Actor Andy Serkis may have changed his tune somewhat from earlier this spring when he insisted that animators do nothing but add ‘digital makeup’ on top of his acting. In a recent interview with the industry publication International Cinematographer’s Guild Magazine, he presented a more accurate description of the process used in the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of Apes. His words acknowledge, to some extent, the creative choices that are made after his motion-captured performance as Caesar the chimpanzee:
[The technology] has progressed extraordinarily in terms of the fidelity to the authored performance. But it’s only partly to do with technology. It’s more to do with having a team of people who fully understand the interpolation of a performance that they are seeing onscreen. They’re taking the data and wrangling it in a way that honors the performance. The facial pipeline is now so refined by Weta and so understood by the artists that do that very delicate phase between taking the actor’s raw underlying emotional performance and translating it into the actual final rendered character. It’s fully understood, spectacularly so.
Serkis still used the term ‘digital makeup’ in a recent Access Hollywood interview, but notably, he applied it to the process of being outfitted with the reflective dots used to capture his acting data (which is a fair description) and not to describe the work of the animators who help author his performance afterward.
In the same ICG interview, Weta Digital senior vfx supervisor Joe Letteri and vfx supervisor Dan Lemmon discuss the use of facial motion capture on films like Lord of the Rings and King Kong, and their comments suggest that keyframe animation plays a huge role in Serkis’s performance. This is essentially the same perspective put forth by Lord of the Rings animation supervisor Randall William Cook.