final cut.

  • ken duncan

    Serkis clown

  • Kurt

    Animators might not be able to act as well as Serkis, but I’m dead sure Serkis can’t animate for sh**.

  • TD

    the mocap is smoothed.. a lot…
    Andy Serkis is right though they try to stay faithful to the performance. But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work

  • Joel Fletcher

    Andy is only part of the equation in the characters that he portrays. He wants the public to think of him as wearing the equivalent of digital makeup, but in reality he is more like a puppeteer. The digital characters he portrays, such as Gollum, Kong, or Caeser, are FAR removed from Andy’s actual appearance. It is possible for someone else to do the mocap for these characters, and the audience would never know. Just like multiple animators can work on the same character in your typical animated production. However, having one person provide the motion capture gives a more consistent performance, and Andy is very good at what he does. Still, I would say that the appearance of the character is a huge part of the overall impression of the performance. So much so, that I think the design, modeling, fur, cloth simulation, lighting, and compositing is 70% of what makes the character impressive, 30% to Andy’s acting.

  • Christopher Olson

    To broaden the discussion a bit to acting in general, I’ve heard great actors basically attribute their stellar performances to clever editing, leaving only the best bits of multiple takes, changing the flow of the dialogue between actors in a given scene in post, etc. in The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for example, several takes were sometimes digitally blended together WITHIN the same shot. As long as their performances are going to be captured on film, they’re going to be tweaked and massaged behind the scenes.

    • mcnooj82

      Yes. Great actors who are also decent people will happily say that their performances are a great collaboration of different crafts leading to a singular vision. And craft such as editing and cinematography get awards and accolades on a mainstream level. Animation in itself does not.

      The way Serkis goes on, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts taking credit for ALL of his lines. And the lighting. And the music. And the…

  • Ant G

    It’s very “mainsteam media”-esque to try to spark an outrage out of your audience. Reading Serkis’s own words, it doesn’t come off as offensive. I don’t think he meant to undermine an animator by referring to them as “digital make up artists” but an animator who works over captured footage versus one with rigged characters, or a 2D animator… there are differences, and the first one works closely with the actors and kind of have to respect the actor’s performance. I think that’s all he was trying to say; it’s similar to a 2D animator and a clean up artist/assistant- one does the performance, the other creates the “digital make up” of the characters. They’re all respectable jobs, even a real life make up artist is a respectable job, and I don’t think Serkis was ever implying otherwise.

  • gixel

    I think Serkis should take a look at indian mc film Kochadaiiyaan !

  • DangerMaus

    After reading the article, reading the comments and thinking about it for a while, I wish people would stop backbiting each other and trying to downplay other’s contributions. Serkis was wrong to try to diminish the contributions that animators make in creating a great character that exists solely within the confines of a computer’s memory banks; however, animators are also wrong to dismiss what an actor like Serkis or any other mo-cap performer brings to the table. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t all Serkis and it isn’t all the animators. It is a combination of talents that ends up creating a great character.

    You guys are doing something that a lot of people would have given their left nut or some other body part to have the talent to do, so it is really aggravating to see artists stabbing each other in the back in order to make themselves seem more important to the creative process than others. Isn’t it bad enough that corporate suits spend their time downplaying and diminishing the contributions of artists and animators without those same artists and animators grabbing knives and proceeding to do it to each other. Serkis should stop trying to blow his own horn and animators who work with him should stop saying that he isn’t much as an actor. I really don’t believe it for a minute anyway. Animators build on and refine a performance, but if the performer does a shitty job at the base I don’t think even a great animator can totally save the performance.

  • DS

    I think it is very human to be seeing an attack or insult in any interview or statement on and about very complex processes and work, while you are part of the complex side and must constantly watch the “simplified version” of your skills and creative work being spread and even believed in by many, plus being judged by people, who have no fucking idea what theyre saying. We all know this phenomenon…
    So take a step back, make up your mind and ignore the anger and frustration (or even peer pressure) for just a few damn seconds.
    Even if Andys intention was to degrade or insult the animators (and TDs, developers, engineers, programmers, producers, shading/lighting/rendering – artists or ANY damn person involved in moving pixels or even performance capture), he would have had a hard time making friends among them and his impact in the field of performance capture would most likely be much less.
    Next, language is a difficult thing and no matter what we are saying, somone will always get it wrong. Rarely it can do our emotions or communication needs justice in all aspects.
    Next, I find that MANY CG-Artists, even while workin their asses off and being amazing people and sometimes toughness at its best, are some real softies and pussies when it comes to representing themselves: You want yourself or your work to be recognized and valued for what it really is? Great…dont blame Serkis, Ang Lee or any other if you fail to do so.
    We are our industry (!!!) and if anyone, it is us (! ! ! !) to represent it and make people hearing us. So if you really (for real) feel insulted, move your ass and do something about it instead of just hoping to get paid or letting “famous” people speak for you. Or find another job…but dont hope for all shiny honest appreciation anywhere forever.
    We are smart, we create images and phantasies, we can LITERALLY bring any vision to life with the right tools and conditions and we enable people to tell amazing stories on the big screen, in games or elsewhere. And imagine the future…We are masters of anatomy, physics and math, images, sound, hacking, fooling people, psychology and ANYTHING creative…so…yeah, nothing Andy Serkis or ANYONE could ever say or do, could EVER make us or our work less valuable.
    Okay, the end of the world perhaps could…just sayin.
    Save money, have a life and dont take any job without seriously evaluating the deal. Make choices, know yourself and your skills, dont fear negotiation and certainly dont feel insulted here. Is like saying “why the fuck are they always fixing the damn road when I need to get to work?? How stupid are they? Cant they plan shit right…” Well, they have their reasons. We just dont know them all.
    Same goes for the public. They do not know our work, theyre only seeing the result. And most humans judge by what they are seeing or what is easiest to believe and understand. People are lazy! We dont research unless for a reason or advantage! So why bother understanding VFX? Most people wont even listen when you talk about vectors, code, polygons or hardcore research. And even less, they will be seeing the art in it (define art, here we go…)
    UNLESS of course, somebody created IMAGES and a concept to show them and make them understand the effort…
    Im an artist myself. Musician, Simulation-Artist, programmer and developer, writer…CG and VFX are what I love and do for a living and I am still young. I understand every bit of frustration and anger, when amazing studios disappear or great work (of any craft) is not respected. But there is no easy solution here. So lets stop cryin and blaming, it wont help. Accept it or change it (yeah if it were that easy…)

  • Matthew Smith

    The fllm will be brilliant. the fact that you hate the method is your problem. Nothing is easy.

  • A. R. Roberts

    I think a lot of this seems overblown. I’m wary of the context, as well as how the author of the article casts the blurb in a negative light; thereby making the reader see it as inherently negative.

    I also know that Serkis has been a proponent of getting mo-cap performances recognized by the Academy and other awards shows, which imo is justified. Perhaps the person he was giving the original interview to brought up motion capture in this context and he was just going along to help get across the merits of the performer in the whole process to help legitimize mo-cap for awards recognition.

    Either way I’m not really willing to start a witch-hunt for the guy just yet.

  • HalSolo

    Always great to hear someone with experience in the trenches commenting.

  • MaskedManAICN

    Like any artist I assume Andy Serkis has insecurity issues, so he just says these things to reassure himself that he is important. :p

  • Randall William Cook

    Andy Serkis has been throwing the term “Digital Makeup” around again, and causing some pretty fervid reactions as a result. He has his detractors and defenders, among them animators and motion capture editors, people who have met Andy and found him a nice bloke, people who are interested in the art of animation or the in art of acting or in both. But so far I have seen nothing from anybody who was in the trenches and actually worked on Gollum, so I suppose it’s time I weighed in on the matter.

    My name’s Randall William Cook, and I was the Director of Animation on the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

    I worked very closely with Andy. We met on the Mt. Ruapehu location in 1999 and began theorizing about what Gollum was all about (while Gollum was described as “schizophrenic”, I viewed the character as a drug addict trying to re-connect with his supply, a tack which Andy endorsed). We hung out on and off set, rafted together through the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, worked together on set during the live action filming (occasionally with me directing scenes Peter Jackson and I had prepared together), all the while on the trail of the elusive Gollum.

    The discussion on this page seems to be focusing upon several points. Is Andy a good actor? I think so. He’s certainly versatile (I had the pleasure of directing him, in his on-camera incarnation, when he played his death scene in Peter’s KING KONG remake). Is he a nice bloke? Well, we have been guests in each other’s homes, attended countless social functions together and generally enjoyed each other’s company and respected each other’s talent. I don’t like hearing him called names, though I can understand the high emotions which lead some to do so. But all that is irrelevant to the real issue. When Andy uses the term “Digital Makeup”, he asserts that the on-screen depiction of Gollum is a 100% faithful representation of an Andy Serkis acting performance. This is, frankly, a misrepresentation of the facts.

    As I have no personal experience of the “performance capture” particulars of any of Andy’s work post-RINGS, I cannot offer an opinion on what he has been up to since RETURN OF THE KING. But let me swear to you here that Gollum was not solely an Andy Serkis performance, with Andy’s every move, gesture and tic scrupulously reproduced in a new, digital character. Rather, Gollum was a synthesis, a collaborative performance delivered by both Andy and a team of highly-skilled animation artists.

    Please permit me to cite a few examples, in defense of my heretical assertions.

    THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING carried a single card credit, which declared “Andy Serkis as GOLLUM”. This was a bit of contractually-dictated press puffery which didn’t accurately reflect Andy’s participation in that first film. Fact is, Andy’s physical participation in the first film was nonexistent. The first shot, Gollum alone in his cave, was my idea: Peter needed a shot of Gollum to play under the narration, and several ideas were posited. I thought that we needed a book illustration image, something that captured Gollum in a simple image. I acted out Gollum, crouched on a rock in a subterranean lake, obsessing over his Precious, looking around in paranoia for enemies who weren’t there, and Peter bought that approach. I directed Weta Workshop’s Ben Hawker in a mocap session, then animated on top of that (our 12-animator team was pretty busy, so I actually animated a bit on that show, myself). The next shot was a roto-mation job of Gollum’s hands as he was being tortured; a nice makeup job, shot live action (Sasha Lees’ hands made up, I believe), was compromised by jiggly rubber fingers, so the animation department copied the actor’s movements. Mike Stevens animated the shot of Gollum following the Fellowship in Moria, then I animated the two close shots of Gollum, his fingers nervously twitching as he watches the Fellowship through a grate. One mo-cap shot, one roto-mation shot, and three keyframe shots. Andy’s only participation: muttering the word “precious” over one of the shots I’d already animated.

    The first Gollum scene filmed, in fact, was made as “weather cover” (an interior shot on a stand-by set, kept ready for when the weather turns foul, forbidding exterior filming). Though the first shot up, it was for the third film: a mountain top was built inside a nearby hotel’s tennis court, and scenes were filmed with Frodo and Sam and Gollum. Frodo pulls Gollum up on a ledge, Gollum frames Sam with Lembas crumbs, Gollum and Sam fight. As Andy was not yet in New Zealand, I was elected to put on a leotard and stand in for Gollum. No photos exist of me in the getup, but let me assure you I looked a fine example of masculine grace and beauty. Really. A year or so later, Andy did a mo-cap session, basically reproducing my choreography. And Steven Hornby and others keyframed some of the shots from scratch as well.

    TWO TOWERS saw much more involvement from Andy. Several examples from that film. Gollum, after he has been tamed and led along on a rope, is released and scampers up onto a rock, showing the hobbits where they must go. This was filmed with Andy squatting on a rock. Sam and Frodo come up to him, Sam and Gollum have a staring contest, and Sam backs down. It bothered me that Sam was turning his back on Gollum, which seemed out of character, so back in Wellington I directed animator Atsushi Sato to have Gollum break his look, and precede Sam out of the shot. This isn’t Digital Makeup, this isn’t a “technical” chore, this is an acting choice. And it wasn’t Andy’s idea, but mine. And it was Atsushi Sato who “played” that moment, not Andy. It was a decision within my purview as Animation Director and Peter signed off on it.

    Gollum hears the name Smeagol for the first time in 500 years. We used Andy’s body mocap, but I didn’t care for what I thought was Andy’s too-busy facial performance, so I told Adam Valdez to ignore it and animate something subtler. He animated two shots and Linda Johnson animated the third, and they created a memorable acting moment which did not “honor” Andy’s performance in the slightest. There were many times where we honored Andy’s performance to the letter, but this wasn’t one of ‘em.

    That film ends with a long mo-cap take of Gollum soliloquizing. Jason Schleifer, Adam Valdez and Mike Stevens had much to do with the acting of this scene, as the animation task was split among them. We also changed the choreography on that one, having Gollum advance emphatically toward the camera, having him wrap his hands around a branch and twist, as he throttles a hobbit in his imagination. Again, acting choices courtesy of the Weta Animation Department.

    We stuck closer to Andy’s performance in the third film, and as the mo-cap was refined a good deal it was used more. There was never what we know as performance capture, however, in any of the films. Ditto facial capture, for Gollum; it was all keyframed. And even when we did reproduce Andy’s expressions with perfect fidelity, Peter or Fran would direct the animators through two, three, twelve or more iterations, with the animators working directly for the director, refining a performance in Andy’s absence. Collaborating on that performance, in fact.

    I was honored to work on those films. Our Animation team was first rate, and I was proud to be associated with them (as well as the ones I mentioned, Melanie Cordan and Mary Victoria and many others brought their fine talents to bear in making Gollum act, through a superb facial system devised by Bay Raitt). They are artists, they can act, and they did all “perform” as Gollum to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t see the difference between a performance delivered by a great actor or a great animator (I refer you to Brad Bird’s films, or to TANGLED, if you doubt that an animator needs to lean on or be supplanted by an actor to give a moving performance).

    Let me state that Andy really should be considered the principal author of Gollum’s performance, but there’s a hell of a difference between principal author and sole author. The Animators who helped shape Gollum’s performance are actors of a very special type, working at a high level of achievement. They’re not like Marni Nixon singing for Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY, doing only the things that Andy couldn’t do: they were doing the same things Andy did, in concert with him, and significantly contributing to the realization of a memorable performance.

    I can’t speak to the recent performances in Andy’s “performance-capture” career, but the animators on THE LORD OF THE RINGS were most certainly not “digital makeup artists”, and nobody has any business saying that they were.

    • TimBorrelli

      Thank you very much for these insights, Randall!

    • mcnooj82

      Thank you for this in-depth and professional contribution to the topic, Mr. Cook.

      Love this.

  • Randall William Cook

    “I refer you to Brad Bird’s films, or to TANGLED, if you doubt that an animator needs to lean on or be supplanted by an actor to give a moving performance” “if you DOUBT” should read “if you THINK”, of course. Speed-proofreading doesn’t always work so well.

  • Inconsistencies

    Adapt or die.

  • Erik Butter

    I recently watched the making of the Hobbit, the unexpected journey
    and they literally say, they stil have to animate most of the preformance, wich is based on Andy’s preformance, but more exaggerated to bring the character to live, they still have to do a lot of work on his performance. To bad he doesnt give them the credit for it.

  • mcnooj82

    I don’t think much is being taken out of context. He’s gonna be gracious and professional to the people making his work look good and presentable to their face…

    … but he’s been pushing the “100% me” narrative of these performances in the public in a way that screams that he wants a certain golden statue.

    And that can’t happen as long as people have a certain degree of uncertainty about just how much of these performances are ‘just him.’

  • Dodododo

    I read this article and no where did I read that Andy Serkis said what you state in your headline. Are you purposefully trying to stir things up?

  • mcnooj82

    The narrative that Serkis pushes is not too different from the one that James Cameron pushes, which is the fairy-tale notion that these fantastical characters are 1-to-1 reproductions of the actors in the motion volume.

    It wasn’t really true of the performances in Avatar, and those awful blue freaks were much more humanoid than most of the characters that Serkis has driven (with the exception of Haddock).

    It isn’t necessary for either of these guys to actually say “Animators do nothing.” The very notion of 1-to-1 implies that the genius actors play their roles and then some mere data crunchers simply make that show up on screen with a touch of a few buttons. It implies that these people are not artists who are practicing a craft who work with the director to make artistic interpretations. Not even close to 1-to-1.

    Animation is generally going to be doomed to be an invisible art for the general public. But there’s quiet dignity in that. There will be that niche group of fans that will appreciate it.

    But what James Cameron and Serkis are saying publicly to sell their MAGIC TECHNOLOGY is actively exploiting the general audience’s ignorance and lack of genuine interest in the craft and belittling the actual contributions of the animators.

  • aggieagatha

    Sigh… here we go again.

  • zombotdotcom

    – read the article, and I don’t think that’s what he says at all.
    And I say, since he is actively doing his own choreography/movement/etc (just as any ACTOR under direction does) as well as the voice work of most all of his characters, then yeah, he’s acting- and they are putting a programmed skin and some added nuance and detail on him, a lot of which the best aspect of is getting it to match the environment it is in, if shot on location. Obviously digital artists have skills. I don’t think that is in question.
    While it is a collab between his performance and the artists, they picked him because of his ability or what he brings to the character. How is this any
    different than hiring Doug Jones because of his talents, and applying
    makeup and animatronics on his body?
    So I can understand Serkis’s frustration when he is overlooked for his performances by what he is ‘wearing’.

  • Frank Marth

    Whether or not Serkis intended to extol his performances over the work of the animators, the statement can be interpreted that way. In entertainment, it’s all about survival. Mo-cap can be seen as a threat to actors, as any number of people can do the poses for a Mo-Cap actor. That’s got to be scary.

    If Serkis gets his Oscar, can there also be posthumous ones awarded to Marge Champion, Sam Parker, Helene Stanley, Roland Dupree and Sherri Stoner for Snow White, Gulliver, Cinderella, Peter Pan and Ariel?

    As for grabbing credit, perhaps no one did it more chuckle-headedly than Jessica Alba, who actually said writers weren’t necessary for her performances. Talk about a master thespian!

    • Frank Marth

      Sorry to Sherri Stoner, who is very much alive, for “posthumous.” Perhaps the better word would be “retroactive.”

  • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

    As if FX makeup isn’t an integral part of creature performance. I bet Ron Perlman has way more respect for his latex and face-paint team. The original creature actors like Lon Chaney came up with their own creature makeup.

  • Catrinka

    Thank you Mr. Randall William Cook for your thoughtful and insightful comment. Also, thank you for the tremendous work you and your team did on Lotr.

  • Kitter Bunny

    Id love to have someone confront Serkis kindly with this thought that he belittles the animators. To me this seems the same if the original model for Tinkerbell in the Peter Pan movie were to say the same. Oh they just put cartoon ink on my performance. she would act out the scene and the animators would draw Tink from this. They create the character. He still gets credit for doing a good performance but what we see on screen is a new character. Not just body paint on some leotard.

  • Markus L

    I think this looks pretty awesome.

    When will Disney shut down CGI _animation_ department?

  • Hrw716

    I think there was a bit of ignorance in the comment he made here, but there have been other times where he has given credit to animators and respects what they do:

    • Kel

      I agree. He just used poor word choice. I don’t think he’s trying to downplay or put down the animators, but rather, explain how what he does is, in fact, acting. He just wants to be taken seriously as an actor, and is pointing out that he played Gollum as much as Elijah Wood played Frodo or something to that effect. It’s just through a different medium. Some had costume and makeup, and his character was CGI. I don’t know the exact details, but everything I have seen indicates that the creation of Gollum was absolutely a team effort. Obviously the animation team went through great efforts to capture Andy’s performance, but obviously had to get the lighting, movements, etc. realistic. They also had to make Gollum do things that Andy (or any other human being, for that matter) couldn’t physically do in real life. Everyone did an incredible job and I think the media is just trying to escalate things, take people’s words out of context and create drama where there is none.

  • Animator

    Give him a few computers and let him prove. Animators, please don’t join him, unless you want to be called ‘DIGITAL MAKEUP PEOPLE’.

  • BenTheBedaine

    Just like rotoscopy, keyframe animation is still widely used, regardless of what actors, directors and hardware and/or software companies would like everybody to believe…

  • Dear Cast and Crew

    While everyone’s going banana’s for his performance, we also wrote in defence of the VFX team with THE CASE AGAINST ANDY SERKIS…

  • sanch

    Well i am not of the industry or anybody here where the amazing Randal Cook has spoken. But even as a nobody I agree 100% with the great animator. No matter how much facial capture / performance capture goes , there is always a translation involved. Yes you can imitate the quirks and nuances but it is imitation. It is not as if you put in the data on a model and the model animate itself. Sorry ANDY SERKIS . No.. While there is the heart of Serkis in performances of Kong , Caesar , Gollum , etc. no one can deny the work done by the animators. The process of translation or generation of performance is much more complex. The animators have to act out the subtleties themselves and there is a lot of creative choices done by the animators for the director in order to get the performance. I always believed in one thing. the “CHARACTER” is the focus , not the actor. It’s not computers. Otherwise you have just done the shooting and directing gone for rendering . But that’s not the case. Is it ? You have to animate everything. Sure tools are more powerful but the generation of the character lies in the minds and hands of hundreds of artists whose individual choices makes a giant tapestry. You cannot ignore such a thing. It is not digital Makeup – sorry . I can understand there are moments where you can feel Andy but still it is the character speaking. A human speaking is not the same as an Ape speaking. Also there are moments when a lot of performance is actually altered in order to produce a better result.
    So no it is not “digital makeup”

    Having said that , I hope what Andy meant was from an acting point of view and the message was to those that think digital performances require no actors , or it is simply in hands of animations. I am sure Andy meant that from an acting point of view , performance capture is as important as normal acting because the flow of the character is still from the actor.

    And finally I hope this does not cause any misunderstandings between Andy and WETA and they keep on collaborating on all their future projects because lets face it they are the best I hope WETA works on The Jungle Book Origins and the future Apes movies. because I am a well wisher of WETA digital and i want them to do diverse and brilliant projects. And i wish them my best for The Hobbit and Batman V Superman and the rest. And I hope they get the academy this time around.

    • Siana

      There are a lot of processes that, while being extremely laborous, so far, cannot be automated, because a human mind is needed to assess things, and yet contain no creative step. An example would be wire removal – somebody marks the wires and paints in a lot of small background segments, but their importance, beyond not disturbing the eye, is non-existant. Rather than making creative decisions on how the area that they’re working on should look, the painters are making a best-effort assessment of how the image would look if the object or wire wasn’t obscuring it, usually by finding information in other frames or provided plates. Another example would be 2D-Stereoscopic conversion, where somebody has to mark up the object borders and specify depth cues; however he also isn’t doing creative decisions, but rather implementing what he sees, because he knows how big objects are and where one object ends and another begins, while the machine does not. The work is not only laborous, it may also require a lot of skill that the person may have had to aquire in decade or two of prior creative work, and it may still not be creative work.

      I do not claim that animation on top of mocap, as often needed, lacks creative decisionmaking, i do think it is a creative activity. But not invariably so.

      • sanch

        The final digital character is ultimately a creative choice of the animator not the actor .. the animators have to be actors at certain point . Again the subject of this topic is divisive and let’s not dabble over the topic. It’s not just DIGITAL MAKEUP that Serkis is blabbering about .

  • sanch

    Oh come on ! Understand the gravitas of the situation before commenting

  • sanch

    Reference is just for motion capture , Performance does take all the nuances but this there is a huge process involved

  • Kel

    Reading Serkis’ actual words, I don’t think he was “going off” on anyone. I think the media just tries to portray it this way. I believe his comments were being taken out of context. They may have been poorly worded, but I think everyone involved with the process of creating Gollum knows that it was a total team effort.

  • I’d like to see his performance in the raw, without ANY work of animators attached to it! Let’s then see what this transparent and evolved technology of his looks like!!

  • Luke Jenkins

    When I first started reading the quote in this article I thought it sounded a bit familiar- I have an Andy Serkis biography, by Justin Lewis, and in it Justin has quoted Andy speaking to the Western Mail:
    “it has become more of a transparent technology which allows live action actors to play opposite performance capture roles played by actors on live action sets. That wasn’t the case on Lord of the Rings. Although I acted every single scene with the other actors on set, for any of Gollum’s close ups, i’d have to go back and do them separately on a small motion capture stage. Its a lot more fluid now and I can film on location.”
    Analysing this, it is clear to see that Serkis is NOT implying that animators/ digital artists contribute to any less than himself towards the look of characters on screen but rather he has described it as “transparent” to mean that the technology has evolved so that motion capture and digital animation is more fluid and straightforward. That actors and digital effects artists can work simultaneously and that the post production hours are less nowadays. I am not saying that digital artists have an easy job- the countless hours they put into their work to ensure it is of the highest quality speaks for its self- its self evident, clear, explicit- transparent if you like ;)
    In my opinion Andy has the upmost respect for any digital artist/ animator working on a project as him- why else would he be 1) consistently interested in motion capture which employs to use of actors and artists together 2) pioneering and developing the Imaginaruim along side Cavendish and the studios team which helps to provide work for digital artists and actors alike, and spend 3 years alone, on LOTR to have his face and body covered in the work of others, which I might add is evidence he does not want fame from his work if he is willing to be costumed using digital artists technology . The fact is animators/digital artists and actors work in relation to eachother in motion capture, you cant have one without the other because then its just silent and more or less entirely synthesised and that’s not what the technology is about.
    Finally anyone who believes actors are just stand-ins for where an animated character would be is completely wrong- if that were true 1) we wouldn’t spend long hours in audition processes picking the right people for the job who can portray the physicality and mentality of character with emotional realism and the upmost professionalism. 2) we wouldn’t be constantly improving the technology to benefit both actors and artists. and 3) we’d still be using a tennis ball on the end of a stick -_- Any actor who cares enough about the profession and focuses on the work they produce rather than how much recognition or fame they get from a role will tell you that motion capture acting is no different from live action acting on stage, film or television. Just because they are costumed via digital technology doesn’t mean they put in anyless effort in embodying a role. its the same as Ian Mckellen as Gandalf for example- He wears, a giant wizard hat, massive wig, long beard, clocked in folds upon folds of robes and carries around a staff and sword at times and yet we all know that’s Ian Mckellen doing what he does best emboding the physicality and mentality of Gandalf- no one would question his acting ability or whether he feels he puts in more or less work than those who have costumed him just because of how he is dressed. And that’s where the prejudice lies. You watch Andy Serkis playing Caesar cloaked in his digital form or live acted and you’ll know that he’s acting as a chimp despite which ever you watch.
    Everyone puts in a 110% effort in whatever job they do- and that’s why the industry is successful.

  • Pete

    I support mocap 100% even for animated cartoon films. If you’re really good at acting you can record that and then add on top to exagerate the perfomance… 80% mocap 20% keyf animation. No more wasted time learning animation anyone can do it nowdays.