Andy Serkis is the resident expert in motion capture and face-swap technology. He was hugely important to the Lord of the Rings franchise, playing Gollum in a mo-cap suit, and hugely important to the Planet of the Apes franchise for playing Caesar in a mo-cap suit.
He also directed films like Mowgli and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which have incredibly heavy VFX work for characters. He's been around cutting-edge technology for decades, and he has some idea of where it will go in the future.
In a recent interview with Total Film magazine, Serkis said, “In terms of performance, capture, the method of facial capture is evolving all the time and the detail, the nuances in the end, the actual root performance that you get out of an actor, and the translation of that into the final thing is getting closer and closer. One would see that through, for instance, the [Planet of the] Apes movies. And even going back and doing The Hobbit after many years, Gollum in The Hobbit was on another level in terms of facial capture.”
Amazingly, he has seen the growth of this technology in real-time.
He continued, “People have criticized me before for saying it’s like digital makeup, but it is becoming that. I think you will be able to play someone from history from photogrammetry and have a real Abraham Lincoln’s face that you’re playing rather than a sculpted one.”
This is a very interesting turn in mo-cap and opens us up to plenty of opportunities. Still, I have never seen any de-aging that looks especially good, and I am still not over the digital Peter Cushing in Rogue One as well as the digital Carrie Fisher.
While technology is getting better, the real question is where ethics and vision play into this. Do you really want to make a Lincoln movie where Daniel Day-Lewis has his performance digitally altered? Isn't it more fun to see an interpretation than an estimation of the real thing? I also wonder if some actors, especially method ones, would rebel against having their faces changed, since it's part of them getting into character.
Regardless of the negatives, there is a lot to be excited about. The ability to have actors play their younger selves seems like a great opportunity for sweeping epics, and I think in some cases, the idea that you can have these digital faces added could be crucial to blending actors into a new reality. I'm thinking of the Avatar sequels and Marvel movies, which have people playing blended characters who are aliens or supernatural.
There's the whole view through ethics too. We often talk about who should be cast in what role. Well, how would you feel if they cast a white actor as Martin Luther King, Jr. because they were just going to drop a face on him? Or if a woman played JFK, because she got the mannerisms perfectly? I'm not saying this will happen, but it opens a much larger conversation when the ability for it to happen is on the table.
Let us know what you think in the comments.