Out Of The CGI Ghetto

Originally published on my personal blog, Sammyray. Do you remember the discussion back in 2002 about Andy Serkis receiving an Oscar nomination for his startling work as Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings? Many people felt that, although the character viewed onscreen was computer generated, Serkis' physicality and voice work in creating this memorable character should earn him an Oscar nomination. Of course, it was not to be. gollum The battle over the merits of computer generated characters began in 1999 when George Lucas placed his faith in the entirely CGI Jar Jar Binks experiment in The Phantom Menace. While largely considered a failure in the minds of sane people, Binks inadvertently became the granddaddy of all CGI characters to come out of the pixellated ghetto of special effects. Since then, we have marvelled not only at the textural realism possible in creating characters like Gollum or King Kong, but also at the level of performance and emotion displayed by these digital illusions. Watch Serkis perform against himself behind digital makeup during the argument scene in Two Towers, and you're seeing a remarkable performance overlaid with digital glitter. Creations like Gollum no longer fit into the simple category of special effects, because they have a human performance as their heart and soul. It is acting in the finest and purest sense of the term. Which brings us to today's Oscar nominations, and the choice of Brad Pitt as Best Actor for his work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Did you know that Brad Pitt does not appear onscreen for the first 52 minutes of his "performance"? Even after that, it is enhanced with extensive makeup and special effects. The question could be asked - is this the very first digital performance nominated for an Oscar? How much of this is Pitt himself, and how much of the performance comes from computer artists and their modelling programs? You could take the argument farther and suggest that, had someone of Pitt's caliber taken the role of Gollum in the Rings films, CGI characters may have received their due a long time ago. The terrific performances behind creations like Gollum went overlooked primarily because Hollywood nobodies like Serkis pioneered them, accepting anonymity in a role rather than glorify himself. In 2009, James Cameron intends to blur the line even more with the digital performance capture techniques behind Avatar. It should be interesting if Hollywood continues to warm up to the idea of awarding acting nominations to digitally-rendered performances as they have today to Pitt. I have a sneaking suspicion that they will. Like the civil rights movement shows us, once the CGI characters manage to get out of the special effects ghetto, there's no stopping them until they run the place.

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All you need to know is that I love movies and baseball. I write about both on a temporary medium known as the Internet. Twitter: @rayderousse or @unfilteredlens1 Go St. Louis Cardinals!