In this week’s Metro, I explore feature film motion capture technology and hear how performance capture artistes are being short-changed on acting accolades.

And the best actor goes too…

New Zealand-based Weta Digital is one of the world’s leading VFX and performance capture studios. I interviewed Dan Lemmon, visual effects supervisor on Oscar-nominated War for the Planet of the Apes.

I also spoke with Johl Garling, head of studio at Imaginarium Studios, a dedicated motion and performance capture studio co-founded by Andy Serkis in 2011.

In chatting with Dan and Johl, I realised a distinction – that had escaped me for now – between motion capture and performance capture:

‘Motion capture’ has become ‘performance capture’, a deserved nod to how the myriad cameras, sensors and polystyrene balls now combine to record subtlest nuances of an actor’s delivery

Performance capture a fascinating subject. While I couldn’t cover everything in the feature, there is one story I‘m keen to tell that we didn’t have space for in print:

Head Cam

The head-cam is another important part of believable performance capture. ‘Essentially, these are little video cameras attached to the actor’s head pointing at their face,’ explains Dan Lemmon, VFX supervisor at Weta Digital. ‘We add white markers to the face so we can track how each patch of skin moves, then transform those movements into curves and map them onto a digital puppet.’

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Andy Serkis wore four head-cams to capture the necessary detail to animate Snoke, the Supreme Leader. The challenge in the Planet of the Apes films is that Caesar’s face is so dissimilar to that of Serkis. ‘The nose, muzzle and brow are anatomically completely different,’ says Lemmon. ‘We have to figure out how to make certain facial expressions while respecting the realism of the ape’s anatomy. It requires a carefully trained human eye to make sure it looks right.’

Performance Capture Head Cam

TM and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Read more in the Metro e-edition here and take a look at my other visual effects stories in the Metro here