Andy Serkis Creating New "Orc-like" Performance-Capture Character for Magic Leap (Exclusive)

His new character is part of a larger content deal that the performance-capture pioneer's The Imaginarium has struck with Magic Leap.
Courtesy of The Imaginarium
Andy Serkis

Andy Serkis has created a performance-captured character for the Magic Leap One Creator Edition mixed reality headset — part of a partnership between Magic Leap and Serkis’ The Imaginarium, which plans to create additional content for the platform, as well as support third-party developers with its production resources, including the motion capture stage at its London studio.

His newest character, Grishneck, is the first Magic Leap character played by Serkis, who is known for his performance-capture film characters such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy. Grishneck is described as a 3D Orc-like creature that interacts with the viewer when wearing the Magic Leap One googles in their controlled environment, a living room set (for instance, the character could stand on the coffee table). In the story, Grishneck is introduced as a character who was rejected from a project because he wasn't scary enough.

Getting new technology such as the Magic Leap headset off the ground — companies such as Microsoft with its Hololens are also focused on this space — requires numerous elements, including content, which is where Serkis and other developers come into the mix. While the technology isn't yet scheduled for a consumer release, last month Magic Leap began shipping an early version of its debut headset, the Creator Edition, aimed at developers, which sells for $2,295, as well as its professional developer package, which lists for an additional $495.

"What is thrilling is that with Magic Leap, the relationship of the performances to the real world can change hugely and they can be placed and manifested in countless ways,” Serkis tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The storytelling has to be compelling, robust and totally engaging, but it’s fun knowing that the characters can end up anywhere, and be related to in a myriad of different situations."

While the technology is still in a fledgling stage, Serkis expressed enthusiasm for the potential of augmented/mixed reality. “We now have a new way of experiencing story,” he says. “It’s the next generation of theater/cinema/event that we’ve been circling around for some time, and it’s finally emerging. Entertainment is obviously the area that I’m immediately interested in, but it’s only one aspect of the phenomenal range of applications that Magic Leap will offer.”

Founded in 2011, Florida-headquartered Magic Leap raised an astonishing $2.44 billion in funding to develop this mixed reality technology, with investors including AT&T and Google. Along the way, it's also been reaching out to Hollywood. In addition to Serkis' Imaginarium, companies known to be developing Magic Leap content include ILMxLab, Lucasfilm's immersive content arm; and Framestore, the VFX house behind the Oscar-winning work on Gravity.

“The Imaginarium and Magic Leap have been in conversations for at least five years, when Andy [Serkis] first visited,” Magic Leap’s executive creative director Andy Lanning says, confirming that Imaginarium is currently working on several Magic Leap projects.

Says Serkis: “As an actor, the process of creating a role emotionally, psychologically and physically, that will live in a mixed reality environment is no different to any other sphere of storytelling. The only exception being that your performance can live on in so many different iterations, which are yet to be decided. However, as a director capturing a performance for Magic Leap content is fascinating because you are offering up the story and yet the end user has total freedom as to how they will experience it spatially. It is entirely different to capturing for a movie, where you obviously have control over every aspect of the viewer's experience.”