Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit
The first film to use a real time motion capture system was Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers for its now iconic character Gollum. To this day it’s arguably the finest example of a mocap performance, Andy Serkis became the go to guy for the technology after this and it’s understandable why. Gollum is a character that could easily have come off ridiculous, considering his bizarre voice and hideous looks, however thanks to the efforts of Serkis and the use of the technology we can see the characters tortured humanity and the pain in his eyes. His performance stands out as one of the best in the films and his return to the role in The Hobbit, though brief, was a highlight of the series.
The Hobbit trilogy relied far more in the technology, having several characters portrayed from Orc Commanders to Goblin Kings. Perhaps the most impressive of these is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug, the giant dragon that lives under the mountain. Personally I’m not sure what kind of research you need to do to figure out how a dragon moves but clearly Cumberbatch did it, contorting his body and wearing an impressive scowl that brought this creature to life.
Planet of the Apes
After the fantastic entries from the Lord of the Rings series’ it’s hard to think what could match such marvellous creations, though a film series that does so without stretching too far into the fantasy genre is the recent Planet of the Apes series starring none other than Andy Serkis. Again. Perhaps some of the finest examples of mocap performances of any film can be seen in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the second entry in the trilogy. Here the apes are still somewhere between man and ape and it’s shown perfectly.
The actors became experts on the creatures and they flawlessly capture them whilst still showing certain human sensibilities, balancing the characters and forcing the viewer to believe they’re real. Toby Kebbell particularly stands out as the antagonist of the story, we watch as his hatred engulfs him and turns him from friend to foe. A particularly memorable scene is one in which he acts like a primitive jovial ape to fool a guard, you can’t help but chuckle until he turns on the man showing his brutal nature and completely reverses your emotions in the process.
More Mocap Please
Once upon a time if you wanted an actor or actress to look like a gorilla, you’d send them to the makeup department and have them return in a few hours kitted out with a hairy body and a rubber ape face in hopes of convincing the world it looked like the real thing. Now thanks to technological advances we can do away with this and simply stick said performers in what looks like a cheap Tron suit with ping pong balls attached and work some computer generated magic in post production. Since the invention of “mocap” we’ve seen some fantastic performances in the field, from fully animated movies to a blend with live action, let’s hope there are even more entries of this calibre in the future.