‘Lord of the Rings’ Animation Supervisor Randall William Cook Speaks Out On Andy Serkis

Randall William Cook and Andy Serkis.

Our post on Andy Serkis’s inflammatory rhetoric about the limited role of animators on his motion capture performances generated a robust, often heated, discussion in the comments. By far, the most informative comment was provided by 3-time Oscar winner Randall William Cook, who was the animation supervisor/designer at WETA on the Lord of the Rings trilogy that was released between 2001 and 2003.

Cook’s description of the process of working on the character of Gollum is even-handed, specific, and, to my knowledge, the only first-hand account I’ve read from an animator who has worked with Serkis. Cook makes clear that the technology has evolved since he worked on those films and that the process may be different today. And while it’s true that Serkis was not using the term ‘digital make-up’ during those films, he was already downplaying the role of his animation co-workers and, intentionally or not, misrepresenting the collaborative nature of the process. Take this interview from 2003:

[The animators] either basically roto-scoped over my exact movements – if Peter [Jackson] liked a particular take, he’d get the animators to literally paint frame by frame over my exact moves and my facial expressions and everything – or, using the second take with them acting to the void where I once was, I’d then go back in post-production, which is basically all of 2002, to do motion-capture… [T]he whole thing about motion-capture is it is highly sensitive to breath… to any kind of incidental movement. That’s what kind of gives motion capture, in a way, a very strong spatial relationship, really, because all those incidental moves – slightly kind of tripping or falling, or things an animator wouldn’t necessarily think to put in – that’s what motion-capture’s fantastic for. It just gives it an extra feel of reality.

So, after hearing for years from Serkis about the process, let’s turn it over to the other side: the animators. Here is 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 think 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.


  • mcnooj82

    I’m very grateful to Mr. Cook for explaining his side of the process.

    I get the impression that most other animators lower on the totem are generally told to keep this stuff to themselves. To speak openly about this stuff would only ruffle feathers and make it less likely that they’ll be hired for other jobs when there are so many other takers.

    Combine that with the easily digestible ‘magical fairy-tale’ narrative that is ‘performance capture as digital make-up’, and it’s easy to see why Serkis is winning.

    He’s fully taking advantage of our inclination to print and buy the legend.

    None of this is to say that Serkis isn’t immensely talented or so very instrumental in bringing these characters to life. Nor does it mean that he must clearly be some full-tilt diva as a working professional.

    But that doesn’t mean he can’t do an about-face when it comes to promoting himself. Everyone is capable of compartmentalization.

    • Steven Bowser

      I think “digital makeup” is a good term to use when describing mo-cap to people who don’t know much about animation. It is SORT OF like digital makeup, because animators aren’t doing everything frame-by-frame from scratch. But they animators do so much more and I would never want to offend them by saying they didn’t animate anything.

      • mcnooj82

        I think it’s a dishonest term when used to explain the process to a layman. It’s taking advantage of their ignorance when the final intention seems to be to credit the actor with the entire performance.

        We’ve seen how lifeless and unnatural rotoscoped animation feels. We have seen how mechanical mo-cap/performance captured performances look without skilled animators applying their skills upon the tracking data.

        The more proper term would seem to be ‘digital puppeteering.’ It’s a team of people working together under the driving force of an actor to bring a singular performance to life.

        Make-up indicates that someone simply applies an outer sheen to the actor and then the actor controls the whole thing.

        • Steven Bowser

          I would think traditional frame-by-frame Cg animation is more like “digital puppeteering” but I see what you’re saying.

  • Mark0polo

    Another thing I would like to point out is that to even state makeup artists as a sort of creative slur is pretty crappy of Andy Serkis. Filmaking is a collaborative effort, from the actors to the directors, the DP, the gaffer or best boy they’re all needed and all have a role to play, without them films don’t get made.
    I also don’t understand his constant need to denigrate another persons skill and creativity in order to elevate his own.

    • AnimationGuy

      Too right. Let’s see LotR minus the the fine work of the makeup artists.

    • Ant G

      I don’t think Serkis ever intended to belittle make up artists, that is what was inferred by the people so offended by his comparison. I think he oversimplified an animator’s role, but the “make up artist” stint only became derogatory when cartoonbrew and some of its readers interpreted it that way. If put in terms for the layman, yes I can see why he would say “digital make up artist” as the transformation he went through to become Gollum, before 3D, would have been done by a make up artist.

      • Mark0polo

        I see what you’ve done, actually instead of reading the article you thought you’d rush in and comment. You see the article actually features comments by Randall William cook head of animation supervisor/ designer from the LOTR trilogy also below this article there are other comments from animators who worked on his films. They have have stated the contrary to Andy Serkis claims that he alone was responsible for the performance of Gollum and other work. To somehow suggest that mocap does not require a lot of work need before and after the performance
        capture is both misleading and divisive. To highlight and correct his comments are entirely justified in an industry that on the one hand seems so dependent on the creativity of animators and visual effect artists, but on the other seeks to sideline them.

        Andy serkis has also continually sought undermine the role of animators, somehow suggesting that motion capture in general was superior. As an animator I find a lot of his comments annoying and frankly ignorant. He has stated before the difference between an actor and an animator:

        “But that’s not what an actor does. An actor finds things in the moment with a director and other actors that you don’t have time to hand-draw or animate with a computer.”

        Animators observe the world around and through a medium they stretch reality accordingly. Not only is he stating actors are superior to animators, he is in effect stating that any art throughout history be it sculpture or painting is inferior to acting. Because observation is in effect inferior to performance. I frankly find this notion stupid.

        Finally you have only to look at these comments from Variety to see this is not an isolated incident :

        I’ve been bombarded by hate mail from animators saying, “How dare you talk about ‘your’ character when all these people work on it after the fact? We’re actors as well.” They are actors in the sense that they create key frames and the computer will join up the dots, carefully choreograph a moment or an expression and accent it with an emotion. But that’s not what an actor does. An actor finds things in
        the moment with a director and other actors that you don’t have time to hand-draw or animate with a computer.

        In Tintin, it’s like a live-action role. You’re living and breathing and making decisions for that character from page 1 to page 120, the whole emotional arc. In an animated movie, it’s a committee decision. There are 50 people creating that character. You’re responsible for a small part.

        • https://www.facebook.com/JediRob JediRob

          I’m only going on the info in this article, but where in that quote is Andy claiming he is the sole person responsible for Gollum? It would seem that his statement is talking about his contribution, and that the animator in the article only cites examples supporting it.

          • Mark0polo

            I looked back at my
            response, I said I have an issue with Andy serkis being dismissive of
            animators in effect claiming there work was procedural and blindly following his performance. And having reread the article again Randall Willam
            Cook is correcting that statement. As to other examples of Andy
            serkis talking down animators role I gave some quotes made in
            variety. I didn’t say he was stating he was solely responsible, but
            he is incredibly dismissive of animators and their work which is
            factually incorrect.

          • https://www.facebook.com/JediRob JediRob

            That’s all fair. I guess my disagreement is I don’t feel he is being dismissive nor do I think he said things that were REALLY incorrect. Randall even stated that many times they followed his performance to the letter, and that Andy is the principal author of the Gollum performance. It’s also all in the context of the interview. Perhaps he had more comments in relation to the post production that weren’t included. The people who write these stories focus on the part they want to.

            I’ve heard Andy in other interviews, tech awards shows and the like, give amazing praise to the digital artists. He, like every other cognizant actor, realizes they only look as good as the crew makes them. I think he was just talking as an actor does. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and only a few people get the glory. For better or worse that’s how it has always been. People don’t get mad at Mike Myers when he gets all the credit for Shrek?

          • Mark0polo

            I have never seen or heard Mike Myers get the sole credit for Shrek. I would never have an issue with Andy Serkis claiming to be a big part of a collaborative process involving animators and a huge team of vfx artists, my problem is that in his interviews in variety and elsewhere he has consistently done the exact opposite. He has sought to claim a disproportionate amount of credit, to me its quite clear that he has.

            I also don’t have issue that Andy serkis performances on some scenes in lord of the rings were captured to the letter as it were, but in many instances it wasn’t, also the term digital makeup is incorrect.
            if you read the last section of the Article Randall is clearing taking issue with the term digital makeup:

            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.

          • https://www.facebook.com/JediRob JediRob

            Again, I don’t think his comments are any different than any actor talking about their work on a film. There is of course a whole army of people behind Bruce Willis making the performance work, but when he sits down for an interview they want to talk about him. Not hair and make-up, not stunt double, not stand-ins, not DP’s, not editors. His work, and what HE brings to the character. That’s how it works. For some reason Andy is being held to some different standard here.

            And to your point, and what you are saying the point of the animator is; I could see the term “digital make-up” not being accurate from an animator’s standpoint. I would argue that Andy is working an interview. He is doing PR, and part of his job is to explain a technology to people who have no point of reference, in a way they can grasp. BUT regardless…..in the article I see quoted and referenced, I don’t see Andy use the term “digital make-up” once. I have heard that term in relation to his work on ‘Apes,’ and perhaps it is more appropriately used there.

          • Mark0polo

            He has used the the term digital makeup elsewhere correct, the examples I used were to demonstrate his belief that motion capture was superior(not
            different) and that animation was inferior in to it;

            I’ve been bombarded by hate mail from animators saying, “How dare you
            talk about ‘your’ character when all these people work on it after
            the fact? We’re actors as well.” They are actors in the sense
            that they create key frames and the computer will join up the dots,
            carefully choreograph a moment or an expression and accent it with an
            emotion. But that’s not what an actor does. An actor finds things in
            the moment with a director and other actors that you don’t have time
            to hand-draw or animate with a computer.

            In Tintin, it’s like a live-action role. You’re living and breathing and
            making decisions for that character from page 1 to page 120, the
            whole emotional arc. In an animated movie, it’s a committee decision.
            There are 50 people creating that character. You’re responsible for a
            small part.

            All art is based on observation, animators apply that observation through
            a medium and stretch reality accordingly, but it is not the only
            art-form to do so by belittling animation he is also effectively
            belittling art in general, as art essentially follows the same
            principles.

            The quotes given show he doesn’t think Gollum was created by a group of
            people if anything it undermines what you were saying about
            collaboration. The article above mentions Serkis describing animators
            as rotoscoping or painting over his performance which is even worse
            in my view than digital make-up implying they were peripheral. I’m
            sorry but its sort of abundantly clear and the comments made. Bruce
            Willis as far as I’m aware was not involved in any motion capture,
            if he does get credit its usually for his acting like most actors. I
            will say this again if he actually said my performance was part of a
            team of animators working together id be fine with it, the problem is
            he doesn’t, its a shame.

            The animators on THE LORD OF THE RINGS were most certainly not “digital makeup artists”, and nobody has any business saying that they were.

            Finally i find the above comment abundantly clear that the guy has exception to the term used by serkis, It really is quite straightforward.

  • http://www.arconyx.com Kenny Roy

    The only thing that is a problem for me about this whole thing is that Andy Serkis seems to feel the need to diminish an animator’s role IN ORDER TO promote a mocap actor’s role. It’s so unnecessary that it’s embarrassing. You’ll get your Oscar one day Andy, and you won’t have to have your boot on our face to do it.

    Love,
    Animator on King Kong
    (Used 0% Andy mocap on my shots)

    • http://maurocordeiro.blogspot.com Mauro Cordeiro

      I totally agree with you, Kenny…. And I can say guys like Andy are completely crazy on saying it… Guys like you, Keith Lango, David Anthony Gibson, Bobby Pontillas, Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg… ARE MY INSPIRATION… My daredream is to become a great animator such as you guys!!!

      We will never surrender to this mocap “ready makeup” bullshit =)

      Cheers from Brasil

      Mauro Cordeiro (CHARACTER ANIMATOR – NEVER USED ANY MOCAP ON MY ANIMATIONS AND STUDIES)

  • X_Capt_Obvious_X

    There’s a very simple answer to this conundrum. Mr. Serkis, please don’t take any more motion capture roles. Only take roles that rely on your on screen performance so audiences can better see the performance you bring to the character. And recognition will fall where it is deserved.
    Simple.

    • CM gogo

      succinctly put!

  • TimBorrelli

    As I’ve said before, If Andy deserves to be considered for an Academy Award nomination for Acting, then every animator who has ever animated a character in any movie deserves consideration as well. It’s a team effort.

    • Talkbacker With No Name

      They already are. It’s called a visual effects oscar. The guys who created gollum already have an oscar for it. Andy doesn’t.

      • TimBorrelli

        The VFX Oscar is for the body of work across an entire live-action film. Animated characters exist in live-action and fully-animated films. I wrote about this a couple of years ago:

        http://strongmanimator.blogspot.com/2011/08/open-letter-to-andy-serkis.html

      • AgNO3

        No they have an Oscar for the ENTIRE MOVIE AS A WHOLE. Just like best picture doesn’t always have best actor or best actress or even best director. the Oscar for VFX is for the whole. It didn’t win best Animated character in a FX driven movie right? If it had the ANIMATORS would have the oscars for their work not the SUPES.

        • Talkbacker With No Name

          Yes, I understand that. You are my missing the point, which is, performance capture actor’s don’t get included in the actors categories and they should be. Serkis is not asking for his own.

        • Scotty Daniels

          I remember the Oscars that year, and when TTT was mentioned, Gollum was brought up specifically. Yes, the team won for their work on the entire film, but Gollum was definitely the focus.

    • https://www.facebook.com/JediRob JediRob

      But, the entire filmmaking process is collaborative. The traditional actors wouldn’t get the praise their performance gets without the aid of countless other artists. But they are allowed to have their own rewards.

  • Mister Twister

    And yet, even after reading all of it, I still cannot see motion capture as “animation”.

  • JeanbearTheImmasculator

    So does this guy not want to work in the industry anymore?

  • http://the-animatorium.blogspot.com/ Natalie Belton

    This guy seems to have a bleeding ego…I like his work but, now I’m not so sure I like him as much as person.

  • Ken Cope

    Andy Serkis made a singular contribution to a collaborative performance, one that is constantly tweazed and revised by the director and other team members until the film is locked. If all there were was Andy Serkis and his baked channels (band name for you), you might be 85% of what the director wants and the audience expects, but that’s flat at the bottom of Uncanny Valley. It may be a better place to start from, with all of the beats locked down, a good VO and a real person for live actors on the set to respond to, yielding a better performance than they’d get with a tennis ball on a stick. That last 15% takes one hell of a lot more than just “digital make-up” (at least he didn’t call it “craft services”). Turning that last 15% into a trip across the uncanny valley takes the combined resources of everybody who contributed to the tools and skillsets and standards of computer graphics for the last 3 or 4 decades. It takes somebody angling for a special recognition Oscar, who desperately needs to aggrandize his own contribution while downplaying that of others, and not just a little hubris, to don some ping pong balls and pose, and take all the credit for some landmarks in cinema that should be humbly credited along with his collaborators, the people who collectively built and learned how to apply that “digital make-up” toolbox.

    Now, I’m off to place an order for Kevyn Aucoin’s “Making Faces” in order to catch up on the latest in computer graphics technical manuals.

  • stephbellard

    What an informative read! Cook’s sensible explanation is an unassailable argument against recognizing voice-over and motion-capture work as “acting.”

  • L_Ron_Hoover

    I understand you’re upset that your friends underestimate the time and effort you put into your work, I’m pretty sure all of us artists are judged for what we do. But in fairness, most people feel the same about any job (politician, executive, actor, comedian, etc.) Is it really that offensive?

    “Public opinion is important. When workers aren’t respected, that reflects in how their employers treat them.”
    - I think you’re mistaking the word “respect” with “informed.” If people spent more time writing articles interviewing motion capture animators or made videos focusing on the process then maybe more people would know. But do you really think people would care? In general, that stuff is boring to people outside our field. Thus, nobody will ever be informed about because of they’re apathetic (sad truth.)

    “So yes, he actually DOES have the power to hurt the animation industry if people listen to him.”
    - No, he doesn’t. If he were a big wig producer or head executive saying this stuff then maybe I’d agree. He has no power and nobody cares what he has to say other than those in these comment sections who have taken offense. He’s an actor at the bottom of the roster for famous people that anyone is interested in reading about.

    “I just don’t want his voice to be the only one people hear.”
    - There are so many interviews out there that are far more important and more interesting than Andy Serkis talking about motion capture. Just like I said with my main point, this whole article should not be taken seriously. It’s just another one of Amid’s rants meant to gain traffic and rank up the comment-points for top posts (notice they are predictably almost always drama.)

    I swear, the anxiety and nervousness people get from what they read online breeds a lot of conspiracy theory. It really is harmless. There are bigger fish to fry and more important issues going on in our industry. If you’re looking for something to get upset over or maybe actually do something about, go protest the cheap labor going on in the east coast where animators are forced to work free overtime and are paid diddly-squat. They have no union, no choice, and no help.

    That’s the end of my rant. It’s nice that people on here are actually very polite.

  • L_Ron_Hoover

    I agree with that but I don’t think this situation is to blame for the issues you’re talking about. The target for that conversation would be execs or the big wigs, not actors. How do you change that though?

    Artists are not the ones with big money and we work for suits who have the money/power. The only way I can think of fighting that is making indie studios (run by artist-friendly people) more powerful. I think of it as building your own giant robot to battle there’s (aka Frederator, who’s logo is literally a giant robot.) You have to make the giants take a knee and humble them.

    Just my opinion.

    • edhooks

      For what it’s worth, I Googled “Andy Serkis Net Worth” and came up with a site that says he is worth US$25 million. Even if that is US$20 million overstated, Mr. Serkis is playing a different kind of game that most of the people posting in this thread.

      • L_Ron_Hoover

        I still don’t get your point sharing his supposed networth. He has no influence in changing or hurting our industry, he only has an uninformed opinion. If he were someone we should truly be afraid of then I’d understand the concern.

        What this whole thing seems to boil down to for me is that people are just offended with what he said. If that’s the case then why is this a big deal? His words have no real effect on us in the long run. I know we’re bored, gossip is tempting, and Amid’s articles are easy to get heated over but come on…are you actually nervous about what Andy Serkis said? Or were you compassionately offended for the motion capture animators?

        What if Andy Serkis heard these complaints, realized you were right, and then apologized for his words? It would mean nothing because in reality, his opinion means nothing. And his opinion nothing because pretty much nobody is reading Andy Serkis interviews. Be honest, would you have ever heard this had you not read Cartoon Brew?

        Anyways, I know I’m pretty much alone here but I just have no clue why everyone is so upset. Just count how many comments on this page insult his intelligence, his skills as an actor, and suggest that he leave his own business just for something he said…It’s pretty easy to turn a crowd. I know you all want to be comedians here to get a nice “thumbs up” but do you really feel that strongly about this???

  • Talkbacker With No Name

    It’s important to understand two things. 1. Motion Capture is not Performance capture. 2. Cook “can’t speak to the recent performances in Andy’s performance-capture career”. Tech has moved on since Return of the King at an incredible rate and what they did on that movie is not what they did on the upcoming Apes” movie. Until a Performance capture artist chimes in about working with Andy, you are just going to have to accept what he has been saying about ” Performance capture”. For all we know, the stuff they were doing on”apes” is the equivalent of digital makeup.

    • Ken Cope

      Performance Capture has been the attempted re-branding of Motion Capture since the days of Lawnmower Man. So what if it has actually begun to live up to the hype promised to investors wary of hiring artists who used computers? I look forward to the day when Andy does his solo turn, a one-man show, cleaning up his own tracks and applying all his digital make up himself with off the shelf software and gear he got at Best Buy.

      • Talkbacker With No Name

        The point is, I guess, there is a big difference between Andy taking all the credit for a performance and making a comment in simple layman terms. He has said a lot more about how great everybody is compared to a few “digital makeup” comments. As I pointed out to somebody else, Visual effects and digital artists have an oscar category. Motion capture/performance, whatever, don’t. I don’t blame him for bigging up his contribution. He hasn’t really said anything that any self respecting, secure, artist should be up in arms about, and at the end of the day, the more Andy works, the more he promotes, the more work he does at his own studio, the more work digital artists will get. If this is all about who gets credit, it’s a moot point. Director’s have been getting credit for everything for years, but people who really know how the industry work, know it’s not true and don’t really care. Do good work. Be proud of that. You don’t need the pat on the back every 5 minutes. Everyone needs to chill and stop worrying about what Andy Serkis does, says, thinks.

        • Ken Cope

          The problem appears to be that not enough laymen were paying attention to Andy Serkis, and everybody else knows why it isn’t worth the bother.

    • Soupy

      “Motion Capture is not Performance capture”

      I’m going to sound like an idiot here, but in the quest for better understanding I’ll happily sound like a fool. So here goes:

      What is the difference between motion capture and performance capture?

  • Rufus

    Sounds to me like ole Smeagol’s just ignorant of the process.
    I’m sure that after reading all this (if he did) he felt like a bit of a heel.

  • JStewart

    Serkis is to Gollum what Dave Prouse is to Vader. Take that as a compliment Andy.

    • Dylan Burgess

      Credit where credit is due, he’s also James Earl Jones. Really, you’re making a poor comparison, but at any rate, it doesn’t change the fact that still nobody knows who the hell Ralph McQuarrie is =/

      Seriously, Andy Serkis seems like a good guy, a fine actor (his live action performances are very good, and the side-by-side comparison performance of that Gollum schizo scene is frankly very affecting all on its own). I think that he is like pretty much any other actor and taking as much advantage of his USP as he can. Honestly, I can’t blame him and the reality is that to audiences, actors are a more appealing and familiar representative of a performance than a group of animators.

      Still, of course I wish that there was more awareness of what exactly it takes to bring mo-cap to the screen, and it’s truly disappointing that Serkis would downplay animators like that. He should (and probably does) know better, but I don’t think that means those on the defensive need to reduce his contributions to mere modeling and voice performance. The emphasis obviously needs to be placed on mo-cap as a collaborative medium, rather than either party insisting on more credit, but apparently that’s too complicated for most people to wrap their heads around!

  • Cementimental

    “Our inflammatory rhetoric on Andy Serkis’s inflammatory rhetoric about the limited role of animators” – fixed

  • Talkbacker With No Name

    Digital artists are eligible for an oscar. Motion capture actors are not. Swings and roundabouts, man.

  • John R.

    Yeah. I mean, c’mon. The guy can’t even spell “Circus” right.

  • VFX Fella

    Curious, what has Randall William Cook been doing since LOTR? His imdb stops there.

  • Eku

    Maybe in order to be a Motion Capture Actor, you should take a class studying Motion Capture Animation. This story would have been non existent then.

  • Tanker74

    Despite all the technicalities argued here, I thought Gollum/Smeagol was poorly done. You can clearly see the zipper running up the back of the character’s costume whenever he turns around.

  • Knut77

    My first animation job in film in LA was with an industry veteran, who was kind, cantankerous, encouraging and cynical. When the film came out on DVD, in the ‘making of’ extra, he took sole credit for a shot I had done, start to finish. I tried not to be too cynical about it, and never raised the issue. It was his company after all. Years later I got a drunken phone call at 9:00 am from him offering a sort of apology. Perhaps Mr. Serkis will one day follow suit.

  • http://skunkandburningtires.com/ Ju-osh M.

    To Andy. You did it!

  • edhooks

    Having worked professionally as an actor for some thirty years before getting 4-handed busy with animators, I think I can shed a little light on the Andy Serkis debate. The key to his aggression regarding the Academy Awards is that, until Peter Jackson gave him Gollum, Andy was an under-appreciated and uncelebrated British working-stiff character actor, the kind that the woods are full of over there. Almost overnight, there he was on TV wearing his mocap outfit and being asked for his opinion about the process. Andy said, in that book he wrote about his Gollum experiences, that he did not know beans about mocap and, had it not been for the proximity of world-class rock climbing in New Zealand, he would have passed on the whole deal. Long story short, Andy had suddenly found his personal sweet spot, doing mocap, working on digital characters.
    Now….about being an actor … It is essential that an actor be cock-sure of himself or herself. In my acting classes (for actors), I often send a new student to the front of the room and ask, “Are you an actor now? Or do you hope to be one some day?” If they start muttering about how they are “training” to be an actor, I advise them to go do something else with their lives. Acting is an odd thing. You have to be 100 percent convinced from Day #1 that you “belong” on the stage. This is not the same thing as arrogance, although I grant you it sounds similar. It is more like the confidence a Pope might have, or a head Rabbi. It simply means that you belong inside the circle in the dirt and the tribe needs to hear you. This mind-set is essential for EVERY good actor. Andy Serkis is a good actor and therefore feels like that. POINT: HE CARRIED THAT MIND SET WITH HIM INTO MOCAP.
    From Andy’s perspective, the actor is the only one standing inside the circle. Animators are there to hand him necessary props from time to time. If the tribe successfully gets through another rough winter because of the shaman’s dance he does for them, then he will be the shaman who takes the bows. He may hand out lavish tips to the animator assistants, but the star spot in the circle is his.
    Add to this the fact that Andy was not around in Hollywood when Screen Actors Guild first developed its adversarial relationship with all things digital. Even today Paul Debevec (University of Southern California, computer genius who can clone actors) talks publicly about making live actors obsolete (“within ten years” – see April 28th New Yorker magazine article). Andy mistakenly believes that SAG is his enemy, that SAG just does not understand the depth of the talent he is displaying with his digital performances. Trust me: SAG understands plenty. But there is not a chance in hell that Andy Serkis is going to get a Best Actor nomination for any of his ape characters. In the first place, as everybody on this thread knows, Andy is not a one-man-band and therefore does not belong in the same nomination category as say, Robert DeNiro or Dustin Hoffman. In the second place, his real enemy is the movie producer who will still not acknowledge that rank and file SAG actors in mocap suits are in fact artists at all. SAG does not have a strong mocap contract mainly because the producers will not negotiate one. Eight or nine SAG members did all those thousands of Navi’s in “Avatar”, and they were all paid a day rate. That is not okay.
    Andy Serkis should arguably be using his celebrity to champion a new category, Best Digital Character, in the Oscars. When the winner is announced, Andy can go up there holding hands with the appropriate animators — and they can all collect their statuettes and go to the Vanity Fair After-Party.
    That is really the way it is. In time, it will work itself out because producers cannot forever deny the contribution of rank-and-file actors. Andy Serkis is living in a celebrity bubble.

    • Ken Cope

      Some perspective. Alfred Hitchcock is noted for claiming, “I deny that I have ever said actors are cattle. What I said was: ‘Actors should be treated like cattle.’”

    • Ken Cope

      “Andy Serkis should arguably be using his celebrity to champion a new category, Best Digital Character, in the Oscars. When the winner is announced, Andy can go up there holding hands with the appropriate animators — and they can all collect their statuettes and go to the Vanity Fair After-Party.”

      I like this, except that the custom of assigning a team of animators to a single character did not carry over from 2D to 3D production, where no matter which characters are in the shot, the animator works on all of them, even if they’ve never worked on the characters before. Animators are used to sharing authorship of a character, actors are not.

  • Talkbacker With No Name

    I’d take the political paperweight, which could possibly get me more work, over royalties every time. Actor’s get stuffed on royalties all the time due to studios insisting their blockbusters have not even broken even yet. You know that one production company logo you see on every film and then never again? Basically money laundering.

    A famous example is David Prowse who played Darth Vader.

    “I get these occasional letters from Lucasfilm saying that we regret to inform you that as Return of the Jedi has never gone into profit, we’ve got nothing to send you. Now here we’re talking about one of the biggest releases of all time,” said Prowse. “I don’t want to look like I’m bitching about it,” he said, “but on the other hand, if there’s a pot of gold somewhere that I ought to be having a share of, I would like to see it.”

  • Talkbacker With No Name

    Good point about being part of the crew for the oscar. I’m cool with that.

  • Ant G

    money vs prestige. You decide what is important to you.

  • Steven Bowser

    Did you work with him when more advanced performance capture was available? I assume that modern mo-cap helps to keep more of the actor’s original movements, but that animators still have to do so much to make it more than just a wireframe. But I would never call that “digital makeup” if it insulted the animator. In a way, that is a good way to describe the process to someone who has never heard of mo-cap, but it’s not that simple in reality.

    • Paul Charisse

      I only worked at Weta until the end of the last Lord of the Rings film, so I can’t speak for King Kong or Tin Tin. I know from work I’ve done since though that facial capture techniques have improved a lot, so it’s easier to get closer to the actor, but there is still the problem that dumping exact facial data onto a different shaped head needs an interpretive process to copy the intent of the actor. In particular, subtle expression changes will read very differently on different topologies (as we subconsciously learn to use our face relative to its shape and in the reaction we get to manipulating these shapes). So there often has to be an artistic act of recreating intent on the new face (analogous to that of a portrait painter) It’s obviously a lot more straightforward if your characters face is topologically the same as the actors (Gollum was continually being remodelled to closer resemble Andy’s face to help with this). Also, in my experience if a director knows they can change a thing after they’ve got it (eg a performance to fit a new edit, story beat, a dream they had over the weekend etc.) they will. As a director my self now, I admit to being guilty of this!

  • Bennet

    Not only do I believe it, but I live it on a daily basis.

    Marketing hype/mindset, whatever. It’s a term which is now used to describe a collaboration between an actor and digital artists to create computer generated characters. The input from actors is far more now than just motion. It’s fitting and apt. Sorry you don’t like it.

  • Talkbacker With No Name

    You think gross points was even an option? You don’t think Jedi is in net profit? haha ok. The point remains. Actor’s get stuffed on royalties all the time.

    • AgNO3

      Umm yeah no one works for net points. Because its dumb. And every movie EP is going to offer points on the net in the hopes someone is dumb enough to take it. I also find no information at all that he agreed to points on the net. Also residuals are a SAG thing and are mediatory. there are SAG minimums for this but can be higher if negotiated. So like Brad Pitt et al probably have higher residuals. READ

      “Made-for-Theatrical then released to:

      Network Prime Time – 30 days after initial broadcast, then quarterly when the producer receives revenue

      Free TV, Non-Network – 4 months after initial broadcast, then quarterly when the producer receives revenue

      Supplemental Markets – 4 months after initial exhibition, then quarterly when the producer receives revenue

      Who is entitled to receive residuals?

      All performers hired under or upgraded to a principal performer agreement whose performance remains in the final product. This includes performers, professional singers, stunt performers, stunt coordinators, pilots, dancers employed under Schedule J and puppeteers.

      What factors are my residuals based on?

      Residuals are based on formulas that take into account such things as the contract in place during the specific year, time spent on the production, the production type and the market where the product appears (TV, video/DVD, pay television, basic cable, new media).”

      • Bennet

        “READ”? O.O Your replies to people have the feeling of a chip on your shoulder about something, dude.

      • asdf

        Read up on Tim Curry and Rocky Horror Picture Show. There’s a reason he refuses to talk about it.

  • Talkbacker With No Name

    He doesn’t want an oscar for mocap. He wants mocap actors to be included in the actor categories. Despite the end result, his part is still acting. The same as when he is employed to act on any other movie before it is turned over to editors. I don’t know why that seems so unreasonable to you or why you care. You are not a digital artist or an actor, are you?

    • AgNO3

      Oh then they should vote on his performance in the mocap suite without an CG. Because it would be just as good then right? Thats how it should be judge after the edit that mocap scene with NO CG will be judged. If you want the CG background can be added for context but ZERO CG character because its about what the actor did and its SO good it should stand on its own merits without the CG right?

      • Talkbacker With No Name

        You are being facetious, but yeah. Not a bad idea. Acting before the cg is just as impressive. The acting process and execution isn’t so different to any other role that isn’t performance capture. That’s kind of been the point all along. The character is still there pre cgi.

  • Darby O’ Gill

    Hahahah, so did the guy who animated Snow White play Snow White as well? Would Randall say that in Batman: TAS it would be a misrepresentation to say Kevin Conroy as Batman? The fact is, the people who voice animated characters (fuck the motion capture for a minute) are credited as ‘playing them’.. His role as motion capture model aside, he deserves the credit for playing Golem,

  • astronautbutter

    Not to take away from Andy Serkis’ performance, but actors get all the pats on the back. An actor does a take or a voice over a few hours. An animator will spend weeks finessing every detail. After the Ang Lee- Rhythm and Hues snub on Life of Pi, animators need to start fighting for respect. Your film is just a green screen without what we do.

  • Tom B

    It’s a shame all this negativity and controversy is surrounding Andy Serkis all of a sudden. I was just getting excited to see him in Star Wars…and now this is going on.

    • Jack Griffin

      heh he hasn’t killed anyone! I think it’s still ok to enjoy his work and Star Wars :)

  • Julia Howe

    Unfortunately, Andy’s attitude about artists is not unusual. It’s downright epidemic. Until the Academy catches up and recognizes these artists, its all too easy to write off VFX artists as artistic-code-monkies or editorial miscreants merely “digitally-airbrushing” Andy’s deific-and-perfectly-coiffed presence ..with n’ere a booger in sight!!

  • adamstom97

    All I got from this is that this guy and those he worked with took an incredible, full-on, methodical performance by an incredibly talented actor, and altered it in post-production without his input! Does this happen to actors who are not mo-capping? No. If the director is not happy with how an actor does something, he re-does the scene, and so the same should happen to mo-cap actors. The fx artists and animators are incredible artists with a lot of skill, and who put in ridiculous hours. However, their job is not to improve the actors performance, it is to add “digital make-up”, so that a human actor can bring a non-human character to life. They are not there to grab the glory and craft the performance, and if that’s what they want, they can all go and try acting properly. In the end, they do amazing work, work that does get recognised by fans, critics, and the Academy, just as make-up artists get recognised for their incredible work in assisting the actors, and costume designers as well. Serkis is completely in the right with his opinion – he couldn’t do any of it without the animators, and he knows it, but the actual performance is his, its what he poured his soul into for years, completely twisting his voice and body to inhabit a character, and no one should be allowed to take that away from him.

  • MichaelRWorthingon

    Glad you wrote this…people out there will believe anything. They believe that real life holograms exist (not to mention angels and unicorns and whatever else). So they probably believe Serkis’ self serving propaganda and the reality needed to be put out there as well.