ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
MARS NEEDS MOMS
Everybody knows that Disney took a box office bath with this movie, but there is much to be learned by studying the failures as well as the successes. Since it is available on DVD now, I recommend that you give it an analytic screening. Robert Zemekis produced Mars Needs Moms, so we can figure his fingerprints are all over it. The human eyes are improved over those in Polar Express and Beowulf, but they are still most often dead, and the valley remains solidly uncanny. That is not why the movie flopped, though. The animators did a swell job. The culprit is the amateurish script and foolish premise which should never have been given the green light in the first place. Rule Number One of screenwriting is "Show, don't tell," and it is violated continually here. Note to the wise: It is a good idea to try to write scripts with no words at all, adding only those that the story absolutely cannot live without. Movies "move"; stage plays "talk".
“Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan."
Actor Andy Serkis, who got his big career break when Peter Jackson cast him as Gollum in Lord of the Rings, has decided that when it comes to motion-captured digital characters in 2011, the actor does all the heavy lifting while the animators do nothing more than “apply digital makeup.” Take a look at this August 12th interview from The Guardian. Mr. Serkis is, you see, lobbying for Academy Award consideration for his portrayal of Caesar the alpha-monkey in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Understandably, some pretty good animators are having trouble going along with Andy’s assessment regarding “digital makeup,” and an ill-tempered debate has sprung up - animators on one side, actors on the other. Here is one of the more eloquent animator articles, this from Tim Borelli.
Let us be clear from the start: Motion-captured digital characters are a unique creation, something totally new to the industry, and they are created via intense collaboration between artists of the highest calibre and complimentary disciplines. Andy Serkis is turning into a talented diva if he seriously believes what he is saying publicly. If and when Oscars are awarded for these mocapped characters, there ought to be a team of artists making their way to the stage, not just the actor who wore the rubber - okay, Lycra - suit. Mr. Serkis is asserting that, as mocap technology improves, the animators contribute proportionally less to the final result. He wants to make a genealogical connection between John Hurt playing the Elephant Man and himself playing Caesar the monkey, but the comparison does not compute. The on-screen Elephant Man was a costumed character for which the audience was asked to willingly suspend its disbelief. Caesar the monkey was intended to pass for the real thing, a large monkey that happens to be at a transitional evolutionary point. Andy Serkis provided the human thought process and resulting emotions, and the animators made Caesar look exactly like a creature you want to give a banana to. John Hurt probably smelled like latex up close; Caesar has fleas. Big difference.
Anyyway, art is not a competitive sport. And there is rarely a correlation between excellence and the winning of Academy Awards. Coraline was arguably a better movie than Up, Monsters, Inc. was better than Shrek, and The Iron Giant was better than all of them. Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman and Robert Altman should have won Best Director Oscars. Jack Nicholson’s performance in Chinatown was indelible, but the Oscar that year (1976) went to Art Carney in Harry and Tonto. What I am saying is that the entire Academy Awards brouhaha is about money, not art or creativity. I don’t know about you, but I watch the Awards because of the pretty people and the possibility of “televised live” bloopers, like David Niven's streaker.
As a practical matter, the people that vote on the Academy’s acting awards are not going to give it to a digital character performance any time soon. Actors are still intimidated by performance capture, treating it a little like the strange aunt who lives in the upstairs bedroom. From their perspective, doing what Andy Serkis does is an adjunct skill. The Academy might grudgingly give out a few Special Achievement awards for the likes of Caesar, but that is as far as it is going.
I am personally dismayed to see this kind of public airing of laundry. Andy Serkis is a fine actor, it is true, but until he reaches the point where he is applying his own digital makeup, truly delivering a one-man show, his best strategy is to try a little humility on for size and allot credit where credit is due.
Until next month ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks