Why Andy Serkis Doesn’t Deserve an Oscar for ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’

Matthew Loffhagen
Andy Serkis and a Bunch of Animators Made War for the Planet of the Apes
(Photo: Andy Serkis and a Bunch of Animators Made War for the Planet of the Apes)

It’s that time of year again, when movie studios, actors, directors, and basically everybody in Hollywood starts trying to campaign to win an Academy Award.

Andy Serkis is no different, although he is facing something of an uphill struggle, as he attempts to convince the Motion Picture Academy that his work in a motion capture suit qualifies as a dramatic performance that’s worthy of an Oscar.

Serkis has been synonymous with mo-cap technology for over a decade now. His turn as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, followed by roles such as King Kong and now Caesar the super smart monkey, have earned him a permanent place as Hollywood’s go-to guy for ping pong ball suits.

In anticipation of upcoming Oscar Season, Serkis has been making waves, attempting to explain exactly what his role is in these performances – and, while not explicitly stated, why he deserves an Academy Award for playing a CGI character.

There’s just one problem – Andy Serkis isn’t being entirely truthful.

In the video, Serkis states that his performance is the biggest part of the process, and that post-production editing is merely a small tool that takes all the data from his actions on-set and turn them into a digital character.

This isn’t actually what happens. Each motion capture character, regardless of how talented the actor portraying them might be, is created not just by one guy, but by a team of hard-working animators and effects artists.

There’s no magic After Effects plug-in that suddenly turns an actor into a CGI ape without any human input. People had to slave for months to make Caesar look believable and realistic.

It’s not even true that Andy Serkis’ motion capture data is transferred into the CGI puppet directly. It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that Serkis isn’t actually an ape, and that means that his proportions, muscles, and facial movements don’t match perfectly with the character model that’s been created.

Motion capture data gives the animators – of which there are many on a film like War for the Planet of the Apes – a starting point to work from, but they never stick to what they’re given perfectly. Things will be tweaked, movements will be altered, and animations for hands and feet will be created completely from scratch, because Serkis’ arms are too short to play an actual monkey.

Andy Serkis in Motion Capture
Source: 20th Century Fox

Then, there’s the face. If you’ve ever seen an actor covered in all the little black dots for facial capture, you’ll know that the technology isn’t an exact science. Animators have to take every little awkward dot as a point of reference, as they build a similar performance in the computer. This certainly isn’t the case of just pressing a button and creating a monkey face that matches Andy Serkis’ performance.

So when Andy Serkis doesn’t win an Oscar this year, don’t feel too bad.

In all fairness, he doesn’t actually deserve one anyway.