This is a topic that's very, very interesting. There's been a calling for Andy Serkis to be noticed by the Academy Awards ever since he blew us all out of the water with his stellar performance as Gollum in 'Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers'. And while no-one can deny (successfully) that his role wasn't absolutely incredible, and arguably even better in 'Return of the King', there is still a large group that seem to argue against his receiving an oscar. But why? I mean, it's perhaps understandable that he was snubbed for his portrayal of Smeagol, as the technology was very new, but what about Caesar from the 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' and its follow-up, 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'. So folks, feel free to sit back as I get engaged in a discussion of my titular question: 'Should Andy Serkis win an oscar?
First things first...
Some of you may be wondering what I mean. I know I was surprised to discover there was a guy acting out Gollum, even though when you're told so it seems quite obvious. So basically, when acting either Caesar, Gollum or any other character without a human face, Andy Serkis slips into a skin-tight spandex suit with a bunch of little spheres attached to said suit and his face. He the proceeds to act normally, with the little spheres tracking his body movements and facial expressions. After that, a digital team of experts use state of the art software to wrap a computer generated image of his character onto him, who mimics his movements. So now that you have a grasping of what is called "motion capture technology", or mo-cap for short, we can proceed with the debate. Also, for a full disclosure, that was a brief summary of the process, and it has thus been dumbed down slightly. However, if you want to learn more, feel free to click right here. Just make sure you come back and finish off this article.
But why wouldn't he win an oscar?
It's a valid question to ask. I mean, he's actually acting under the suit, and he's acting really well. So why on Earth wouldn't he be at least eligible for an academy award? Well, because the guys who decide the oscars are notoriously against anything new in the world of cinema. Maybe I'm being unfair here, there are quite a lot of people who hold that he shouldn't win an oscar, and their main argument is that what he's doing isn't real acting. Sounds absurd, right? But when you look at it from their perspective, they have a point. After all, that ain't Andy Serkis' face in Lord of the Rings, so why should he be the guy winning the oscar for the performance? It's a point for which the validity is purely dependant on your personal standpoint. On one hand, if you look at it as him acting and then having his face changed to suit his character, it seems obvious that he should be considered just as much as any other actor for recognition. However, if you see it as him just giving physical presence to an animated character for other actors to play against, you would be justified in thinking that what he does isn't the same thing as everyone else in the acting business.
This leads to the current debate, with those behind the oscars (or at least the majority of them) being in the latter category, and feeling that they are completely in the right and thus turning a deaf ear towards all the cries for Andy Serkis to be acclaimed by them
What do the people involved have to say on it?
In an interview with the BBC, Andy Serkis emphasizes that mo-cap acting is in no way different from live-action performances, saying:
The emotional content of these performances live and die by what the actors bring to the roles on set.
Which is completely true. Without Andy Serkis behind King Kong or Gollum, there would undoubtedly be much less emotion conveyed by the character, not to mention making it incredibly difficult for the rest of the cast to act against a pole or imaginary character.
On a side note concerning said cast, don't you think that the actors who play opposite Serkis playing Caesar and in other similar circumstances deserve some recognition? I mean James Franco went an entire film having to pretend that this man in a spandex suit covered in dots was an ape. You know, acting like there's an ape in front of him. Which is commendable, especially considering that they've all put in good to great performances.
Anyway, getting back on track, Serkis also said to the BBC with regards to mo-cap technology:
That's all it is, digital make-up.
Which is where a whole new area of the debate opens up. You see, while debating over whether or not what he does is "real" acting or not is all well and good, and I firmly believe that what is done in mo-cap is "real" acting, how much of it translates to screen?
That may sound like a bafflingly phrased question, so allow me to expand on it. After Andy Serkis, or any actor, puts in their performance in front of the camera, it then goes to the animation studio to proceed to do what Serkis says in the above quote is "digital make-up". This year however, was one of the rare occasions where we got to hear from one of the people in that studio. Specifically Randall William Cook, director of animation for the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. When he spoke out regarding what Andy Serkis says on the subject of his performances, he had this to say:
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.
Huh. So he's saying that every take Serkis does isn't translated to screen perfectly? In fact, Cook proceeds to give many examples of times that Andy Serkis' performance wasn't just altered, but completely changed. It's an interesting read, though it's too long to get the majority of it across in this article, but you can read it here. Cook even says outright:
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.
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.
The guy certainly comes across as quite aggressive, although for the sake of time I haven't included the preface where he states that Andy Serkis is a great guy and that he means him no disrespect. Still, even just reading his words you can sort of feel a bit of spite coming off him. And you know what? He's completely justified.
This is a slight digression, but you'll see how it ties in later. You see, the animators and special effects teams have been Hollywood's slave workers for years now, ever since CGI burst onto the scene. Take Iron Man for example. The film worked for two main reasons: Robert Downey Jr. and that damn awesome Iron Man suit. And yet, even though it was a crack group of multiple teams that brought the suit to life, it's RDJ who gets all the credit from the world. Take Pacific Rim for another example. The basic point of the film is two giant, CGI brutes punching each other. And it's the stunning special effects that make it as awesome as it is. The point I'm trying to make is that so many of our favourite films require the effects that only these guys can give us, and yet they get little to no credit. And they've been seemingly content to sit back and let all the big names take the credit on stage.
However, this is a rare situation where two behind-the-scenes parties are squaring off for recognition: Andy Serkis and the animators behind him. Serkis claims that his performances are completely his own, but the animators feel 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
While nothing can be taken away from how incredible an actor Andy Serkis clearly is, and how compelling his mo-cap performances have been so far, he just can't be considered eligible for a best actor award. Every other actor in the category stands in front of a camera and records his own actions. Whereas Andy Serkis gets recorded in front of a camera, and if anything isn't up to scratch it gets animated differently and translated to screen in a way that isn't Andy's own performance. That's just plain cheating, right?
However, what Andy Serkis does is such an incredible feat that I feel he should be recognized in some way. Maybe with a lifetime acheivement oscar?
Thanks for reading guys, I hope you found it interesting. Feel free to also check out my YouTube channel, Eneition. And don't hesitate to drop us a comment below. So until next time guys, enjoy your lives!!!