ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
I chatted about animation things for an hour or so with Josh Ryan, the energetic wunderkind who runs ALTANIMATION. Go here to listen to the interview. Go here to subscribe to ALTANIMATION. I like this guy. He is smart and fun to talk to, at least as good an interviewer as Oprah. Thanks, Josh, for the excellent conversation!
MOCAP - LOST IN TRANSLATION
Digital technology was never explained clearly to actors in the first place, which is part of reason we are having a dust-up over whether or not Andy Serkis deserves 100 percent of the credit and a Best Actor Oscar for his mocapped characters. Andy says that the animators for a character like Caesar in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes only "apply digital makeup", and he provides all of the emotional content.
I was still a full time actor when I first heard about computer graphics. It was in 1991, and word shot through the halls of Screen Actors Guild that Humphrey Bogart, James Cagny and Louis Armstrong - all long deceased movie stars - were appearing in a new Diet Coke commercial with Elton John. Somebody had found old performances, digitized them and then re-configured the performances in order to sell a soft drink. It was not an insane mental leap to conclude that, if they can create new performances from dead people, it will not be long before all actors everywhere will be expendable. The producers never wanted to pay residuals in the first place, and this kind of digital magic would potentially save them a bundle. SAG went on red alert and began adding language to contracts designed to grab the tail of this tiger. Bruce Willis and other highly-paid stars added clauses to their contracts specifiying what could and could not be done with their digital images after they make their final exit.
Then we actors starting hearing about something called "motion capture". Even the name of it sounded aggressive, like somebody was going to get mugged. There was a lot of coffee shop talk about whether or not we wanted to have our motions captured. Meanwhile, the folks running SAG were not much help because most of them were actors, too. We felt, as a group, sort of like the Navi coming under attack from alien forces. For several years, there was not even a SAG contract for the capturing of motion and, fortunately for us, the video game companies evidently did not realize they needed actors. They were themselves taking turns putting on the rubber suit, or maybe sometimes they would hire a gymnast or dancer to do it.
In 1996, I taught acting to my first group of animators and entered a universe I had never seen before. It did not take long before the leading videogame companies began calling, and I saw mocap up close for the first time. Over lunch, I would suggest that maybe actual actors could do a good job moving their motion around and that probably SAG would work to make it happen. "Our lawyers tell us to say totally away from the unions," I was told repeatedly. And so, for a while, the game companies did hire actors, but they were invariably non-union or local amateurs. They got what they were paying for and, one by one, the companies knocked on SAG's door and asked to come in. But still, nobody had sat actors down and calmly explained to them what was happening to the world as they knew it.
Then came Gollum and, a couple of years later, Tom Hanks played five different characters in The Polar Express. The Tom Hanks thing came out sort of ugly, with zombie eyes and all, but Gollum was an instant star. Actors started trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Andy Serkis wrote a book relating how he interacted with the digital world, how he learned by doing. Peter Jackson was giving interviews, along with Robert Zemeckis and James Cameron. They were ecstatic about the possibilities of digital acting because it would give the director "total control" of the final performances. Actors shouted in unison, "We are artists, too! We want to have some control over our art!" Zemeckis and Cameron immediately backtracked, explaining that digital was really a good thing for actors because they get to act "just like being in a stage play". Well, in the first place that is not correct and, in the second place, it explained nothing.
That is the way things developed, with animators and actors never sitting down to have a beer together, just to talk about things digital. And now we have Andy Serkis demanding sole credit while dissing the animators. Like I said last month, all of this is not helpful. Animators and actors need to communicate better. SAG should maybe start representing animators in addition to actors so they can be under the same umbrella. Regarding the Academy Award debate, the solution is for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make a new "digital" category. The winners would be actors and animators, both of whom deserve equal credit.
Until next month ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks