Why isn't Anyone Suggesting 'Life of Pi's Richard Parker for Supporting Actor at the Oscars?

Andy Serkis on set of Rise of the Planet of the ApesLast year it was all the rage to talk about how Andy Serkis deserved an Oscar nomination for his motion-capture performance as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

I'll admit, I wouldn't have been against the nomination, but the nominations came and while supporters may have been upset briefly, like all things on the Internet, we're only upset as long as someone is willing to listen or, in this case, click.

Now, however, here we are at the end of 2012 and life has been given to yet another CG animal in a feature film and done so in a very heartfelt and emotional manner. The giant Bengal tiger Richard Parker that shares a lifeboat with Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) in Ang Lee's Life of Pi is given more than enough behavioral moments to be looked at as a character in the film. Can anyone argue Richard Parker doesn't support Pi's story or that the two don't interact with one another?

Whether he's fishing, swimming, clinging to the boat for dear life or coming to rest in Pi's lap, Richard Parker is every bit as much a character in Life of Pi as Caesar was in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. So where are the For Your Consideration campaigns? Does such a situation depend on a human acting out the motions to be considered?

Richard Parker in Life of Pi
Richard Parker in Life of Pi
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Where does the real tiger end and the digital creation begin? Does it make a difference to know a human acted out a motion captured performance versus a character that was created entirely out of pixels? Aren't both creations animals? If you're able to find the same connection with Richard Parker as you were to Caesar is there a difference? If so, what is it?

One of these days the Academy is going to need to create a new category for motion capture and digital creations, or at least begin acknowledging them with something more than Visual Effects awards. Some digital work simply needs a greater bit of recognition than simply being recognized with a Visual Effects Oscar, which Life of Pi will almost assuredly take home this year.

While I wouldn't have minded Andy Serkis getting a nomination for his Rise of the Apes work, I do think it is something different than a 100% live action performance, even though I still contend Zoe Saldana deserved a nomination for her work in Avatar. The matter remains, some work simply deserves being singled out.

Which tiger is the real tiger and which one is the CG tiger?
Which tiger is the real tiger and which one is the CG tiger?
Photo: 20th Century Fox

More and more digital effects are playing a role in feature films and the digital world and real world are playing together almost seamlessly. The work done in Life of Pi was recently featured in the New York Times where the film's visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer commented on why a digital tiger was used for the majority of the film, "We didn't want our actor to get eaten." Simple enough... with that said, look at the picture above, which one is the real tiger and which one is the digital tiger?

The answer to the above question is the one on the right (highlight for answer) is the digital tiger. Here's a series of images showing the creation of Richard Parker followed by a featurette on the work that went into bringing him to life.

First a skeleton is produced
First a skeleton is produced
Photo: 20th Century Fox via New York Times
Then the musculature
Then the musculature
Photo: 20th Century Fox via New York Times
Next is the fur
Next is the fur
Photo: 20th Century Fox via New York Times
Texture and coloring
Texture and coloring
Photo: 20th Century Fox via New York Times
The final product
The final product
Photo: 20th Century Fox via New York Times

You can get more information on the above images and the work done by Rhythm & Hues to create Richard Parker here. Now check out the brief featurette below for even more on how Richard Parker was brought to life.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

    The more I think about this movie, which seems to be a lot lately, the more I love it. I really want to see it again now.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

      And I think I connected more with an all digital tiger than I did with a Mo-Capped ape. Damn emotionally investing cat!

  • Alex

    The difference is in the nature of the word "performance." We're talking about acting, and it's a fundamentally flawed question. The reason that people were championing Serkis for a nomination as Caesar (a cause I definitely supported) is because he was able to actually turn himself into an ape - sure, the illusion was aided for the audience by the digital imagery, but he, as a human, turned himself into a vision of Caesar through his motion, that was only captured by a computer.

    As important as Richard Parker is to Life of Pi, he's just a tiger. A tiger who's doing tiger-y things. If, at one point, Richard Parker played the trumpet, I'd concur.

    • Arturo

      Agree this is different because there is no "performance" to richard parker

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

        There is no "performance"? So an animal has to do human activities to be considered for a nomination? Sort of like fishing, swimming or clinging for life to save oneself? Or talking like Johnny Depp in Rango?

        • arturo

          Sorry for not being clear. What I meant is that there is no actor performing. Im all for cgi acting performances if they r good enough. I would actually love to see a category devoted to this artform by the academy awards or sag awards but there isnt enough good artist doing it yet

          • Drew

            There were about 50 animators Keyframing the performance of Richard Parker at Rhythm and Hues. Keyframing is the old school way of animating by hand, By setting key poses. This technique is much harder and more time consuming then the motion capture process. Yet if put in the hands of talented artists can have breathtaking performances. I felt Richard Parker did a lot of emoting and acting, even though his strings were being pulled by 2 legged artists pretending to think and move like tigers. The real problem is who would the award go to?

  • David Kovacs

    Hey Brad. I am a long time reader, first time commenter. And I must say I think this article is stupid. I think there is a HUGE fundamental difference between Andy Serkis performance as Caesar and the performance created for the tiger in Life of Pi. Acting. Would you ever suggest to give an acting Oscar to Carl Fredricksen from Up, or in the same vain as an animal Marlin from Finding Nemo, or even a character that doesn't technically talk like Wall-E. What Andy Serkis did, was kinda like the character study of an Ape. And I do agree that a new technical award should be created for situations like this, because the people behind the camera creating the tiger in Life of Pi are doing a similar character study as Serkis. I just do not think that comparing a performance to a creation is fair. I think what Serkis does is more comparable to Daniel Day-Lewis's method acting because he had to become Caesar. No human had to crawl walk of all fours and pretend to be a tiger. But maybe well be able to compare soon if there is a motion-capture Yoda? Thanks, love the site. Keep it up!

    • Connor M

      I understand that you are trying to express your opinion, but is it really necessary for you to blatantly insult Brad? If you don't agree with what's being said, or have a different point of view, then just say so. Also, Robin Williams performance as the Genie in Aladdin was receiving awards consideration when it was released, so a non motion capture performance is not totally out of the question.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Wow, for an article you thought was stupid you sure came to the table with a lot to discuss.

      I agree there is a difference between the two, but not a "HUGE fundamental" one. To poke the tiger, pun intended, what is the difference between a "performance" and a "performance created"? Aren't performances created by actors and animators alike? If a digital creation modeled after something living captures that performance the same way Serkis modeled his performance after an ape and then animators created the performance beyond that aren't we talking about different shades of grey?

      Your argument seems to depend on whether a human was involved. In that case, should Snow White from Disney's animated Snow White be considered for an acting nomination since animators modeled that animation off live actors? Or perhaps Johnny Depp in Rango?

      Where is the line drawn?

      • Connor M

        The animators and the actors who play the characters both obviously contribute to the final product. Wouldn't it make sense to create a category at the oscars for the VoiceOver/motion capture performances, and then award the animation department of the film a seperate award? It seems unfair that there is only one animation category considering that the animators are just as important as the writers, directors, and actors. Each division should be awarded for their efforts.

        • arturo

          Thats a great idea, I was thinking the oscars or sag awards could reward motion captured performances, however I feel there would be a lack of nominees but with voice overs included that would be sweet

      • Luire

        Animators animate, actors act. You may see a performance in the tiger (which actually looks somewhat fake) but it is not acting.

      • Sam Fellowman

        I agree with David, there is a huge fundamental difference. I absolutely agree with you Brad that animators are actors in their own right to aid research, but their work is not a performance. It's a creation, and acting is part of the research that goes into the creative process. The category the Academy already has for work like this is: Best Visual Effects.

        Life of Pi deserves to win this category this year, no doubt.

  • http://thesketchydetails.net Robert

    I thought I was the only person who thought Zoe Saldana should have been nominated for Avatar. An excellent and underrated performance lost in the visual splendor of that film.

    As for Serkis in Life of Pi, I can't speak to the quality of his performance because I haven't seen it yet. I do, however, question how a human performing as an animal would be award worthy. In Rise of the Planet, Serkis' character had a clear emotional arc and actually grew far beyond just a laboratory animal. Here, he plays a tiger who is always a tiger. He might be a tiger who grows to trust a young man, but he's still just a tiger.

    I think a fairer comparison is early Disney animation. Walt Disney had live actors brought in to act out the various scenes in films like Snow White for maximum accuracy in motion. Should Serkis be considered awards-worthy for doing the same thing with an animal? Not a human hybrid, not a monster, not one who gains human intelligence, autonomy, and personality, but just an animal? I don't know for sure since I haven't seen it, but I'm leaning toward no.

    • The New Guy

      Serkis isn't in Life of Pi. The tiger was digital only

  • Winchester

    I think the difference is (as mentioned above) that in Apes Serkis himself performed and brought his abilities to Ceaser. Yes, a talented team of artists then CG'd the Ape skin over him but underneath was an actor based Mo-Cap performance driving the visual effects used to make him real.

    I assume, with Pi and the Tiger that he is a CGI creation like any other non Mo-Cap CGI element. Although obviously he had to be realised and given 'direction' but you can say that about any animated creation as well. He may be more photo-realistic than say a character in a Pixar film but the physical actor element just isn't there to form part of the creation.

    But I do think that as these kinds of visual effects continue there may have to be some recognition of the artistry of the team creating them beyond the more wide-ranging achievement in Visual Effects category and separate from any of the actual Acting categories as well.

    • Snicket

      I agree with this, the motion capture element seems to be the factor for me in deciding.

      Definitely worth the discussion.

  • Ron Oneal Fresh

    I don't know If I can recognize an inanimate computer image as an "actor".

    I'd accept a real life tiger getting an Oscar nomination before a CGI one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/the%20colleague/ the colleague

    It's a tricky question and a tricky subject, but here's my take.

    First, on the subject of Caesar... that's a performance that doesn't fit neatly exclusively into the acting category or in the visual effects category. They worked in unison to create the creature we saw on screen. You could say, well, what about costume designers or make-up artists? Surely they work in unison with actors to create their respective characters. And you would be right.

    The crucial difference, I feel, is that their work and that of an actor is able to be captured on film, or now on digital, simultaneously; it is instantly visible and evident to the naked eye how they complement each other in the moment, but it is also evident where one ends and another begins, which is not entirely, or at least not to a satisfying degree, possible with visual effects because of the very nature of post production. The only way to do that would be to watch production video featurettes, like the one you attached to this article, but let's be realistic, how many Academy members would be willing to bother with that (not counting the visual effects branch, obviously).

    I do agree a work this good should be singled out, which is why a new category needs to be implemented. Call it Digitally Assisted Acting, or something to that effect, where both the actor and the visual effects people would be nominated together because their work is too intertwined to be able to be looked at separately.

    As for Richard Parker, you asked "Does such a situation depend on a human acting out the motions to be considered? Does it make a difference to know a human acted out a motion captured performance versus a character that was created entirely out of pixels?" If we are talking about giving away awards for acting, then yes, an actor should be involved in some capacity, otherwise all that great work amounts to pixel manipulation; obviously a very good and effective one, but not acting. And yes, we are essentially talking about different shades of grey. Devil. Details.

    I haven't had the chance to see the movie yet, but I hope to be enthralled by it as much as you and Laremy seem to be.

    And I was able to guess which one was the real tiger, if that means anything. :-)

  • http://cinemmaconfessions.blogspot.com Gautam

    Very interesting perspective Brad.

    Though in a very different context this reminds me of Oscar nomination of Donald Kaufman for Adaptation where Academy members did nominate a fictitious character that existed only in the film and not in real. Taking the same liberty I feel, your argument holds value. But the counter-argument would be that why not characters from animated movies be nominated. Or are we saying only those characters created for live-action films should be considered for acting noms.

    Now, had the tiger been used without any CGI, then I guess the argument to nominate Richard Parker would have been more fair. In that case we are looking at him like any other character in the film, the only difference being he's not human but an animal. And that's also why Academy won't consider nominating Richard Parker since they would think it to be completely a CGI based character.

  • ABM

    Interesting article, and the same thought has crossed my mind as well. I like the idea of one of the commentators above who said that a new category, something along the lines of "Digitally Assisted Acting" would make more and more sense especially with the kind of movies now coming in.

    Someone asked above that if Richard Parker were to be nominated, why not then nominate anything from an animated movie, like from Disney. I guess the main difference lies in asking the question, "When you see that character, are drawn in the performance so much that you forget that it might be fake, and believe it is real?"
    If the answer is yes, I believe that performance should get credit.

    Then there is the angle of a human actor involvement in the process. I believe that a performance is a performance, irrespective of any human actor involvement. I mean, suppose Ceasar in Apes was not mo-capped and fully animated, but offered the same level of performance, would that have made it less worthy of recognition?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/HamzaZain/ Hamza Zain

    I guess what I would say is that the difference is that with Caesar, Serkis gives a very strong performance. He is able to make you believe the pain and sorrow in Caesar. While Richard Parker may indeed lend heart and contribute to the story of Life of Pi, in the end he is still a tiger being a tiger. He is indeed very well trained and good at being the tiger they want him to be, but he's still a tiger. That for me is the fundamental difference. Interesting article though, Brad.

    As for mo-cap performances, I think Saldana should have been nominated for sure, and I also think that Andy Serkis was great as Caesar, but was criminally overlooked for his performance as Gollum. The fact that he didn't get a nomination for that still confuses me.

  • tankman

    I'm wondering if the people commenting about the tiger's performance in this movie have "actually" seen the movie or are just making presumptions about how the tiger in this movie is at the end, just a tiger. I have seen the movie, and I feel that Richard Parker's performance is not just of a normal tiger that you watch in Nat Geo. There is definitely an element of "acting" there. I could actually feel and understand his emotions.

  • Conor

    The acting awards for the academy are, best actor/actress in a major/supporting role. The tiger is not an actor, but is a character. No award currently exists that could honor the tiger fairly, so consideration campaigns would be poor financial decisions. The oscars were created to honor achievement by human beings. Does this take away the performance of animals in movies? No. It just isn't the venue. If an academy was designed for animals they would be free to nominate other animals. The real question is how can we honor this contribution, assuming people think it is worth contributing to.

  • Luire

    Actually, Serkis deserved the nomination for Tintin.

  • http://colouringpages.net.au mm

    The people behind this are deservng a big award for creating and directing this, who made " Richard Parker" a really fantastic actor!

  • Sam Holmes

    SPOILERS.My problem with people that say its just a tiger being a tiger, is that he isn't really a tiger at all. He is a part of Pi, he doesn't behave like an actual tiger, he conveys far more emotion than that and I believe his performance is worthy of a nomination for something of his own, not just visual effects. Maybe they should have an award for computer created characters as well as effects. On a side note I would like an animal section of the awards, some real animals in films can be great and without them the films can be bad