Andy Serkis on animators


Andy Serkis has been criticized in the past for taking too much credit in animated performances. He responded to the criticism in this article:

I’ve been bombarded by hate mail from animators saying, “How dare you talk about ‘your’ character when all these people work on it after the fact? We’re actors as well.” They are actors in the sense that they create key frames and the computer will join up the dots, carefully choreograph a moment or an expression and accent it with an emotion. But that’s not what an actor does. An actor finds things in the moment with a director and other actors that you don’t have time to hand-draw or animate with a computer.

Pretty shameful in my opinion.


While he is going about it the wrong way, he does have a point. He may be lessening the ‘role’ tha the FX guys have, but honestly it DOES come down to the acting. And as much of a douche as he sometimes comes off as, he is a really good actor.

If you strapped a mocap and facial capture rig on a bad actor, no amount of tweaking is going to make the performance any better. In Rise Of The Apes, you identified with Ceasar because of the performance…because of the reactions to the other actors, the play of emotions between the characters. THATS what brings a performance to life.


But that’s besides the point. Animators aren’t trying to downplay what he does, he does a lot. They just don’t want him stealing credit, and they don’t like his stance that what he does is superior, and that animators can’t capture what actors can. He doesn’t achieve anything an animator couldn’t.

You care about Caesar because he’s well done, sure. But you also care about Woody in Toy Story, or Simba in Lion King. You care even though they are purely animated.

He seems to think of animation as a science or a robotic series of buttons to push, when really it can be just as emotional as acting. Animators can spend hours just acting for reference, or trying to get to know the character. You could just as easily argue an animator has the harder job. Not only do they have to achieve heartfelt, believable emotion in the character (like an actor) they also have to deal with physics and balance and all the things a human just automatically does. An actor doesn’t have to work out how the character takes a step, they just take a step.

Anyways, I’m not saying one is better than the other, they’re two different beasts. Both with their own set of challenges. Unfortunately Serkis disagrees. I know I shouldn’t let what he says get to me, it just annoys me.


Well, I dunno, from a creative point of view the animators seem to0 be mere translators
who clean up and enhance a bit, but as far as Gollum and Caesar go, I guess the very significant TIMING is done by Serkis.


Oh I should clarify, I thought his comment extended into animators as a whole, not just the ones cleaning up motion capture data. So I was referring to the craft in general. I still think he’s taking way too much credit for the product though.


I think part of the problem is that there are a lot of ways to animate.

Andy is describing one, but I bet the animators sending him hate mails are using a very different one. I know there are plenty of animators doing what he desrcibes as “setting keyframes and letting the computer fill in the dots”, but as I myself am not really doing that, and yet he is referring to “animation” which is very much what I would consider myself doing, I can see how people could get offended.

To be frank, I think he should either get better informed and be more specific in his remarks, or simply not comment on it.


I don’t know what’s the fuzz about. At least in this quote he is 100% correct, no? At least in this quote he is only pointing out the difference between acting and animating and does not say one is better than the other.



Of course you can. Select All -> Delete Keys. There. No more bad performance.

On the comments by Andy, he is being a bit more descriptive of the process and he is correct when he says “Pure animation is the character built by committee”. It’s true. There are so many people involved in that process, and the technology is so adjustable these days with some workflows involving many animators working on just one character with different guys on the keyframes shot-by-shot that it’s not possible for anyone to really claim “That’s my acting performance”. So Animators are not actors in that sense.

When using Performance Capture, Andy is correct again when he says it’s just a new way of recording the acting performance. It is still built by a team, but he is correct in saying that it is up to him to act. He has to act, and build the original core performance basically by himself (internally). Of course the entire team is involved afterwards once the performance data is available digitally (externally). But in there, internally, Andy is acting by himself. Now animators also have internal decisions to make related to characters, but in my experience it’s not as deeply internal, because what really is happening is an animator is making a decision for someone else. Even when an animator is posing a rig, he is not THE rig. In that way, Andy is correct. Andy’s view is very specific. I think he is just emphasizing that if you are the one wearing the suit you ARE the character, physically, more than you can be if you pose the rig.

He does not deny though that all the finishing is done by animators. I think it is fair.


I can understand his frustration that he is essentially acting the same as he would be in a regular filmed shoot, however he is absolutely discounting that the similarities start and end there (with him). Should the animation teams get no credit at all considering the expertise required? He doesn’t seem very interested in solving that problem, and animators don’t have the soapbox like he does to air concerns. “F*ck you, got mine”


A well known self important tit that’s been hammering the accademy and nearly other film association for years about how unrecognised his category of professionals (read: him) is underacknowledged refuses to apologise to an entire category of professionals he offended with a rather dumb previous statement.

In other breaking news: The earth is still revolvnig around the sun, and not the other way around.


Nintendo Connect… lol


Although I don’t dispute that Serkis is indeed acting, and indeed the process he goes through is probably the most internalized of all animation preparation prior to the creation of Performance Capture…

It must be noted that the performance that is resulting on-screen is indeed not always his:

Look at the mouth position.

Serkis probably can indeed truthfully say: “When I look onscreen I can see the choices I made.” But what he isn’t saying is: “I can also see the choices someone else made.”

Maybe they should give the award to Caesar AND Captain Haddock, which will give Andy Serkis considerable “S1m0ne” syndrome.


If performance capture was a 1:1 or heck even a 1:0/0.98 to art form then I could possibly agree with serkis, but the simple fact is a lot more changing goes on in those performances that are vital to it than he gives credit to.

But regardless of his performance and tweaking he’s made a comment that to me seems general to all animators not simply the people working along with his performance. While it may be a design by committee typically in most shots one person does the essential blocking and choices driven by an initial direction, and yes they’ll take direction and go and refine, but that is no different than doing multiple takes with direction, or rehearsing and discussing character logic and reasoning. I’ve not been on a set once where an actor performed the 100% same performance 5 takes in a row, not matter how hart hey try, but I’ve often seen an actor try four or five drastically different performances to let the editor choose which works best. And anyone who has ever seen a reality show can see how drastically editing can change a performance.

Animators have to know their character, make acting choices both physical and emotionally driven, and try variations often driven by direction. You can’t tell me that Jeff Gabor isn’t doing the equivalent of what serkis does here:


Yes and no. If he was playing off of other actors/animators in a scene instead of in isolation, then it would be more similar. Also, the type of acting he’s doing is much broader and exaggerated, and not as nuanced with lots of subtlety and complex layers of emotions (not saying he can’t do it, just that we don’t see it in that video). Doing exaggerated cartoon characters is very different from characters that needs to hold their own against real human actors in a live-action movie.

I think how you see this whole issue depends on where you allegiance lies as a creative talent. I don’t know how many of you watch the show “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” but if you have seen the episodes with some of the legends among actors, it’s absolutely amazing what actors do, and there’s a sense of magic that happens in real-time with actors, reacting to and playing off of each other, lot of instantaneous little nuances and shifts that makes the moment mesmerizing. What animators do is to laboriously try to reproduce the same kind of magic, but it’s rarely as nuanced and engaging as watching an actor performing. It’s similar to the difference between watching and listening to a master musician perform on an expressive instrument or sing, versus trying to replicate a similar feel with sample libraries, synthesizers, and DSP effects, inputting the musical/expression data by hand instead of performing it live. There is just something lacking in the virtual imitation/reconstruction/emulation.


I was watching XMen first class yesterday, and there is that scene where Erik is remembering his mother as he tries to pull the satellite dish. The amount of ‘micro expressions’ in his face…the subtle twitch of his mouth…he way his fingers are both strained and relaxed at the same time…the strength and sadness in his eyes… THATS what acting is.

I watched The Silence Of The Lambs recently (again), and the performance of Sir Anthony Hopkins in that movie is beyond incredible. There is a shot of him sitting in a chair and giving a piece of dialog…its terrifying.

No Country For Old Men has the cafe scene…mesmerising. There is something about great actors that is incredible to watch!


When a single character is brought to life by 10-20 people, it’s ludicrous for any one of them to publicly claim their role as more important.

People will often cite Gollum’s schizophrenic conversations as an example of what ‘performance capture’ can achieve, but from people I’ve talked to who worked on it, it was 99.9% keyframed animation.

If Serkis’ logic is correct then he’ll no doubt be fending off the Oscar nominations for his numerous live action performances :slight_smile:


We can go on all day about what noble and superior creatures actors are and all.
This article is about Serkis and his performance in a couple recent movies. Anybody who’s known anybody on those or other performance capture driven movies has heard more than enough about how much actually gets used without major alterations, let alone the re-dos.

The fact he’s not been exactly acclaimed for his stage or film performances before and after his virtual roles is also something that might be worth keeping in mind.

He’s making it sound like several dozens animators are just polishing off the application of his performance onto some rigs, and completely foregoing noticing how much re-do and tweak his performance received thanks to the process, something non-virtual roles don’t enjoy, and he’s completely trivialising into monkeying keyboards the active work of plenty talented people who DO work with a director, and have recorded more hours of footage acting out and filming themselves in one movie than he has across his last 6.

I don’t know how many of you watch the show "Inside the Actor’s Studio

Robert, I don’t know how many films with digital characters you worked on, and how many teams of animators you’ve seen going into the performance room, or how many minutes you’ve seen of the reference footage coming out of it. I’m willing to take a wild guess at it, and say 0 to all of the above :slight_smile:

All of his performances appear amazing because he takes on roles that have an alien (to humans) physicality. Had he done them with just a costume on and had they come across as impressive, he would deserve the praise he showers upon himself. Given that’s not true, and that the amazing body language of those performances is significantly altered once remapped, and has to be cleaned and re-keyed to hell and back, he’d better show some respect.


They are actors in the sense that they create key frames and the computer will join up the dots

That’s funny, the same could be said about actors in a mocap suit.

All he can take the credit for is the mocap performance, and that is raw keyframe data, created by a computer.
But he could never take credit for anything that happens after that, and what will finally create a magical character like Gollum, King Kong or Ceasar and make it come alive. To make something like that happen, his mocap performance needs to be translated into something much bigger then just his acting, by a team of skilled CG artists.

And since when is something created in the moment more worthy then something carefully choreographed ? If that holds true, he might as well take credit for the script, because all a writer does is carefully choreograph some words on paper into emotion, whereas an actor finds things in the moment. Heck, by that standard, even a model could take credit for a painting or a photograph.


He’s closer to Kevin Peter Hall than Al Pacino.

A classical animator is not the same as a classical actor but has direct control over the final performance of the character unlike Serkis.
A guy in a Godzilla costume has more control over the final performance than Serkis does.
He’s not doing something as cool as being dressed up in a monster suit or puppeteering a rubber creature but behaves like he is more important than the digital aspect of the characters he played-he is less important–they could have found others to do the same kind of performance duties and he feels he deserves an Oscar.


The criteria he uses to disqualify animators could be the same to disqualify actors. As an example, good makeup, good direction, good ADR, good editing, good lighting, and good color correction are all important in the power of a dramatic performance. So because that is done by comittee (which it definitely is), does that mean the actor is unimportant, or just reading a script? Of course not.

Also does he not remember that he cannot actually swing around in trees, on the golden gate bridge? I don’t think that was achieved by an animator just cleaning up some mocap of him wrestling with foam pads on a soundstage.

I agree he is talented, and I agree that motion capture deserves recognition, but he is totally myopic in his view. I have little sympathy for a cocky egotist not getting recognized for one award, especially since he is recognized by a hundred news articles, probably much more valuable for him.