Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Case for C.G.I. Actors Getting Their Own Oscar Category

Andy Serkis
It is a question that gets lobbied around a lot, especially in the same vein as Best Stunt Performer. As technology has become more embraced by the film community, it seems strange that the Academy doesn't embrace this change. Maybe it could be that the special effects are in some respects "invisible" and aren't immediate. In some cases, the performers are "invisible" as well underneath computer generated imagery that replaces the trips and wires with glorious creations. In the case of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis is replaced by a towering brute named Caesar. Serkis has made a career out of being "invisible" and has thankfully gotten a reputation as being skilled at it simultaneously thanks to roles in Lord of the Rings as Gollum, or in King Kong as... you know who. However, the thought that his work will go unnoticed seems barbaric in a lot of circles. It is a discussion that may likely be risen this weekend once again when one of the most acclaimed films of the summer is released. Should there be a Best C.G.I. Performance Oscar category initiated?

For the sake of argument, I will talk about the latest category to be introduced to the Oscars: Best Animated Feature. It is hard to believe that it only came into existence in 2001. It isn't that animated films have been terrible or too few prior, they just weren't recognized. With Pixar in the early stages of its prime and Dreamworks Animation about to enter an experimentally lucrative portion of their existence, it seemed right to introduce the category. Yes, it means that films like Mulan, My Neighbor Totoro or The Rescuers would never get noticed, but that problem has since been fixed. It seems illogical nowadays that the category is barely in existence. 

By comparison, the Best Visual Effects category has been around since 1939. That is 75 years of recognizing the camera techniques that trick our eyes and make us believe that King Kong can be in the same shot as Fay Wray (note: I am aware that film is from 1933, though it helped to influence the creation of the category). It is a much needed category given how impressive technology has gotten in that time frame. Even if it simply gets labeled as a "technical" field nowadays, its influence remains singled out unfortunately. What are the other "technical" fields?  Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. These are all important, but why does the "technical" get so few and the acting gets so many? There needs to be justice.

However, it is something that felt like it could have come into public discussion prominently around 2009 with the release of Avatar. Nobody was denying the film's technological achievements. It won a lot of awards, notably in "technical." However, it was also a film that showed motion capture in a new and accessible way to mainstream audiences. Mixing the "Avatar" bodies with the real life bodies, you could see the wiring behind C.G.I. in play. If anything else, it made a strong case that was only overshadowed by every other piece of scenery in that scene. Unfortunately, time continued and it is a question that only occasionally continues to pop up.

One of the premiere figures is Serkis, who has been impressing audiences with C.G.I. characters since Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in which we were introduced to Gollum. He remains an iconic character and it has a lot to do with movement and vocal patterns. Serkis returned with Rise of the Planet of the Apes where the discussion became prominent once again. It received nominations, but guess where? Best Visual Effects. Yes, the film is still an impressive mixture, but that award goes more towards the people behind the computers, not the ones taking on physical traits to make the animators' jobs easier. At very least, if Serkis dies without an Honorary Oscar to his credit, then there may be problems to come.

I also think that the "invisible" factor is just too much. We are familiar with Serkis because Peter Jackson made the legendary extended edition DVD's so exploitative, but what about every other actor out there? We recognize the writers, the special effects department, the actors, and the director, but not the C.G.I. actors, who become more prominent. Imagine Dawn of the Planet of the Apes without them. It could be done, but the animation would be unorganized without visual placement to help animate and vocalize these creations. When The Adventures of Tintin got shunned in the Best Animated Category for incorporating too much live action, C.G.I. techniques, it only made the issue more baffling. Why do we keep allowing this?

There isn't much point to be made beyond the fact that technology and film is evolving. Yes, it is hard to recognize what we can't see. There's whole movies whose universes are built from computers now, such as The Wolf of Wall Street. It is a tricky medium to grade, but that is where marketing comes in. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is all for promoting the effort that goes into putting the apes together. It is like a badge of pride. When it comes to awards season, they simply just need to incorporate it into their regular contention progresses and maybe things will begin to work out. People will see the invisible figure and then things will begin to change. 

Even if film remains a great medium for escapism, it is one that should award those who succeed in that field. Even if they are lumped into a Best Stunt/Visual Actor sort of hybrid, I will feel like we have made progress. To many, Serkis is about as obvious as these names get. However, with 75 years of recognition, there has to be more out there that have wowed us and made us feel some sort of emotion. If nothing else, I feel like it would make the form feel more respectable. There's argument that adding the category would be making the awards show bloated, but it isn't like adding comedy/musical categories similar to The Golden Globes. This is simply expanding the "technical" field to be a more modern take on "technical." 

When watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this weekend, pay attention to how attentive you are to those apes running around and understand that there are actors behind that fur that gave them life and movement. They gave them a voice and made you believe that these monkeys are rebelling against humanity. Now consider reasons why this shouldn't be recognized, given how much else we recognize in technological advancements. It is a single category that should be enlisted because it means crucial in cinema and I am ashamed that I only know who Serkis is. I want to know all of the monkey actors. Let's make it happen!

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