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Serkis Folk

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"See Andy Serkis deliver an Oscar-worthy performance by capturing the graceful movements and emotions of Caesar, and doing his best Christian Bale "Batman" impression, while the cast and crew deliver an even more Oscar-worthy performance by not laughing at a tiny British man in a unitard pretending to be a monkey."
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Characters created with computer graphics over a motion-captured performance.

Named after the actor Andy Serkis, who was transformed by CGI wizardry into the characters of Gollum (from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) and King Kong for Peter Jackson's films. The story goes that Jackson planned for Gollum to be entirely computer-generated, but was so impressed by Serkis's mannerisms and facial expressions that he decided they just had to capture it somehow. The trope name is a spin on the phrase "circus folk".

Historically, this originated from performance models used for reference or outright Rotoscoping. Technique and technology evolves, though, and the production may use different methods to achieve the same effect. An actor can be simply in a green suit to be used as reference points for other actors, the actor may wear a modified suit with reference dots on all joints so the VFX artists can recreate their unique performance or there may be a real time performance suit, a facial capture headset and several dozen cameras set up in order to create a virtual set. Any method can land in the Uncanny Valley if the CGI overlay doesn't work, or if it wasn't meant to work.

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The same methods can be used for a partial CG replacement, typically placing an actors face on a robot body. Even if the entire character is not created this way, the nature of big special effects movies often involve the actors doing the exact same thing wearing a motion capture suit. Video games and All-CGI Cartoon will of course do this regularly.

The line between this trope and Roger Rabbit Effect is difficult to define—generally, the latter uses hand-drawn animation, and the animated characters are treated as animated in-universe or are otherwise acknowledged to be distinct from their live-action surroundings.

See also Ink-Suit Actor, 2D Visuals, 3D Effects, Double Vision and Starring Special Effects. Also, see Digital De Aging, where similar technology is used to take years off of an actor's face.

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Examples

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    Anime 
  • The 2004 CGI adaptation of Shirow's Appleseed uses significant motion capture for all the characters.

    Films — Animation 
  • Robert Zemeckis has directed three films with all-Serkis Folk casts: The Polar Express, Beowulf (2007) (especially Grendel), and A Christmas Carol (2009). He also produced the Serkis Folk-starring Monster House and Mars Needs Moms. At least two of these films feature examples where actors are Serkused to the point where they're unrecognizable. The lead character in Beowulf, depicted as a muscular superhero, was played by the heavyset, 50-something character actor Ray Winstone; in Polar Express, Tom Hanks played several characters, one of which was a young boy; while in A Christmas Carol, Gary Oldman was able to portray Bob Cratchit and the ghost of Jacob Marley, and Jim Carrey played the three Ghosts of Christmas, in addition to Scrooge at various ages (including as a child). Beowulf also provides a case of Serkusing and Ink-Suit Actor: Angelina Jolie was pregnant when she shot the film, but was able to appear in a nude scene thanks to being (otherwise photo-accurately) Serkused. The same can also (shudder) be said of Anthony Hopkins in the same film.
  • The Adventures of Tintin movies are full of this, directed by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. And Andy Serkis even plays Captain Haddock, making it a literal example.
  • Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within: Everyone. There are even cases of mo-capping for two.
  • The penguins from Happy Feet, obviously. Mumbles' dance moves were provided by Savion Glover, the lead dancer/choreographer for Broadway's ''Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk".
  • Toy Story 3 had some motion capture for the final scene where Buzz and Jessie dance together.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Actors:
  • Alita in Alita: Battle Angel, as well as a number of other characters. Ed Skrein had his entire body replaced except for his face.
  • The Na'vi (real and Avatars) from James Cameron's Avatar. Word of God is that Cameron had the idea for the film for quite a while but knew that technology hadn't quite caught up to his dream. After seeing Andy Serkis as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, he knew that time had come.
  • The Beast and several of the Enchanted Objects in Beauty and the Beast (2017).
  • Two-Face's scarring received this treatment in The Dark Knight. The logic was they wanted to have his face taken away, and traditional make-up can only add to it.
  • DC Extended Universe
  • Colossus is entirely CG in the Deadpool (2016) movie, which allows for a much more comic-accurate appearance than he had in the previous films in the X-Men Film Series (where he was played by a real actor until he armored up, Colossus here was always armored). Lampshaded in the opening credits, where he's billed as "A CGI character." The sequel adds the Juggernaut, another computer-generated character who looks more like his comic counterpart than he did in his last movie appearance.
  • Neill Blomkamp has used this extensively in all of his films:
  • In order to avoid the look of the character from the past movies, The 2015 Fantastic Four has Jamie Bell providing the voice and motion capture work for The Thing. They even brought in his old motion capture coach from The Adventures of Tintin to help out.
  • Some of the ghosts in the Ghostbusters series are animated this way.
  • For certain pivotal scenes in Godzilla (2014), Gareth Edwards had Andy Serkis himself hired to control the motions of Godzilla.
  • Dobby and Kreacher from Harry Potter (in the seventh film, they even decided to put stand-ins in the set instead of having actors acting with the empty).
  • Benedict Cumberbatch voiced as well as provided (references for) motion capture for the dragon Smaug in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. Andy also returned as Gollum in the first film. The three trolls, the Great Goblin, Azog and Bolg are also CGI characters created by motion capture. Cumberbatch also appeared as Smaug as a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
  • At least a few of the CGI characters in Immortal.
  • Sonny and the rest of the I, Robot robots, with movements provided by the guy from Strictly Ballroom.
  • Many of the Martians in John Carter (such as the ones played by Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton) are this.
  • In The Jungle Book (2016), most of the characters aside from Mowgli, are rendered at least partially as a Serkis Person, especially Christopher Walken as King Louie and Bill Murray as Baloo. However, Kaa, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is not, to avoid the Uncanny Valley.
  • The eponymous character of Kangaroo Jack.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe
    • The Incredible Hulk in both movies (in the first one, director Ang Lee himself provided the motion capture), and also in The Avengers, with motion capture provided by Banner's actor Mark Ruffalo. Serkis actually worked with Ruffalo on his performance in the sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron. Funnily enough, Serkis plays Ulysses Klaue, who is not a CG creation. Age of Ultron also has James Spader using this technique to portray the titular villain.
    • This technique was used for Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, with Josh Brolin providing the villain's voice and motion capture. The Children of Thanos (Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive and Cull Obsidian) were created this way as well.
    • In Guardians of the Galaxy, Vin Diesel performed all the motion capture for his character Groot (whom he also voiced) used in the final version of the film. Another actor was used as a "stopgap" before he was cast, but none of his footage was ultimately used. Sean Gunn provided all of the motion capture for Rocket.
  • MirrorMask featured a number of completely CGI characters.
  • Davy Jones (played by a CG Bill Nighy) and the crew of the Flying Dutchman in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, in their "monster" forms, with the exception of Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgård, who was the only one who actually had to wear makeup and prosthetics instead of motion-capture gear). Also, Barbossa and his crew in their moonlit undead forms in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
  • In Power Rangers (2017), Alpha 5 and Zordon are Serkis People, with Bill Hader donning a motion capture suit to play the former (whom he also voices) and Bryan Cranston having his performance filmed to do the latter.
  • Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo from the 2002 live-action movie.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home: Mysterio is a rare In-Universe example - the Mysterio we see during his fights with the Elementals is an illusion, controlled by the real Quentin Beck via a mocap suit. Conveniently, the fake Mysterio never removes his Fishbowl Helmet, which is part of Beck's mocap rig. He is able to switch between a practical costume and the illusionary superhero with ease. Then, at the end, Beck takes it up another level - the mocap suit Beck is revealed to be an illusion, created so Beck can invisibly sneak up and shoot Peter in the head.
  • A couple of monsters in Star Trek (2009).
  • Star Wars features a number of examples:
    • Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace was the first entirely CGI major character to be blended with live-action actors. Actor Ahmed Best acted on set wearing a Jar Jar costume with hat for the benefit of the other actors, as his long neck and duck-like beak to too inhuman to be a practical animatronic mask, and was superimposed over by the CGI. The actors costume was quite immaculate already, as the original intention was just replacing a CG neck and head on his body, but it turned out to be easier to just make the whole character from scratch, rather than stick a CGI head on existing footage. There are a few shots where Jar Jar's face isn't visible, so it was cheaper to go with the live-action Best. After learning that it was easier to create Jar Jar entirely in CGI, George Lucas grumpily said, "So I just spent $10,000 on a costume that I don't need."
    • Most of the non-human aliens in the prequels, as well as most of the droids and all of the clone warriors while in uniform, are CGI. Retroactively, the Special Editions turned a Deleted Scene in A New Hope featuring an early, human, concept of Jabba the Hutt and placed a CG Jabba in its place. This was complicated, as the Fat Bastard slug Jabba did not always mesh with the scene as originally filmed.
    • While The Force Awakens largely returns to on-set practical effects, two notable characters are performance-captured: Andy Serkis himself as Supreme Leader Snoke, and Lupita Nyong'o as Maz Kanata. Both characters are too out-of-scale to be portrayed by on-set actors; Snoke's physical proportions are vastly unusual to the point where he couldn't be created practically, while Maz is about the size of Yoda.
    • In Rogue One, two characters from the original trilogy return via this method—Guy Henry donned performance capture gear and did a Peter Cushing impression to play Wilhuff Tarkin and Ingvild Deila did the same for Princess Leia in a scene at the end, with help from archive audio. Subverted for other characters who were recast (Mon Mothma), played by the same actors as before (Bail Organa, Vader's voice) or appear with the help of original trilogy footage off the cutting room floor.
  • As opposed to the original films' usage of animatronics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) uses Motion Capture for the turtles, as well as Splinter and the Shredder's Powered Armor. The turtle’s Mocap suits had the addition of what looked like couch cushions stuck to the back, though.
  • The Terminator franchise gradually switched to using this method to portray the skeleton puppets, which was typically done practically before. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines rendered it's main villain entirely, although the liquid metal effect for the T-1000 in Terminator 2 Judgement Day was a forerunner to A LOT of these effects.
  • Doctor Manhattan in the film adaptation of Watchmen. A combination of the actor's face, and a bodybuilder's physique. Due to his otherworldly glow, the suit was laced with hundreds of LED lights.

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 
  • This was used in Michael Jackson's "Ghosts", when Maestro appears as a living skeleton.
  • The members of Coldplay were depicted using this in "Adventure of a Lifetime"'s music video.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: Season 8 saw Rooster Teeth beginning to use CGI and motion capture along with their usual machinima, courtesy of Monty Oum, the guy who made Haloid and Dead Fantasy.
  • Oum's other Rooster Teeth series, RWBY, also makes heavy use of motion capture for non-action sequences. Some of the voice actors actually provide the mo-cap performances for their own characters.

    Western Animation 


Alternative Title(s): CGI Actor

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