Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Serkis Phenomenon

Andy Serkis performing as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The time has come to honour Andy Serkis
In a small room somewhere, about 12 years ago, an unknown British actor did something which changed cinema forever. He was auditioning to be the voice of a very big role - one of the most famous literary characters ever – but he didn’t just do the voice but gave an entire performance, changing himself physically and working through the scene as any actor playing a normal part would.
The director who saw this made a big decision on the basis of this. That performance had to be put on screen. The CGI character would have to be as much the work of an actor as it would be the work of visual effects artists.

The director was Peter Jackson, the film was The Lord of the Rings, the character was Gollum, and the actor was Andy Serkis. One can imagine Serkis walking away from that audition thinking that it went ok and that maybe he’d overdone it a bit, little knowing that he had created the most incredible niche for himself in film acting and changed the expectations of what could be achieved in cinema.

Gollum in The Lord of thr Rings: The Two Towers
Gollum was a triumph and it is easy to forget how much of a breathtaking achievement that was, and it spawned a whole range of films using the same technology. Films like The Polar Express and Beowulf used it to create more human animated characters.  James Cameron made the biggest grossing film of all time with Avatar using a more advanced version of the same process.

Serkis, meanwhile, went on to be King Kong, and, this month, is the ape Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar is another magnificent piece of work. It’s just a great performance – engaging, interesting and powerful. Such a CGI creation was extremely distant until Serkis came along and changed the game.

It must be held in mind, and Serkis would be the first to do so, that a lot of work does remain with the visual effects artists (and the leaders in this are the incredible WETA digital in New Zealand), but they are now able to construct CGI characters of incredible nuance by taking their cues from actors.
Back when Gollum became a reality, there was a push for Serkis to be recognised by awards, but he was overlooked, but now, if ever a special award was required, it is for this. Serkis has led the charge to a new realm of filmmaking and deserves recognition. Perhaps an Oscar of some form is too much to hope for, but the BAFTAs have the Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema. Well, no Brit has made a more outstanding contribution in the last 20 years than Serkis.

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