April 24, 2010 — "Part of this evening is allaying fears and fighting prejudice in the acting community," said Andy Serkis, who appeared King Kong-sized Thursday night on the screen at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Attending via videoconference, the award-winning actor, perhaps best known for his roles as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings series and as the title character in Kong, was one of a dozen speakers at the "Acting in the Digital Age" panel, hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The audience was filled with mostly actors, and the panelists, including Avatar's Wes Studi and CCH Pounder, didn't try to hide from the issue that most concerned them: Doesn't capturing an actor's performance mean aspects of that work can be re-manipulated in new ways?
While it's true that there is the ability for content to be repurposed, such as when Marlon Brando made a brief posthumous appearance in Superman Returns (2006), it's almost impossible to do so at any great length because so much vital information is missing. The panel of experts said the process will always need a real actor to fill in the blanks in order for the effect to be truly convincing.
Steve Preeg, character supervisor at Digital Domain who won an Oscar for special effects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, said an actor may have to model for a "life cast" to reproduce his or her face, sit inside a light stage (a sphere that recreates how light may fall on a subject), be photographed showing different facial expressions and a varied range of motion, or do any number of other preparations for a performance capture role.
"All of that technology is not to copy you," Preeg said, "but to create you. We need your timing, your emotion, and we need a consistent performance."
He said the last thing he wants is animators adding their own interpretations because it would add falsehoods to the performance that audiences would recognize.
Richard Baneham, animation supervisor for Avatar, told the audience that the old Hollywood adage holds true with performance capture: "You could find a double for Humphrey Bogart, but you can't make him act like Humphrey Bogart."
LEARN MORE: For a more detailed discussion of performance capture, check out the next issue of Screen Actor as well as SAG TV, which will feature video from the Guild's own performance capture panel discussion. Coming soon!