Motion Capture: Underrated and Unknown Acting

Motion Capture: Underrated and Unknown Acting

Motion-capture technology has allowed for actors to play any role without the need of makeup - so why isn't it more respected?
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Since the early days of Hollywood, special effects have constantly been advancing. Even now, just over one hundred years from A Trip to the Moon, you can go online and download a basic filmmaking program for free or a low cost – some can even handle minor digital effects. And even older than film effects, is putting actors in makeup and costumes to change their appearance – something as old as performance itself. In the modern era, the use of computer generated imagery has allowed for actors to play any part, in any environment, no matter how large. Motion-capture is one of the most well known aspects of modern filmmaking, with several films, including the recent Star Wars movies, having entire lead characters created with the system. However, it is not without controversies, nor was it something that just happened.

Essentially, motion capture is a modern-day version of rotoscoping. In the late 1930s/early 1940s, all animation was hand-drawn frame by frame, and oftentimes there would be something they wanted to animated that was difficult to draw freehand – so they would take an actor in full costume, film them doing the action, then draw over each frame. An early example would be the World War II era Superman cartoons, in which several close-up shots of Superman were rotoscoped using in-studio reference actors. Eventually, rotoscoping would be abandoned in favor of using models or highly-detailed animation, though of course the live-action reference actors would still be used to track motion in the animation cels. Almost thirty year later, Ralph Bakshi produced an animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and due to the complex nature of the story and the Middle-Earth setting, he elected to use a much more detailed method of rotoscoping, making little effort to hide the fact that the audience would be seeing both cartoon characters and incredibly detailed drawings over stunt actors. The film featured a cast of relatively unknown actors, along with John Hurt as Aragorn and Anthony Daniels as Legolas, and was a moderate success. This adaptation is what brought the world of J.R.R. Tolkien to Peter Jackson, who went on to direct the groundbreaking 2001-2003 Lord of the Rings trilogy – which much like the 1978 film, experimented with the limits of special effects and blurring the line between reality and animation.

New Zealand based special effects company Weta Workshop, was brought in to help develop the processes to bring Lord of the Rings to total live-action. In addition to designing countless practical effects and miniatures for selected shots, they were also put up to the task of creating the ring-crazed Gollum. Meanwhile, in the world of video games, experiments were being done using actors in skintight grey bodysuits that tracked the actors' movements – and Weta saw the opportunity to use this technology in crafting the creature. In late 1998, they started using regular CGI to prove that it was in fact possible to make a realistic humanlike body, and a few months later, filming began on the trilogy. After they showed the capabilities of computer effects, Andy Serkis was cast as Gollum, set to provide the voice and physical reference for the team to animate over. Serkis was was there to film each of his scenes twice – once with him with the other actors, delivering lines and moving around like he would a normal performance, and once without him at all, as to give a background plane for the Weta team. Meanwhile, the team was planning on using him as a simple reference, but it was determined that the co-stars were doing much better if they could actually act alongside Serkis, and the decision was made to use the motion capture system, with Serkis in the “ping-pong ball” covered suit, to track all motion and movements.

At the time, it wasn't possible to really capture the actor's face, and thus Gollum's facial movements were completely CGI. Andy Serkis returned to motion capture on Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong, cementing his career in the field. By 2006, Weta was continuing to advance their award-winning effects, and during production on James Cameron's motion-capture filled Avatar, developed a headset-mounted camera that would be facing the actor and recording every facial expression and movement, so that the entire portrayal could be presented through the CGI overlays. This instantly proved incredibly useful, and allowed for the performances of the cast to be in the final product, not just used as something to match up the voices to. Avatar was another big hit, breaking several box office records and the effects being highly praised. This would continue to be developed and enhanced, and within a matter of years, the use of the head-mounted camera would become the norm, further pushing away the concept of mo-cap actors being “glorified voice actors.”

The Planet of the Apes series has continued to further push ahead the capabilities of motion capture. 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes gave us a hyper-realistic and incredibly detailed CGI ape, Caesar, played by Andy Serkis (as with many motion capture characters). Instead of filming on a soundstage separate from the main set, Weta was able to have the actors on set, and then isolate their performance without needing to film it all over again. The sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes added to the abilities of “digital makeup,” with the ape civilization looking near photorealistic, to very high praise from critics and audiences. Through these films, the potential for uses of the system have been increased, even to a point of using them to make things simple for the on-set actor and the digital effects teams. For example,Tom Hollad wore a mo-cap suit for much of the filming on the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War so that the effects could all be added in without having to fight against the bright color of his Spider-Man costume and the greenscreen. A similar method was used for Spider-Man's appearance in Captain America: Civil War, though some shots did involve a physical costume.

Of course, no discussion on motion-capture could not include the controversy over whether or not the actors are really “acting.” According to the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (the Academy Awards), actors like Andy Serkis are more of a voice actor than a physical one, as they are just being a basis for the special effects crew to reference. That couldn't be further from the truth – every breath, every look, every single movement, is done by the mo-cap actor. The only difference is that instead of being put in a makeup chair, they wear a standard gray suit and “digital makeup” is put over them. Performances such as Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy, Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes, and the cast of Avatar were not even considered for the big Academy Awards, simply because they do not feel they are really acting. They put much more effort than most actors would, having to also act in the mannerisms of their non-human characters – such as wearing arm extensions to move like a chimpanzee. Reviews for War for the Planet of the Apes are calling for Andy Serkis to win an Oscar. Maybe the Academy will finally change their mind on what “real acting” is.

Motion-capture is here to stay. Characters like K-2SO and Maz Kanata have joined the ranks of amazing digital characters, and the actors playing the parts have achieved high praise and a place in modern pop culture, not like Gollum. There is something to respect about this type of acting, as it requires both physicality and vocal performances in a way that a regular performance rarely needs. It is also a testament to the talent of computer effects artists, as they have to take the actor and turn them into something completely inhuman, without losing any aspect of the actual acting. Since Lord of the Rings, the technology has advanced, and considering how commonplace it is starting to become, it isn't going to be too long before there is a motion-capture add-on to a free film editor/effects program. And maybe one of these days, a motion-capture performance will be nominated for one of the main Oscar categories.

Cover Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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The 2020 Election: The Democratic Party Part 1

We all have the duty of becoming politically conscious in order to wisely act on the crucial decision that lies ahead of us in the very near future. In this unbiased, multi-part series you'll be able to get a brief look into both the 2020 Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

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The race for the 2020 presidential election is on the rise as 24 Democrats and 2 Republicans have been officially confirmed as potential candidates. Ranging from California to New York, we may recognize "big names" such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, however, it's important to get to know all the candidates in order to have a clear idea as to who you want to be leading the country for the next four years.

*Due to the high number of Democratic candidates, they will all be highlighted over the course of three articles throughout the coming weeks.

1. Joe Biden

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Serving as the Vice President alongside Barack Obama and former senator of Delaware, Joe Biden has already ran for president twice, making the 2020 election his third and what he considers, final time. Biden hopes to strengthen the middle class by raising the minimum wage to a more livable standard. He also hopes to restrict the purchase of guns through background checks as well as being in support of a ban on assault weapons.

2. Bernie Sanders

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Having served on both the House of Representatives and The Senate, Bernie Sanders has caught the attention of many Americans due to his push for universal healthcare with the idea that "All Americans are entitled to go to the doctor when they're sick and not go bankrupt after staying in the hospital." As well as making public secondary-education schools tuition-free in a mission to help lower student debt. Sanders believes in the threat of climate change as his campaign includes the future of passing a Green New Deal to move from fossil fuels to sustainable energy as well as ban fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure. Bernie Sanders additionally believes in abolishing the death penalty, reforming the police system, and ending the discrimination of applicants based on criminal history

3. Beto O'Rourke

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Beto O'Rourke has represented Texas in the House of Representatives from 2013 - 2019. He has a noteworthy platform towards business which includes increasing federal funding towards the Manufacturing Extension Partnership that would aid in creating competitiveness with America's small- and medium-sized manufacturers against global markets. O'Rourke also believes in the idea of increasing voter numbers no matter what the political party may be as well as help ex-convicts regain their right to vote after serving their sentences. In doing so, he plans to create more outreach to the younger generations by ensuring pre-voter registration for all 16 and 17 year olds. Moreover, Beto pushes for a change in creating new term limits for the US House, Senate, and Supreme Court.

4. Kamala Harris

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Kamila is a lawyer and has served as the junior US senator and Attorney General of California. While she is new to the presidential election process, Harris aims to increase teacher pay with the "largest federal investment in teacher pay in U.S. history with a $13,500 raise." Moreover, using her specialization in legal matters regarding sexual assault, Kamila hopes to protect Planned Parenthood as well as women's reproductive rights. Harris states that as President, she will eliminate the wage gap between men and women as well as racial disparities involving maternal health care. Harris additionally hopes in protecting LGBTQ+ rights by not only passing an Equality Act to fight against discrimination in schools, work, and public, but appoint an Attorney General with the purpose of investigating and prosecuting hate crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals.


5. Elizabeth Warren

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Growing up in rural Oklahoma in a low-income home and eventually serving as a US senator for Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren is described as a progressive candidate who's campaign is working towards "universal childcare, student loan debt relief, and down payments on a Green New Deal and Medicare for All." Warren hopes to build the middle class up and defend unionized jobs by allowing 40% of board members to be elected through employees. Moreover, Warren is in favor of strengthening the military as well has bringing troops home from overseas, as well as banning private prisons and decriminalizing marijuana. She additionally has stated to end Washington corruption by banning lobbying along with preventing Senators and Congressman from trading stocks whilst in office.

6. Cory Booker

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Attending Stanford and later graduating from Yale Law School, Cory Booker became the first African-American U.S. Senator from New Jersey. Booker's main concern is to end gun violence, ban assault weapons, and bring his battle to the attention of the NRA to create "liberty for all." His 14-part plan includes creating a more extensive process to obtain a gun, one of which would including an FBI-issued background check as well as requiring "micro-stamping" on all guns to ensure the ability to trace back the source of ammunition used in crimes. Moreover, Americans seeking a gun license would have to apply for a 5-year license after which would require renewal. Booker has also proposed the idea of providing newborns with savings accounts that would accumulate until they reached 18. He states that this plan would help settle the gap between the classes by offering lower-income households a nest-egg averaging at about $46,000. He also aims to make contraceptives employer-covered and repeal the punishment for an abortion outside of incest, rape, or for the woman's health.

7. Kirsten Gillibrand

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From New York, Kristin Gillibrand became a US Senator in 2009, becoming the youngest person in the Senate at the time. Her 2020 platform includes creating universal healthcare for all that would cover both mental and reproductive health in addition to it's regular standards. Her stance on Medicare For All also stands for reducing the price of prescription drugs as well as aiding in the process of overcoming addiction. Gillibrand also aims to introduce postal banking which would allow those without checking accounts have the opportunity to take out small loans through their local post office. Moreover, she believes in not only the legalization of both medical and recreation marijuana, but in erasing all past convictions from it. Kristin Gillibrand stands with strengthening the middle class by raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, creating paid medical and parental leave for all Americans, and fighting for the right to form unions and protect worker's rights.

8. Amy Klobuchar

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Amy Klobuchar is a lawyer and politician who currently serves as a US Senator from Minnesota. Klobuchar's campaign fights for providing every household in America with high-speed internet by the year 2020 along with aiding farmers by increasing their access to loan programs as well as raising farm bankruptcy debt levels. Moreover, she hopes to better the education system by increasing teacher pay and putting more money towards public schools. As well as increasing the federal Pell Grant and tuition-free one to two year community and technical colleges. Amy Klobucher believes in re-instated the DREAM Act to grant citizenship for foreigners who immigrated to America as minors. She supports immigration reform as well as ending the cruel separation and treatment of families on the lines of the border and creating a refined pathway to gain citizenship.

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