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As an actor using the technique of performance capture, Andy Serkis has brought to life a complex King Kong in Peter Jackson’s remake, the comedic Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin, an emotive Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the iconic Gollum — a role he played in Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and reprises in the director’s upcoming The Hobbit films.
Along the way, Serkis grew his experience as a storyteller and director — Jackson asked him to serve as second-unit director on The Hobbit, and he spent about 200 days directing that production — and gained a keen understanding of emerging performance-capture tools and techniques.
Next, the multitalented Serkis plans to direct a retelling of George Orwell’s allegorical novel Animal Farm. The movie will be produced by The Imaginarium, a London-based performance-capture studio that Serkis and producer Jonathan Cavendish (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) formed in 2011. The studio brings together Serkis’ experience in the creative process from feature and TV to video games, and houses a technical R&D unit and an educational component.
For its inaugural projects, The Imaginarium has secured the film rights to adapt Animal Farm, as well as Samantha Shannon‘s book series The Bone Season.
First up is Animal Farm, which Cavendish and Serkis will produce. Serkis is currently focused on development. “I think we found a rather fresh way of looking at it,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It is definitely using performance capture, but we are using an amalgamation of filming styles to create the environmments.
“We are in proof-of-concept stage at the moment, designing characters and experimenting on our stage with the designs,” he continues. “It is quite a wide canvas as to how much and how far we can take performance capture with quadrupeds and how much we will be using facial [capture]. We are not discounting the use of keyframe animation or puppeteering parts of animals. We are in an experimental phase; it’s terribly exciting.”
On the storytelling, Serkis says: “We’re keeping it fable-istic and [aimed at] a family audience. We are not going to handle the politics in a heavy-handed fashion. It is going to be emotionally centered in a way that I don’t think has been seen before. The point of view that we take will be slightly different to how it is normally portrayed and the characters, We are examining this in a new light.”
Serkis also is expected to perform in the film. “It might well be that I do, but nothing is set in stone yet,” he says. “At the moment I’m very fixed on the creation of the characters and world from a directorial point of view.”
Noting that he worked with “an extraordinarily talented crew and an amazing array of talent” on The Hobbit, Serkis now is exploring the use of some of the tools and techniques used to bring Middle Earth to the screen, including 3D and high-frame-rate photography and projection.
“The wonderful thing about 48 fps is [how it handles] the integration of live action and CG elements; that is something I learned from The Hobbit,” Serkis said. “We are so used to 24 fps and the romance of celluloid … but at 48 fps, you cannot deny the existence of these CG creations in the same time frame and space and environment as the live action. It works incredibly well.”
Serkis plans to direct and/or act in additional movies that will be made at The Imaginarium, includes the Bone Season series and an additional not-yet-named property.
Cavendish said of The Bone Season: “These books have conjured up with extraordinary detail and delicacy of drama an imaginary future set in a dystopian world. We are just starting to develop that for a series of motion pictures.”
Bloombury will publish the first book in the series in August, after young author Shannon completes her studies at Oxford. According to the books’ description, The Bone Season begins in 2059 and follows 19-year-old Paige Mahoney, who is working in London’s criminal underworld as an envoy between secret cells: She drops in and out of people’s minds. Paige is a lucid dreamer, a clairvoyant, and in her world — the world of Scion — she commits high treason simply by breathing. Attacked, kidnapped and transported to Oxford, a city that has been kept secret for 200 years, she meets Warden, a Rephaite with dark honey skin and heavy-lidded yellow eyes. He is the single most beautiful and frightening thing she has ever laid eyes on — and he will become her keeper.
Said Cavendish: “A lot of what we are doing at The Imaginarium is pushing [performance-capture] technology and finding ways to do things that haven’t been done before. Some of it is also about making it more efficiently and making it within reach of budget.”
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