You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Actors Embrace Performance Capture — Gradually

High-visibility roles breakdown old barriers

Performance-capture acting, and the thesps who’ve tried it, are earning more respect these days.

“Avatar” rode performance-capture to generally stellar reviews, record-breaking grosses and rare levels of audience engagement.

Yet professional thesps still lag behind the public in understanding the process and are just beginning to sort out what it means for the business of acting.

Zoe Saldana — “Avatar’s” Neytiri — may be remembered as the first movie star to have her breakout role in performance-capture.

The prominence she got in spots for “The Losers,” opening this weekend, befits a popular star, and she was prominent in spots for “Death at a Funeral” as well.

Her agent, Lorrie Bartlett, says Neytiri was “absolutely” Saldana’s breakout part, and her manager, Aleen Keshishian of Brillstein Partners, says, “The attention we’ve gotten from filmmakers has been remarkable.”

There has been pushback, though, especially from thesps, who either look down on the process as an animation hybrid or fear it is a step toward replacing actors altogether.

Andy Serkis, who through performance-capture played Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Kong in “King Kong,” understands the thinking — but dismisses it.

“(They think) if it’s not the actor’s face onscreen, they won’t get the next job. There’s a kind of vanity about that. Actors who care about the purity of acting and transformation are not worried about that.”

Performance-capture, he says, is actually a boon to actors. “It enables you to play any manner of characters you might not normally be cast as.”

One indication actors are coming to respect the process is that SAG is forming a performance-capture committee. Just a few years ago, when Serkis was shooting “King Kong,” SAG covered his work only during principal photography, not while doing eight weeks of performance capture playing the giant ape.

Serkis credits thesp Woody Schultz, a vet of “The Polar Express,” “Monster House” and “Avatar” who has been appointed to chair the new committee, with helping the Guild to change the way it looks at motion capture. For his part, though, Schultz says SAG’s attitude evolved naturally, not through his efforts.

“Nobody knew where this technology fell,” Schultz says. “It was a huge gray area.”

Schultz says there’s still an urgent need for education on the topic, and the Motion Picture Academy, answering that call, scheduled an April 22 panel on “Acting in the Digital Age.”

Stars like Tom Hanks and Anthony Hopkins have given performance-capture credibility as “real acting.” But reps aren’t ready to evaluate potential clients that way.

One agent, who asked not to be identified, has had clients in performance-capture movies, with good results, but says not even Saldana’s turn in “Avatar” would have been enough to sign her without live-action clips.

“It’s not enough information,” says the rep. “You don’t know how much the performance is manipulated because the technology is so new.”

That jibes with Schultz’s experience as well.

“Initially if I were to show a reel to an agent that had my performance-capture work, it didn’t sink in until I could show the video reference footage, so they could see me next to Anthony Hopkins performing a scene. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact it was acting. Especially if the character didn’t look like me.”

“But that’s changing,” he adds.

SAG’s committee is still being officially constituted; Schultz says he hopes it will officially meet in May.

Serkis, for his part, recently confirmed he is launching his own London-based facility, The Imaginarium, aimed at making the process accessible to more filmmakers at lower cost.

“I absolutely fundamentally believe it’s part of the actor’s journey now,” he says. “If you look back at history, going back to Greek drama and commedia dell’arte — which used masks — and Kabuki, I don’t suppose audiences were questioning the technology or how the actor was cloaked; they were moved by the performance. That’s what we ought to be examining.

“I expect that in four or five years, this strange age of superstition about performance-capture will disappear when it’s practiced by more actors. And it will be.”

More Film

  • Macon Blair27th Annual Gotham Independent Film

    Macon Blair to Direct and Write 'Toxic Avenger' Reboot for Legendary (EXCLUSIVE)

    Macon Blair has been tapped to write and direct Legendary’s reboot of the cult classic “The Toxic Avenger,” sources tell Variety. Legendary acquired the feature film rights in December and have quickly made the project a high priority at the studio. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers with Alex [...]

  • Danny Boyle Bond 25

    Danny Boyle Calls His Exit From 'Bond 25' a 'Great Shame'

    Director Danny Boyle has finally spoken out after leaving the upcoming 25th James Bond movie over creative differences. After splitting from the new 007 flick last August, Boyle told Empire in a story published on Thursday that the script he penned with his “Trainspotting” co-writer John Hodge “wasn’t finished, but it could have been really [...]

  • Film Review: 'Everybody's Everything'

    Film Review: 'Everybody's Everything'

    An elegiac documentary exploring the brief life of rapper Lil Peep, “Everybody’s Everything” certainly doesn’t lack for perspectives. Interviewing virtually everyone who knew the musician (born Gustav Ahr), directors Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan cover the waterfront, from Peep’s family to his girlfriends, his innumerable collaborators, his managers and his fans, trying to distill exactly [...]

  • A Brinks armored truck pulls into

    Layoffs Hit Fox After Disney Completes Deal

    Layoffs have hit Fox following the entertainment company’s sale to Disney. The staff cuts are hitting employees at the SVP, EVP, and president level. Senior staff is expected to be among the first to be impacted. However, the cuts will be deep, with the ax falling hardest of Fox’s film team. There could be as [...]

  • Emily Blunt in Talks for Inspirational

    Emily Blunt in Talks to Star in Annapurna Drama 'Not Fade Away'

    Emily Blunt is in negotiations to star in Annapurna’s inspirational drama “Not Fade Away” with David O. Russell and John Krasinski producing. The project is based on Rebecca Alexander’s 2015 memoir “Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found.” Alexander was born with a rare genetic mutation called Usher syndrome type III and [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Alfonso Cuaron's 'Roma' Nabs Nine Nominations for 6th Premios Platino

    As was widely anticipated, Alfonso Cuaron’s triple Oscar-winning “Roma” dominated the 6th Premios Platino nominations, unveiled Thursday at Hollywood’s legendary Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the very first Oscars. It snagged a total of nine nominations, including best film, director, art direction, cinematography, and acting for its two Oscar-nominated actresses, Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de [...]

  • Stephen Bruno

    Stephen Bruno Exits Netflix for Top Marketing Job at MGM

    Netflix global marketing chief Stephen Bruno has exited his post for MGM, where he has been named chief marketing officer. His departure follows that of Netflix CMO Kelly Bennett and marks a major shake-up for the streaming giant. Bruno had been with the streamer since 2014, and is known as an innovator. He joins MGM [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content