Rise of the Motion Capture Oscar?

With the 2011 Oscar nominations around the corner, 20th Century Fox is wasting no time campaigning for Andy Serkis’s motion capture performance as Caesar in last summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. While the film was a success — both critically and at the box office — many would agree that the human characters in the film were not its strength. In fact, I believe that very positive word-of-mouth surrounding the special effects in the film were a tremendous aid in its overall box office haul. So where’s Weta Digital in all of this Oscar talk?

There’s no doubt that Andy Serkis, of Lord of the Rings and King Kong fame, did a phenomenal job “behind the scenes” in expressing the turmoil and emotion as Caesar; it’s Caesar’s film, he drives the story forward, and is the reason why audiences are drawn into director Rupert Wyatt’s world. But let’s not forget that every time our eyes are fixated on him, we are looking at Weta’s brilliant work. And while they will no doubt receive an Oscar nomination for special effects, I think the Oscars will open a giant can of worms should they also nominate Serkis for best supporting actor. It will set a precedent which has the potential of disrupting Oscar nomination criteria for years to come. Will we see Pixar campaign for their future digital “actors” in Brave or Monsters University? I would hate to see the Oscars turn into The Grammy’s, with a category for every possible role.

When I reflect back on Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I think of the animators, designers, graphic artists, and likely dozens of others at Weta who brought Serkis’s work to life. I also think about Avatar and the biomechanical work Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Signourney Weaver (among others) contributed in creating the skeleton upon which the special effects team could build. They’re the real magicians, the ones very rarely in the spotlight this time of year, and often relegated to the (non-televised and unreported) Scientific and Technical Award Ceremony.

Film making is one of the most collaborative projects in the world, and I would love to see Weta Digital acknowledged at the Oscars for their work, but with Andy Serkis on stage alongside them.

Safi, 2012


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