Film News

Oscar snubs "Avatar's" motion-capture actors

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Although “Avatar” has blasted through box office records and scored nine Academy Award nominations Tuesday, its producers are frustrated that the movie’s actors were ignored by Oscar voters.

Director James Cameron holds his plaque for being a nominee in the 2009 DGA Feature Film Award category for his work on the film "Avatar" after cast members Zoe Saldana (L) and Sam Worthington (R) presented him with the plaque at the 62nd Annual Directors Guild of America Awards in Los Angeles January 30, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Zoe Saldana and James Worthington failed to earn nominations Tuesday for their motion-capture work in the sci-fi spectacular.

“People confuse what we have done with animation,” director James Cameron said at the recent Producers Guild Awards, where he and fellow producer Jon Landau lost to “The Hurt Locker.”

“It’s nothing like animation. The creator here is the actor, not the unseen hand of an animator,” he added.

The Oscars snub is “a disappointment,” said Landau, “but I blame ourselves for not educating people in the right way.”

Landau explained that they needed to make clear that the system they used represents a new way to use “motion capture” photography, or as Landau puts it, “emotion capture.”

A key breakthrough in “Avatar” involves photographing facial features of the actors with a tiny camera suspended from a skull cap in front of the performer’s face that caught every twitch and muscle movement, all faithfully reproduced onscreen.

“We made a commitment to our actors that what they would see up on the screen were their performances,” Landau said, “not somebody else’s interpretation of what their performance might or might not be.”

The issue of what makes an actor an actor first surfaced when Andy Serkis did Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings,” but skepticism remains over whether it is the same as live-action acting.

“What an actor is doing when acting is not just looking like something but expressing something going on inside,” says James Lipton, host of Bravo’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” “I’m not sure that motion capture, while it captures the flicker of an eyebrow, the twist of a mouth, a gesture of a hand, equally captures emotion.”

Critic Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor tended to agree.” On one hand, it is a performance, but on the other, it is so aided by technology,” he said. “If I were ‘King of the World,’ I would create a separate category.”

Film professor Richard Brown doesn’t agree. “This is very much the first film of the 21st century,” Brown said. “What we need to do is expand our concept of what the word actor means. It’s unfair to take performances as good as these and not designate them as actors.”