Sharlto Copley

Actor Sharlto Copley and director Neill Blomkamp broke through on a global scale together with District 9, and then went Hollywood together with Elysium. Now they’re teaming up a third time for Chappie, which Copley says finally has them “finding our stride.”

In a new interview, Copley discusses his “child-like robot” character and the “poor man’s motion-capture” being used to animate him. Hit the jump to read his comments.

As previously reported, Chappie centers on an intelligent robot who’s kidnapped by local gangsters who want to use him for “nefarious purposes.” And according to Copley, it may be Blomkamp’s best film yet.

I think we’re finding our stride now on this third film, sort of going back to a smaller style of filmmaking. I’m doing the lead again… I’m playing a light character… A child-like robot, which is great. He only gets to about nine years in his emotional development. I got to run around in one of the most dangerous cities in the world being a child. It was awesome.

As enjoyable as the experience was for Copley, it’s not his body we’ll be seeing on the screen. Not exactly, anyway.

The part that’s blowing my mind is that they’re animating over my movements. So they’re using absolutely everything I do in a sort of poor man’s motion-capture style. I was never sure how this would translate, but the amount of me that is in the character is incredible… It’s quite an amazing experience because you’ve created something totally different now. All you’ve had to focus on as the actor is the behavior. The essence of this being not all concerned about their appearance, which you normally would be concerned about as an actor.

But Copley suspects most people won’t be able to tell.

I can see in a little sequence if there’s half a second that there’s a stunt guy [instead of me]. I can tell that it’s the stunt guy from the animation. I can tell that it’s the stunt guy there, because he moves slightly different than me. Because the performance is movement-based. The audience won’t see it, but I see it.

There’s no denying that motion capture adds a little something extra when used well (see Andy Serkis’ career for proof) but not every film needs it. And with District 9, Blomkamp’s already proven that he make creative use of a lower budget. We’ll see how the “poor man’s mo-cap” turns out when Chappie opens March 6, 2015.

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