Animator Tim Borelli wrote a great post on his blog called An Open Letter To Andy Serkis that has been making the rounds:
Dear Mr. Serkis,
If you deserve to be considered for an Academy Award nomination for Acting in regards to your performance motion capture, then every animator who has ever animated a character in any movie deserves consideration as well.
At first I said “Andy Who?” and remembered when I saw his photo as the guy who did the performance capture for Gollum, King Kong, and the recent lead chimp in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
If you haven’t seen the film go see it. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen this year and is definately going to win the Oscar for best VFX. The work by the artists at Weta Digital is superb as always.
Back in April I was really encouraged by Fox’s marketing campaign for the film as Weta received top billing in the film’s trailer. Unfortunately that all changed recently. I stayed through the credits to see many of my friends in VFX get listed near the end of the credits.
Getting a credit isn’t necessarily a big deal to me but its a simple example of the relatively smaller respect those of us in the VFX industry get compared to others. Instead, we are seeing campaigns for Andy Serkis getting an Oscar nod.
Seriously? Would there even be a discussion if there were no vfx and Mr Serkis had to do his performance in ape makeup? Of course not, and if he tried to campaign for an Oscar under those circumstances he would be laughed out of East Hollywood.
As Mr. Borelli eloquently points out there are animators who painstakingly animate every detail to bring realism to the character Caeser. Furthermore, there are modellers who model every wrinkle and facial expression into morph targets. There are mocap artists who ensure the highest fidelity of the animation data and integrate the performance into something usable. Riggers who make the cg character moveable and animatable (was that Andy Serkis athletically swinging through those trees?). Don’t forget to mention the incredible work of the hair artists. That orangutan looked great! And lookdev artists who make that skin and those eyes look real… and so forth.
I suspect the reason actors like Mr. Serkis are jockeying for star position is because many of them see VFX eclipsing actors. How many times have we seen an animated or vfx heavy film beat a movie with a top star in it?
Actors have one thing going for them that allows them to demand top billing: solidarity. The acting community sticks up for each other as exemplified with the Hobbit fiasco. The main actors would not return to make the film anywhere in the world unless a better deal was made for New Zealand actors.
There was one moment during Rise of the Planet of the Apes that reminded me of this. The orangutan wonders why Caesar is helping the other apes to which he grabs a stick and breaks it:
Apes alone … weak.
Caesar then bundles a group of sticks and shows the orangutan how difficult it is to break:
Apes together strong.
We VFX artists can learn a thing or two from actors and apes. We need to stick together. We need solidarity.