I’ve explored an interesting “new frontier” for actors to work in that I would like to shed some light on. With this venue of acting you use your improv skills, acting, movement and voice. It’s not surprising that this venue of acting interests me since I cast both on camera and voice.
What on earth could this be? MoCap! What is MoCap? MoCap, Motion Capture or Performance Capture refers to the technology of capturing a performance into the computer.
I’ve invited the expertise of two leading actors in this field, Julene Renee and Jacquie Barnbrook, to bring their words of wisdom to you. Motion Capture is used for video games and films such as some that Jacquie Barnbrook has been in; Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, Mars Needs Moms and The Adventures of TinTin. Jacquie also has the prestigious credit of being the Visual Effects Producer ofHunger Games. Julene Reness has been in additional films that used Motion Capture which include The Polar Express, Avatar, A Christmas Carol, Mars Needs Moms.
Mocap is bringing to life any character in a script, just like traditional acting, only instead of being captured by a film camera, it’s captured by a computer camera. From capturing strictly the motion of a character (walking, running, sitting, standing, walking up & down stairs, dining, background movement, etc…) to stunts and finally a full Dialogue Performance of a character.
What is specific to this kind of acting? I know one is being able to move well.
Julene: Since you are not sequestered within the frame of a film camera, Mocap acting is a lot like the stage and requires a bit more physicality then film Acting. You have an entire 3 dimensional space to bring to life your character. That space is called the “volume”. (Going back to those who were paying attention in geometry… the “volume” is the empty area inside a shape). In this case, our volume is our stage.
Wearing a special suit (similar to a wetsuit) with markers on the body, a Mocap actor performs the scene. Their performance brings to life characters created in the computer for the script.
Jacquie: I think the best qualities are theater and improvisation experience. There is so much that is brought to the performance just from the imagination. You are given very little to work with as far as environment and props are concerned; similar to doing black box theater or doing space work in improv. You don’t really shoot coverage, like in filmmaking. In performance capture you shoot whole scenes.
Tell us about the tech days before the shoot day on set actually starts.
Jacquie: Every Pro Cap (Performance Capture) company may be a little different in their set-up but this is my experience. For video games its a lot less prep.
- You have to do a head cast, and possibly a tooth or hand cast, depends on the character.
- You may have to do a digital head and body scan.
- You are measured/fitted for your suit and your helmet.
- Once your face mask, suit and helmet are made they are fitted (based on your head cast) and adjusted to fit you perfectly.
- Then you go to make-up and hair and have your marker set applied to your face over your mask and then they drill the holes in the mask.
- An Animation Supervisor and wardrobe person applies your markers to your body suit.
- Once you have your suit, helmet and markers all applied you will do a series of calibrations called ROMS – body ROMS and facial ROMS that are unique to your movement and your body.
What happens at the shoot?
Julene: You have a call time to arrive at the studio. Once you arrive, you get into your Mocap Suit. Then you go into the Volume for a ROM (Range of Motion). A ROM is a series of movements you capture into the computer to see where the markers are on your body for that day. Once you are set inside the computer, then you begin to block out your scene with the director. You lay down marks in the “volume” of where things are in the virtual world (like doors, streets, sidewalks, trees, etc…) so when you perform you know where those things are. And then you shoot the scene.
- Get your facial markers in make-up, hair tied back.
- Then you have a marker check.
- When you are cleared to go, you put on your gloves and you do your body ROM.
- Then you do your facial ROM.
- Then you put on your helmet and you’re ready to shoot.
You ROM four times a day minimum:
- Before shooting.
- Before you break for lunch.
- When you come back from lunch
- Before you wrap for the day.
- Girls have to ROM every time they use the bathroom because they remove their suit.
Before every “Action!” and after every “Cut!,” you must T-pose
A lot of this is demonstrated in Julene’s ROM School of Performance Capture.
What qualities does an actor need to be good at Motion Capture?
Julene: First: You have to be a good actor; know how to bring a character to life.
Second: You really need to be aware and in control of your body as you perform. This skill is not often required for those who are strictly Film/TV/Voice Over actors. I was a competitive gymnast and a dancer. I did sketch comedy and used a ton of physical comedy to bring my characters to life. All of those physical traits along with my acting skills are what keeps me working as a Mocap Actor… and of course, my super happy attitude You must have wonderful physical and vocal ranges, are great at improv, and are able to switch characters quickly. Each Mocap Actor must be able to bring many different characters to life as well as inanimate objects! Just as a Voice-Over Actor must be a bit bigger in their voice performance, a Mocap Actor must do the same with their bodies.
Jacquie adds: “The job is very physical. The helmets and the battery packs become heavier it seems after four or five weeks. It’s certainly easier if you’re in shape.”
There is a way to become more familiar with this experience and actually learn how to do it. I would recommend you go and visit the Volume or get some “Volume” experience from Julene’s ROM SCHOOL OF PERFORMANCE CAPTURE. There is a video on the homepage to see just how physical this form of acting is:www.romschool.com
My readers, welcome to a new frontier.
Any reproduction or usage of this article on other websites must be credited to Terry Berland, Casting Director and linked back to here.
Terry Berland is an award-winning casting director for on-camera, television, voice-over, and hosting. Her casting awards include Clio, The Houston International Film Festival, Art Director’s Club, Addy, and the International Film and Television Festival. Her former casting staff position for Madison Avenue giant BBDO/NY has lent to her deep understanding and involvement in the advertising industry. She is known throughout the country for her talent development and is the co-author of the how-to industry book,”Breaking Into Commercials.”