Last 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?
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.
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.
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.