"There has been an awakening," the deep voice says in almost a whisper. "Have you felt it? The dark side and the light."
These are the first few sentences in the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that left us on the edge of our seats. And who better to narrate than actor Andy Serkis?
While we have all heard the voice of Serkis' mysterious character, we're finally getting to see a glimpse of what this character looks like.
StarWars.com revealed that Serkis will play Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The website also premiered a new photo taken by Annie Leibovitz during production for Vanity Fair, which shows that the performance of Serkis will be motion-captured.
— Star Wars (@starwars) May 28, 2015
Very few details were revealed about this character. We don't know who – or what – Supreme Leader Snoke is, but we can assume, based on his spoken words, that he could be a fallen Jedi. And if he is the one behind the First Order, he could be the new Emperor.
We can't wait to learn more about his role, but news that Serkis is playing a performance motion-capture character doesn't come as a surprise. Serkis has played mo-cap characters in the past, as the man behind iconic characters like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, and Caesar in both the Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Here is a look at the many faces – some who you may know, others you may not have known – along with the many hats Andy Serkis wears.
Performance Motion-Capture Roles
Serkis is no stranger to wearing what he calls "digital makeup," and has starred as a motion-capture actor in a string of blockbusters. His critically acclaimed role as Gollum stirred a debate regarding the legitimacy of these roles and whether motion-capture actors are given due credit for their performances.
"It's crucial that people do understand that when you're approaching a role, there is no difference between performance-capture technology and conventional acting," he told The Independent. "You're not inhibited by layers of prosthetic make-up. You can actually play something much more truthfully. The technology has arrived at a point where the fidelity to the original performance is much greater."
Here is a look at some of the mo-cap "faces" Serkis is most known for.
Using his voice, facial expressions and acting – combined with special effects – no one could possibly have put on a more perfect performance of the schizophrenic and obsessive creature in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit than Serkis himself.
Serkis found inspiration for the voice of Gollum after hearing his cat cough up a hair ball. Originally, he was only set to voice the character, but after director Peter Jackson saw his convincing physical acting, he was determined to find a better way to capture that performance on film. The team then used motion capture — the process of recording the actor's movement and using it to build and animate digital characters. The actor wore a lightweight suit with reflective dots and mo-cap cameras that feed their movements to 3D motion-capture software.
Serkis' actions were then streamed into Gollum's computer-generated skin, making The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers the first feature film to use real-time motion-capture.
After his critically acclaimed performance as Gollum, Serkis went on to play the role of Caesar in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — as well as King Kong in the 2005 movie directed by Peter Jackson. And he did plenty of monkeying around to prepare for these roles.
The actor revealed that for King Kong, he went to Rwanda to study apes and gorillas in person to prepare for the role. To better grasp the differences between how apes behave in the wild vs. in captivity, Serkis studied apes in zoos for his role as Caesar. Thanks to technological advancements from visual effects company WETA, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was able to include the largest amount of motion-capture ever done in a movie, with most of the scenes shot on location instead of on sets.
The Jungle Book: Origins
Not only is Serkis also an author, he's a director to boot — with his own motion-capture workshop called The Imaginarium Studios, based in London. Wearing this hat, Serkis will make his directing debut with the Warner Bros. live-action film, The Jungle Book: Origins, which will include some performance-capture. By using this revolutionary technology, Serkis can direct a cast that brings life and soul into the animal characters, allowing the other actors to feed off their performances in ways that couldn't be done with just CGI.
While this is Serkis' first feature film as a director, he is no stranger to the role, having served as Second Unit Director for Peter Jackson's Hobbit films.
The Jungle Book: Origins is said to be darker and closer to the original story by Rudyard Kipling than the Disney adaptation. The film will be realized in 2017.
Serkis is also set to direct another motion-capture film — based on yet another piece of classic literature. The godfather of mo-cap will direct the big-screen adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm. This partially motion-captured movie will also be filmed at Imaginarium. In addition to the revolutionary technology, Serkis will use keyframe animation and puppeteering parts of animals. Serkis said he will take a more family-friendly approach to telling the politically charged story.
By now, we're all aware of the roles Serkis is best known for. While he's clearly the king of performance-motion acting, he has played plenty of other traditional acting roles.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Serkis played punk legend Ian Dury in the 2010 biopoc Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. To transform into the rocker who suffered from polio, Serkis spent months walking around with a calliper attached to his leg, the same kind that Dury would've worn. He told The Guardian he only worked out on the right side of his body, which left him with a "weird" muscle in his groin.
To truly understand the characters he plays, Serkis said he looks for what he has in common with them. In Dury, he found common ground in a need to be creative. His performance is raw as it is real, telling the story of the warts-and-all legend.
13 Going on 30
We're used to seeing Serkis as a monster, but he also has a softer side. He played lovable Richard Kneeland, the boss of Jennifer Garner's character who transforms into a 30-year-old magazine writer after making a wish on her 13th birthday. In this role, Serkis plays a gay man with quick wit and smooth moves. We get to see him break out his best "Thriller" movies in one of the most famous scenes in the movie.
Serkis teamed up with game developer Ninja Theory in 2007 to co-produce and voice the villain, King Bohan, in PlayStation 3's Heavenly Sword. To transform into this role, the actor took his team to New Zealand and performed the entire game as if it were a play from beginning to end. Although he wasn't much of a gamer, the experience did have him thinking about creating games with the storylines of famous Shakespearean works.
There is no denying that Serkis is a pioneer in motion-capture performance. We look forward to seeing him in Star Wars, and will continue to follow how the use of special effects and graphics continue to change in film and games.
Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr