Underwater Motion Capture Technology: How Potential Risks Could Foster an Oscar Category

Yahoo Contributor Network

James Cameron (yes, that one) has sprung back to life by bringing us either another major leap forward in moviemaking, or going stir crazy in taking death-defying risks to garner cinematic magic. When reports were out that Cameron would utilize the new technology of underwater motion capture in his upcoming "Avatar" sequels, it must have had most movie fans wondering if Andy Serkis knows how to do snorkeling. Or, conversely, it must have forwarded thought of what could potentially go wrong if someone else utilized motion capture beyond a tank and into the depths of an ocean.

Not knowing every detail, this new technology could very well be easier than we think. But Cameron never seems to take an easy road in accomplishing innovations for his movies. One has to assume that insurance premiums will rise on the set of "Avatar 2" without seeing a safe demonstration of how underwater motion capture works sans life-threatening complications.

And the chances are that Andy Serkis will utilize the technology eventually, even if he has nothing to do with the Cameron film universe. Nevertheless, one can only worry about someone such as Serkis having his life put in danger if the motion capture suit gets tangled into other equipment or through general equipment failure. Not that the danger of it all wouldn't garner more curiosity by the voting Oscar academy.

Those who still propose the idea of motion capture technology acting having its own Oscar category may have some hope with this new technological development. Anyone who can successfully act underwater with motion capture technology would be worthy of any acting award. Although if that poses even more risk, it could ultimately limit the acting potential when it's used in places other than on terra firma.

It's why (in the immediate term) Andy Serkis would likely have a monopoly on winning Oscars if a motion capture Oscar category existed. He simply has the perfect, expressive face that can translate through those body suits in a way that's somehow even more compelling in the final version than on the live set. Cameron likely won't find actors who can emote as well underwater, unless expressions are filled in with CGI later.

When that happens, motion capture becomes more of a cheat and loses credence as an acting tool. Regardless, moviegoers will have to expect that at first as the wow factor of seeing Avatar characters underwater will be the only merits in the immediate term. It's also worth assuming that the real actors in the "Avatar" sequels won't be the ones doing the acting underwater.

If they do, then it tells how dangerous moviemaking is becoming for the sake of more realism. We're already seeing some of that recently with female characters being forced into doing their own extreme stunts (see Kristen Stewart in "Snow White and the Huntsman"), sometimes leading to injury.

But if Cameron succeeds in the safety of underwater motion capture and finds actors who can translate well, expect the Oscars to finally give in. It's already well known that unknown or under-appreciated actors have to go to extremes to be recognized for an Oscar. Depicting complex emotions underwater without drowning would be the first step forward in a new kind of acting that has nowhere to go but literally back up.

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