Our 10 favourite motion capture performances on the big screen

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27 January 2021

We often find ourselves geeking out over the motion capture techniques and technology being used in big blockbuster hits (especially when it’s our own systems), but we also know that in order for that tech to contribute to an impressive film, it has to go hand in hand with committed and skilled performers. So, for a change, we’re not going to speak about the mocap systems that go into making a movie, but rather the performances needed in order to make a film’s visual effects successful. Here are our top ten motion capture performances of all time: 

  1. Willem Dafoe as Tars Tarkas in John Carter (2012) 

The movie itself may not have been a box office success, but we have to give props to the motion capture performance from Willem Dafoe. In order to portray the 7-foot tall creature known as Tars Tarkas, Dafoe had to sometimes film in his tracking suit, whilst balancing on stilts! Now that’s what we call mocap commitment.

  1. Andy Serkis as King Kong in King Kong (2005) 

It would be mocap heresy to not include Andy Serkiss multiple times on a list of the best motion capture movie performances. In King Kong, Serkis walked away with several film critic awards for his ability to bring to life the fierce, primal nature of Kong, while still conveying gentler, more human characteristics of the creature, using 132 retro-reflective markers. As he says in an interview with the Guardian, “King Kong was the epiphany. It was like: you can now do anything.”

  1. Ray Winstone as Beowulf in Beowulf (2007)

Robert Zemeckis’ movie, The Polar Express, is known to be one of the first movies ever made entirely with performance capture technology, according to the motion capture history books. But it was the mocap transformation of a 50-something Ray Winstone, into the towering, young hero called Beowulf, that really impressed audiences. Thanks to mocap tech, Winstone was able to focus on bringing an iconic leading man to life through performance, without being restricted by his physical appearance. 

  1. Mark Rylance as the BFG in The BFG (2016)

It must be quite a daunting task to take on such a famous childhood character, but if anyone needed proof that motion capture technology is able to realistically convey humanity, they need only look to Mark Rylance’s performance of everyone’s favourite giant. Rylance has to shift his performance throughout the film to encapsulate the terrifying appearance of a 24-foot being, whilst also evoking the gentle compassion we love so much about the BFG. 

  1. Idris Elba as Shere Khan in The Jungle Book (2016)

Taking on a modernized, CGI version of such a beloved tale was a brave feat – as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But Director Jon Favreu’s 2016 version of the Jungle Book is a CGI masterpiece that possibly elevated the story to new heights.  All the mocap performances were applause-worthy, but the sinister performance conveyed by actor Idris Elba, as the infamous Shere Khan, deserves its own moment in the spotlight.

  1. Bill Nighy as Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

While many motion capture performances are shot entirely in-studio, Bill Nighy recorded his captivating performance of the fearsome Captain Davy Jones while on set, working alongside his castmates. This was to help him get more into character, and we’ve got to say – it clearly worked – because the tentacle-covered villain looks strikingly real. 

  1. Andy Serkis as Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Once again we look at a legendary motion capture performance from Serkis – this time as the intelligent primate, Caesar, in the final installation of the Planet of the Apes trilogy. 

Serkis has done this character more than justice in the previous two films, but in ‘War’, his deeply evocative and emotional portrayal of Caesar was thought by many to be deserving of an Oscar.  

  1. Zoe Saldana as Na’vi Neytiri in Avatar (2009)

Director James Cameron famously waited years to bring his vision for Avatar to life,  because he believed the tech was still not where it needed to be to do his film justice. And thank goodness he did wait, because due to a specially-designed mocap stage, and her brilliant acting chops, Zoe Saldana was able to bring us a powerful and touching performance of her character, Na’vi Neytiri. 

  1. Benedict Cumberbatch in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Cumberbatch’s performance is one for the motion capture history books. From crawling around on his belly, covered in mocap markers, to growling into the cameras and distorting his face, his commitment to his character’s specific mannerisms is what brought to life the fearsome dragon, Smaug. 

  1. Andy Serkiss as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

Naturally, our top spot for motion capture performances in the movies goes to Andy Serkis for his portrayal as Gollum (and it’s not just because he’s wearing one of our mocap suits). Prior to Serkis’ performance in the second LOTR movie (The Two Towers), motion capture had always been performed in the studio, but for this movie, Serkis was able to shoot his performance on location, interacting and reacting to the other actors in the scene. This made it one of the most revolutionary mocap performances of all time, winning the film an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. 

To explore our cutting-edge Motion Analysis Tech, including BaSix Go, visit the Motion Analysis website today.

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