Best Motion Capture Performances That Aren't Andy Serkis - VRGyani News and Media

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Best Motion Capture Performances That Aren't Andy Serkis

Andy Serkis changed the film industry with his groundbreaking motion capture work. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was the first film to include a digital character through a fully real-time performance capture, only three years after Jar Jar Binks had set back the reputation of CGI characters within live-action films. Serkis has continued to create brilliant motion capture characters throughout his career, including King Kong and Planet of the Apes’s Caesar.

Serkis is a pioneer, directing films with prominent motion capture work including his behind-the-camera debut Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle and the upcoming Venom: Let There Be Carnage. He opened the door for others to utilize the emerging technology, and motion capture has become a respected practice for prominent actors to experiment with. Here are the top seven greatest motion capture film performances that came in his wake.

RELATED: Andy Serkis' Performance-Capture Roles Ranked Worst to First

Bill Nighy in 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest'

Shot back-to-back, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End weaved a complex mythology of political and supernatural forces within some of the most intricate setpieces conceived in modern blockbuster filmmaking. A majority of Dead Man’s Chest’s suspense relied on the ruthless villain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy), the squid-like Dark Lord of the Seven Seas that comes to claim the debt that Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) owes him. Jones so easily could’ve been a cartoon monster, but Nighy and the groundbreaking visual effects team created a nightmarish figure that combined swashbuckling menace with mystical horror. Compared to Curse of the Black Pearl’s antagonist Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), a human villain whose humorous edge matched Depp’s charisma, Jones is a tragic character. Nighy transformed a monstrous legend of bedtime stories into a lovesick sailor, cursed to a disfigured form for betraying the one true love he still yearns for.

Zoe Saldana in 'Avatar'

When Avatar 2 finally (!) hits theaters the discourse won’t be fun, but it's hard to overstate what a cultural phenomenon the first film was. James Cameron asked his cast of Na’vi to take a bold risk; motion-capture was still in its early stages, and developing an entire humanoid alien race and culture from Cameron’s imagination was unprecedented. Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) had to depict the Na’vi’s connection to the natural world and their heartbreak at seeing it devastated, all while meeting the physical demands of the digital setpieces. Given Avatar’s massive scale, there needed to be an emotional hook. Saldana manages to ground the action with emotional stakes as Neytiri falls in love with Jake Scully (Sam Worthington). Worthington isn’t exactly the most charismatic guy, yet Saldana sells the chemistry amid occasionally corny romantic writing.

Jason Cope in 'District 9'

Neill Blomkamp’s brilliant sci-fi masterpiece District 9 explored themes of apartheid, immigration, and bigotry. The alien “Prawn” creatures land in Nigeria, and are forced to live in a segregated society under heavy surveillance. The emotional crux rests on Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), a Prawn single father who forms a hasty alliance with bumbling bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) in order to escape the oppressive MNU Department of Alien Affairs and return to his home planet. While it tackles hot button political issues, the stakes of District 9 are intimate, and Christopher Johnson’s struggle to raise his son CJ in a culture where they’re despised as monsters is heartbreaking. The Prawns are only vaguely humanoid, bearing more resemblance to the bugs of Starship Troopers than the more obviously empathetic Na’vi. Cope had to overcome the challenge of expressing emotions with his physicality and expressions, all while facing a language barrier. These are the same struggles that the character Christopher Johnson experiences, and in turn Cope’s performance feels oddly authentic.

Willem Dafoe in 'John Carter'

The long in-development sci-fi adventure John Carter is one of the most notorious box office bombs in recent memory, although many have tried to reclaim it as an underrated gem. While there’s a lot of terrific worldbuilding and fantastic action, the bloated self-seriousness isn’t quite convincing as either a serious sci-fi epic or a rip-roaring summer spectacle. However, if there’s one truly great thing in John Carter, it's Willem Dafoe’s performance as the Martian warrior chief Tar Tarkas. Dafoe had to wear stilts and a grey tracking suit in the middle of the desert heat, and he commits to capturing the spirit of a refined leader who forms a hasty alliance with Taylor Kitsch’s titular hero. It’s sad to hear Dafoe’s enthusiasm for Tarka’s potential in the scrapped sequels; Dafoe still defends the film, saying “sometimes a movie just hits at the wrong time, gets the wrong press, or gets the wrong representation, and it gets misunderstood.”

Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'

The Hobbit trilogy quickly surpassed the simplicity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original novel with the complexity of a Lord of the Rings prequel saga. However, the throughline of the dwarves reclaiming their homeland from the dragon Smaug that stayed truest to the original source material remained the most compelling element. There’d been CGI dragons before, but Smaug had a distinct personality. Benedict Cumberbatch brought a delightful haughty arrogance to the role as he toys with the terrified Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). It's a wonderful sequence where Cumberbatch revels in the scenery-chewing, only gradually revealing his knowledge of the dwarves’ plan. It's a shame that The Battle of the Five Armies gives Smaug such an underwhelming conclusion, but you’re in for a treat if you’ve never seen the behind-the-scenes footage of Cumberbatch’s commitment to capturing dragon movements.

Toby Kebbell in 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Toby Kebbell was going up against the king of motion capture. Serkis’s role as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was so beloved that it generated serious award season buzz. The sequel opened up the world and developed each of the apes individually. Their advanced society rests in a fragile political dynamic with human survivors. Kebbell captured the same detail in the ape-like movements that Serkis did. Like Caesar, Kebbell’s Koba was a victim of brutal laboratory experiments that left him physically and emotionally scarred. He’s a perfect antithesis to Caesar; both have the begrudging spirit of a survivor, yet Caesar chooses to build bridges and Koba sees vengeance as his only means of satisfaction. Koba commits some truly horrific acts, yet Kebbell finds the pent up ferocity that the years of torture caused. The concept of an ape riding a horse wielding automatic weapons sounds ridiculous on paper, but within this world it's a haunting symbol of cyclical conflict.

Josh Brolin in 'Avengers: Infinity War'

There were colossal expectations for Josh Brolin to deliver as Thanos. The character had been teased for six years as the force that would unite all of the universe’s heroes. Not only did he need to be a threat that justified ten years of storytelling, but Marvel’s track record with villains was shaky. Their best efforts tended to have human faces like Tom Hiddleston's Loki, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, and Michael Keaton’s Vulture, and actors buried in makeup like Lee Pace’s Ronan and Christopher Eccelston’s Malekeith struggled to give authentic performances. Yet, the fully CGI Thanos was a surprisingly complex character. The collapse of his homeworld Titan gave Thanos a motivation that was understandable, but his plot to wipe out half of the universe’s population is obviously insane. Brolin gives Thanos’s obsession with “balance” an off-putting nobility that adds to his menace, and digs into the twisted logic of an abusive father who pits his daughters against each other. His words of love for Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are demented, and Brolin’s expressiveness captured that deceitful nature. Brolin doesn’t go for the easy depiction of a supervillain; it’s kind of surprising that a $2 billion grossing mega-blockbuster dedicates a significant portion of its runtime to a big purple alien weeping on top of a cliff.

KEEP READING: New 'Avatar 2' Set Photo Teases Fun with Underwater Motion-Capture



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