5. Benedict Cumberbatch as “Smaug” in Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Dragon portrayals have rarely had much success. Dragonheart came close in 1995, Reign of Fire came really close in 2002, but The Desolation of Smaug was where the mystical creature really took flight (sorry).
Weta Digital was the animation studio entrusted with converting Benedict Cumberbatch’s formidable performance into a believable sight to behold. They absolutely delivered after being handed a stunningly realised and vocally moving portrayal from Cumberbatch.
With the actor crawling around the studio on all fours, covered in sensors and a black morph suit, the process is obviously not glamorous. But the results when combined the animating talent are staggering. They gave the ambitious creature all of Cumberbatch’s mannerisms and coaxed viewers into the belief of Smaug’s reality. This character proved to be a true highlight in the somewhat disappointing Hobbit franchise.
4. Bill Nighy as “Davy Jones” in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
The second instalment of the Pirates franchise was so feverishly anticipated, that lines outside theatres extended down the street much like the blockbuster hits of the 70’s and 80’s. The staggering box office returns (highest grossing film of 2006) cemented the Pirates of the Caribbean as a house hold name.
Fans raved about the visuals, specifically Davy Jones and his crew of aqua-humanoid monsters. Bill Nighy’s performance was perfectly balanced as it walked the line between villainous and comedic, terrifying and delighting audiences.
The aesthetic result was so convincing that some viewers even believed the animation to be prosthetics. (With the exclusion of one scene where Turner steals a key from him while he sleeps. In which Nighy does actually wear a prosthetic tentacle head.)
The success of this role was down to the performance of Bill Nighy, giving the animators so much to work with. Industrial Light & Magic claimed that Nighy’s performance was an animator’s dream. Despite the distinct sea monster appearance, the actor was still recognisable, with Bill’s high cheek bones and squinting scowl a prominent feature of the final facial design.
It would be easy to throw out discretion and go wild with CGI, completely covering the actor’s performance and rendering them a mannequin with which to animate on top of. But Dead Man’s Chest found the perfect balance and Nighy’s performance indicates just how far the art form could go.
3. Andy Serkis as “Kong” in King Kong (2005)
As the titular character in Peter Jackson’s epic (and pulling off a confident secondary role as the cook Lumpy) Andy Serkis took his craft to new highs. Even critics of the film state that Serkis’ performance is something truly to behold. Christian Rivers of Weta Digital was commissioned to oversee every element of Kong’s creation. Serkis worked with gorillas at the London Zoo and then travelled to Rwanda to observe them in the wild.
The combined talents of Rivers, his staff and the jaw dropping conviction of Serkis’ performance, led King Kong to appear in most critics top 10 of 2005 lists. Andy Serkis much like Buster Keaton and Mel Blanc, will undoubtedly be credited as being the driving force and face of this new art form.
Throughout the last 15 years Serkis has been at the forefront of almost every acclaimed motion capture performance. The craft is only gaining momentum, and Serkis still has many years left to add to his already outstanding body of work.
2. Toby Kebbell as “Koba” in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Acting opposite Serkis in a motion capture role must be nerve-racking. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a brilliant sequel that arguably outdoes Rise from 2011. With some great traditional on screen acting and numerous other motion capture performances, standing out is no small task.
The unexpected delight from Dawn was Toby Kebbell’s performance as the scheming Koba. The Shakespearean storyline amongst the apes is a triumph, with Serkis and Kebbell playing off each other expertly. Kebbell’s portrayal is so diverse, so believable, and astonishingly well acted.
He conveys a conniving and clandestine character normally reserved for Tudor period pieces. Kebbell brings emotional depth and terrifying dynamics between Ape-like behaviour and true human-like deception. One particular scene that solidified the brilliance of his performance was the scene where Koba pretends to appear far more primitive and animalistic than he truly is, in order to trick two humans in to letting their guard down.
A sudden mood change and the shift in Kebbell’s body language and expression leaves you with chills. Kebbell revealed himself to be a bright star with a well of untapped potential after this incredible performance.
1. Andy Serkis as “Gollum” in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Well he’s the king of the craft, so he’s bound to have had more than one stand out performance. When the average film goer hears about motion capture, they will undoubtedly mention this man’s name.
The Lord of The Rings was a tremendous feat of cinematic vision. The epic landscapes and daunting armies translated wonderfully from the book to the screen. The second instalment (much like Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2 and The Dark Knight) was truly where the franchise thrived. The standout performance came from Gollum, portrayed exquisitely by Andy Serkis.
The multi-personalities of Sméagol and Gollum are navigated brilliantly by Serkis, who manages to make us sympathise with his brokenness and then immediately recoil at his vicious and possessive greed.
The animators combined motion capture with the laborious process of rotoscoping (tracing over footage frame by frame). Their blend of Serkis’ movements, expressions and voice resulted in a groundbreaking and seminal performance. This performance inspired many of the performances on this list and was the moment that James Cameron realised his vision for Avatar was possible.
The stand out scene is the conversation between Sméagol and Gollum. The argument between the two is made all the more convincing by Serkis’ distinct shifts in body language for the two characters. His vocal and physical performance for this film should be remembered and held as the standard for all motion capture performances in the future.
Author Bio: Rob is a 24 year old Musician from Hampshire, who is currently pursuing fiction writing. Rob has aspirations of becoming an author and screenwriter.