Is a trend and new opportunity for actors and agents underway as live actors are cast to be the animation reference for CGI characters staring in live-action motion pictures? Andy Serkis was the reference for the CGI creation Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS. Now Alan Tudyk has been cast as the animation reference for the CGI character Sonny in the sci-fi action feature I, ROBOT for Twentieth Century Fox. AWN talked to a few agents and entertainment attorneys to get their views. Larry Hummel, who handles animation talent at ICM said most likely these requests will be handled by his agency's on-camera department but his department has been dealing quite frequently with actor's likenesses being used in videogames. Voice work and the use of an actor's likeness in gaming "has become a busy area for us," said Hummel.
"If the actor is represented by the same agency, it is a minor intra-agency problem," said entertainment attorney Richard Sigler. "More interesting to a lawyer is if there is separate representation." If the talent or another party negotiates for the use of the talent's likeness to be a reference, the actor may have to pay two commissions. Sigler said he likes to refer to the use of live actors for animators' reference as "shadow acting" or "shadow actors."
Commenting on the impact on business affairs departments at animation and visual effects studios, Sigler replied, "These departments have to groom their producers to recognize this problem so the issues can be sorted out before their shadow performances are reduced to the final medium. Many producers who come from the art world are used to having live models for art training purposes. No one thinks using a drawing of one is problematic - that's what they're there for. But in our heavily unionized industry, one interesting question is the labor union implications. SAG/AFTRA assert jurisdiction over these services for motion pictures and television. For producers who are SAG signatories (even if only to the voice agreement), they are subject to grievance procedures for failing to pay SAG rates for the shadow actors. If they are not union signatories, then the actors unions have to organize them or boycott them before they are affected. Generally this is hard to do because the services are over in a hurry and the producer has indicated an ability to hire voice actors without union jurisdiction already. Another interesting question is the extent to which modification of the shadow acting constitutes a different work that does not make use of the original shadow actor. Still another interesting business/legal question is credits for the shadow actor. Producers may be reluctant to break the 'suspension of disbelief' required for movies by admitting in the credits that there was a person's performance underlying the performance of an apparent non-anthropomorphic character. Check back to this AWN news item for additional replies to be posted in days to come.