Why motion capture actors should get nominated for Academy Awards

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28 January 2021

When an actor is nominated for an Academy Award, it’s because their performance was noteworthy, a standout, something that would leave a legacy in the world of film. They get recognition for the emotion and realism they bring to their character; the evidence of effort they have put into understanding and becoming their character; and the impact their performance has on both the movie and the audience watching it. 

Bearing all that in mind, why is it that a motion capture actor like Andy Serkis, known for his portrayal of memorable and influential characters, such as Gollum from Lord of the Rings and Caesar from Planet of the Apes, has never been nominated for an Oscar? 

This seems to be a question that is increasing in volume as Hollywood churns out more and more animated and live action movies which require actors to don mocap suits in order to bring their characters to life. Sure, these films may get recognized in a “Best Visual Effects” category, but the actors should be given a chance to win in the “Best Actor” and “Best Actress” categories too.

Performance capture is not the future of acting, but just a new form of acting

According to an article written for Deadline by James Franco, who starred opposite Serkis’s Caesar in Planet of the Apes, if Oscars are handed out for an actor’s “performance”, then his co-star’s brilliant portrayal of the endearing-yet-terrifying primate should have been considered too. 

“In acting school I was taught to work off my co-stars, not to act but react and that was how I would achieve unexpected results, not by planning a performance, but by allowing it to arise from the dynamic between actors, and on The Rise of the Planet of the Apes that’s exactly what I was able to do opposite Andy as Caesar. And Andy got to do the same because every gesture, every facial expression, every sound he made was captured, his performance was captured. “

He believes many fear performance capture may make traditional acting obsolete but, in reality, motion capture just gives actors an opportunity to play characters they may have only been able to give voice-overs to in the past. 

Motion capture actors are still actors, they’re just wearing “digital makeup”

Cast your mind back to Charlize Theron in Monster (2003) or Heath Ledger in The Dark Night (2008).

Both actors were decked out in heavy makeup to transform them into the characters they were playing, making them almost unrecognizable from their usual selves. Both actors won an Oscar for their incredible and convincing performances. It was these performances, along with their makeup, that made the audience believe they were their character. 

This is no different to what is required by motion capture actors. Instead of blush and eyeliner, their “makeup” is rendered digitally and their performance is captured using 3D cameras and mocap suits. But they still have to make the audience believe in their character, and the digital makeup is not the only thing doing that – their performance plays a pivotal role. 

Which is why, despite him being a CGI ape, we the audience, fall in love with Caesar. We’re terrified of him and we root for him. Because we believe in him. And the only reason we believe in Caesar is because of the performance delivered by his mocap actor counterpart – Andy Serkis. 

Merriam-Webster’s definition of acting agrees, defining it as “the art or practice of representing a character on a stage or before cameras.”

Some people have argued for the Oscars to develop a separate awards category for motion capture performances. But based on the above definition, the already-existing awards for “Best Actor”, “Best Actress”, “ Best Supporting Actor” and “Best Supporting Actress” should apply to motion capture actors too, who are using voice, expression, mannerisms, and movement to bring a character to life – just like traditional actors do. 

To explore the cutting-edge Motion Analysis Tech that is used to bring the performances of motion capture actors to the big screen, visit our website here

You might also  like: Our 10 favourite motion capture performances on the big screen