In their Star Wars-themed issue, People went behind the scenes with Andy Serkis’s villainous character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Though we still don’t have an exact picture of what he looks like, People has given us a little more to go on with their exploration of the filming of the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke, played by mo-cap master Andy Serkis. We do know he’s seven feet tall, is very thin, and possesses an alien facial structure; these three qualities made it necessary to render the character through CG.
People called Snoke “Freaky Ugly,” adding,
"“Or at least, that’s likely what the audience will think. Serkis will only say, “He has a very distinctive, idiosyncratic bone and facial structure.”"
It turns out, however, that the process of filming scenes in which Snoke appeared was not entirely reliant on CGI.
"Even though Snoke is a CGI character, cinematography Daniel Mindel shot on set with Serkis and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. “It’s not a complete green-screen environment,” Mindel says. “Therefore, we have atmosphere. We have texture that we’re putting [Snoke] into, that is physical. Sometimes, from the outside it would seem absurd to just walk in and look at how we do that. On the other hand, there’s a great amount of method to it. In that particular theme, we had Andy Serkis interacting with Adam. Andy himself brought a massive amount to the scene.”"
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Costume designer Michael Kaplan even created physical costumes for both Serkis and Lupita Nyong’o (who also plays a mo-cap character, the pirate Maz Kanata) to wear so the experience of filming would be more complete for both cast and crew.
"“Even though they were to be CGI, there were initial costume sketches and then actual costumes were built,” Kaplan says. “This helps the CGI technicians realize their final effect and know precisely how the fabrics will move.”"
In past interviews, we learned that Snoke is a “damaged” character. I read this in both a physical and a spiritual context, and a quote People used from Entertainment Weeky seems to confirm the latter aspect:
"“[Snoke] is strangely vulnerable at the same time as being quite powerful.”"
If anyone can bring life and nuance to a CGI character, it’s Andy Serkis, whose past stand out roles include Gollum/Smeagol in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Caesar, the main ape character in Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. However, Snoke sounds more complex than even the previous big Star Wars baddie, Emperor Palpatine, so Andy has his work cut out for him.