When most people hear the name Andy Serkis, it’s fair to say that they don’t think of video games. With the motion capture actor bringing iconic characters like Gollum and King Kong to the big screen, Serkis has slowly cemented himself as Hollywood’s go-to actor for playing CGI characters.
Yet, despite his notable movie career, Andy Serkis has also spent over a decade quietly lending his talents to the gaming world. Keen to find out more, we sat down with Andy to find out how the Hollywood actor made the jump from some of the world’s biggest movies to interactive entertainment.
“It’s a long process going all the way back to 2004. I was asked by Ninja Theory to work on a video game called Heavenly Sword. [I was intrigued because] they wanted to make an immersive, narratively driven game that had good cutscenes that you could really engage with. So I was asked to direct the performance capture for [the game’s] characters. I cast it, rehearsed it and went about shooting it in exactly the same way as you would for a movie.”
As one of the first actors to don the snug-fitting mo-cap suits for a film, Andy has always been at the forefront of technology. With the tech powering movies and games “beginning to blur” Andy always strived to bring movie-quality performances to the video game world.
At the time, however, Andy had little knowledge of the gaming world. Luckily for him, he was in very capable hands.
“When I first started working with Ninja Theory, they set me up with a whole bunch of games to play and watch because I was a novice. Heavy Rain was one of them.”
Yet, unfortunately for Ninja Theory, one small snag meant that hiring Andy was about to get a lot more expensive.
“When it came to the actual capture, I realised that there was nowhere in the UK that could handle that level of detail for performance capture. So I ended up going back to New Zealand [where I did the capture for Lord Of The Rings] to shoot Heavenly Sword!”
Frustrated by the lack of high-quality motion capture studios in the UK, Andy dreamed of setting up a studio of his own. In 2011, that dream became a reality — and The Imaginarium was born. In just six short years, Serkis’s modest motion-capture space has been used to record scenes for everything from massive movies like Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens to highly anticipated games like Star Citizen.
Now, six years after the studio was founded, Andy has finally been able to use his space to create a video game of his own — the recently released Planet Of The Apes: Last Frontier.
“This game came out of my association with the film franchise. Fox generously allowed me to be the ambassador for the franchise in the video game world. Then we subcontracted [game development] to the Imaginiti, a studio we created specifically to make this game.”
Despite his new team of developers having their own ideas, for Andy, there was one game that perfectly laid the blueprint for what he thought Last Frontier should be.
“ Heavy Rain was… a big influence on the style of [Last Frontier]. We wanted to create a world that was parallel to the [Planet Of The Apes] movie franchise, we didn’t just want to make the game of the movie… because that would be incredibly dull.
We wanted to make a game that was a properly immersive, cinematic experience but also a moral, choice-based game. [ I think the Last Frontier] really does encourage you to morally challenge who you are.”
Set between the events of Dawn of the Planet of The Apes and War, The Playlink-supported title sees players switching between human and ape characters. After a tense incident sparks tensions between humans and a local ape settlement, it’s up to the player to deal with some increasingly difficult moral dilemmas and either prevent or incite a full-blown war. Andy reveals that, for him, getting gameplay and narrative to work seamlessly is key.
Yet, it wasn’t just his work with Ninja Theory that taught him that — he actually learned about a sense of gaming flow and cohesion from a famous movie director.
“[In Enslaved: Odyssey To The West] I was playing the lead character Monkey and [28 Days Later writer/director] Alex Garland had written the script. What he was trying to do was very much bring together gameplay and narrative so that you weren’t stopping for cutscenes so much, so there was more of a flow. That was the next stage in the journey for me — understanding how narrative and gameplay can work together.”
Before we leave, Andy states that the technology used to create and plan massive Hollywood blockbusters is largely the same as the tech used to create games. With the process of capturing performances almost identical in both movies and games, the line between the two is becoming increasingly blurred.
Despite staying tight-lipped on his future gaming plans, with the likes of Ninja Theory returning to Andy to capture scenes for the phenomenal Hellblade, it looks like Andy’s Imaginarium still has a lot more to give to the world of video games.