The Weekly Geek: Mo-cap actors and the big snub

As geeks, we have a long, long history of “our” forms of entertainment and culture being snubbed by the rest of the world. We all know the stereotypes: Sci-fi and fantasy are for the socially challenged, videogames and graphic novels are for the immature, horror is for weirdos, etc.

In the last few years, it seems a whole lot of this attitude has waned considerably, but there’s still one bastion of culture that still seems to sneer at the “lower” arts inherent to technology and speculative fiction: the Oscars. While some genre films have certainly been breaking through (Like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Avatar, to name two), there’s one group of people who still can’t seem to get any respect: motion capture actors.

Wired’s Underwire blog recently posted a feature on Andy Serkis – possibly the world’s foremost mo-cap performer, the man who brought Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings series, and recently turned in an incredible performance as Ceasar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Serkis is incredibly talented, able to create and fully commit to characters from fantastic worlds – but he’s never even been nominated for an Academy Award, much less taken home the golden statue. From the post:

Serkis, garbed in a sensor-embedded Lycra body suit, quickly mastered the then-novel art and science of performance-capture acting. Despite his widely acclaimed star turn as the disgusting creature in the Lord of the Rings movies — which earned him the “king of mo-cap” title from Wired — Serkis failed to get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

“The acting community has worries about performance capture because they believe it’s some form of replacement for performance when in fact, it’s the opposite,” Serkis, in Los Angeles on break from reprising Gollum in the upcoming Hobbit movies, tells Wired.com in a phone interview. “Performance capture is a tool that allows actors to transform themselves into many different characters. You’re not confined by physicality. You can play anything.”

The same is true for mo-cap actors who portray characters in videogames, such as the lovely Claudia Black in the Uncharted series or Karen Dyer in Resident Evil 5.

There is hope yet for actors who don the special suits. Increasingly, scenes are shot on location or in more realistic sets, along with all of the other talent present (a far cry from the complete green-screen-a-thons and characters on sticks of the Star Wars prequels), and the prevalence of the maturing tech is certainly helping its profile in the acting world:

Perhaps as a result of the great technological strides made in recent years — and the increasing role that animation is taking in Hollywood — actors, including those who pick Oscar nominees as members of the Academy, are gradually warming up to performance-capture techniques, according to the Screen Actors Guild.

Let’s hope that’s an accurate assessment. I can’t wait to see this sort of talent get its proper due.

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