If any actor is an expert at performance-capture technology, it’s Andy Serkis. Despite popping up as himself plenty of times on screen, Serkis is best known for inhabiting Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” and as the big ape himself in “King Kong,” both for Peter Jackson. He suits up again for Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” as Caesar, a chimp that starts a revolution.
But as much as he’s made a name for himself through performance capture, Serkis doesn’t think you should notice. “People aren’t so much wanting to celebrate the technology anymore. Really, that’s passe. It’s something that we need to get over, really,” he says. “It’s now here, and it’s another magnificent way of recording an actor’s performance. And that’s all it is. It needs no more to be hailed, in a way. Although it’s a great technology, it’s actually returning us to the ability to do something very simple, which is to record an actor’s performance.”
Maybe Serkis is so over it because he’s had more to do with the technology than most actors. “On ‘Lord of the Rings,’ my performance was shot on 35mm with all the other actors, then I had to go and reshoot in the performance-capture volume. There were not many cameras and the markers didn’t quite work and the real-time kept breaking down, so it was very, very early days,” he says. “When we started to work on ‘King Kong,’ it was the first use, really, of facial capture. I was wearing 132 markers on my face that were driving all of the facial muscles of Kong.”
For his latest bit of monkeying around, Serkis donned a motion-capture suit and head-mounted camera rig more like what was used for “Avatar,” interacting on-set with co-stars James Franco and Freida Pinto. “On ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ it’s the first time that performance capture has existed on live-action sets,” he says. “We didn’t have to go back and repeat anything. We were in real locations with physical sets that were shot on film."
And while the technological advances may be new, the franchise is anything but. Based on a 1963 French novel, the “Planet of the Apes” line has launched seven movies, two TV series and a comic book. So why the lasting appeal? “We go through a kind of cycle of being interested in our closest brethren, which are apes,” Serkis says. “They’re 97 percent genetically the same as us. I suppose we gauge ourselves against them.”