Motion capture Voice Acting

How to Become a Motion Capture Actor

Want to get into Motion Capture?

Directors employ motion capture for a variety of purposes, including video games, animated films and CGI.

The first film to be shot entirely in motion capture (mocap) was The Polar Express (2004). Behind the scenes footage shows Tom Hanks and other cast mates in full mocap gear, including markers with strategic placement on an actor’s body and face for expression tracking.

One of the kings of motion capture is Andy Serkis. His acting roles in The Lord of the Rings (Gollum), King Kong (title role), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Caesar) and others make tremendous use of motion capture. The realistic expressions he makes add depth to his characters and project emotions that audiences can relate to on a human level.

A behind-the-scenes look at motion capture in action shows how actor Benedict Cumberbatch physically became Smuag in The Lord of the Rings through both body and voice.

And how Johnny Depp and cast used motion capture to produce the animated film Rango for which they both voiced and acted in.

The technology for motion capture has progressed over the years and this continues to be a growing and exciting field.

Many voice actors who have an interest in physical acting find that motion capture work is a natural fit, given that many of the tools – including voice – carry over into this specialty.

One of the best features is the diversity, including all ethnicities, social groups, ages, and of course, both the male and female genders. When a voice talent is hired for the job of voicing for a character requiring motion capture, their voice-over can be influenced by the animated character’s hair style, clothing, and even their very being – I’ve seen a leprechaun there, so the possibilities are endless!

First, Learn About Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the application of the field of computer graphics (or more specifically, 3D computer graphics) to special effects. CGI is used in movies, television programs and commercials, and in printed media. Video games most often use real-time computer graphics (rarely referred to as CGI), but may also include pre-rendered “cut scenes” and intro movies that would be typical CGI applications. These are referred to as FMV.

CGI is used for visual effects because the quality is higher and effects are more controllable than other more physically based processes, such as constructing miniatures for effects shots or hiring extras for crowd scenes, and because it allows the creation of images that would not be feasible using any other technology. It can also allow a single artist to produce content without the use of actors, expensive set pieces, or props.

Recent accessibility of CGI software and increased computer speeds has allowed individual artists and small companies to produce professional grade films, games, and fine art from their home computers. This has brought about an Internet subculture with its own set of global celebrities, clichés, and technical vocabulary.

Many movies incorporate CGI (computer generated imagery), including Jurassic Park, Toy Story, and the special effects in Forrest Gump.

CGI is quite the field, full of opportunity for voice actors. So, you might be wondering, what does it take to get into motion capture work?

1. What Does it Take to Do Motion Capture?

Motion capture generally demands good acting skills, especially when there is an emphasis on capturing facial expressions. You also need to be physically fit and agile. Depending on the role, may need to draw upon martial arts, gymnastics, movement, dance and stunts experience. Your voice is definitely part of the process.

Breathing and vocalizing are important pieces of the motion capture puzzle, even if the voice over is not actually used in the final cut.

Take for example, seasoned stunt actor and motion capture artist, Reuben Langdon. Using his voice to display emotion serves as an excellent catalyst for creating more authentic physicality in his characters.

In addition, Reuben sees his work as more than just giving shape to an animated character’s movements, or simply performing stunts: Langdon recognizes that he is an actor in a character role. Having worked in the industry for decades and under the direction of greats such as James Cameron (Avatar), he knows what he is talking about.

2. Where to Find Motion Capture Acting Work

Something you’ll be encouraged to hear is that actors sometimes procure motion capture work through voice over auditions! Agents are also tapped into motion capture for their clients for video games, film, animation and more.

Remember, many actors are interested in motion capture. It pays to be competitive, dedicated and vigorous in your studies. Motion capture is its own area of expertise. Find workshops and classes specific to learning how to perform for motion capture, as well as online resources. Go to YouTube and watch veteran motion capture artists, like Andy Serkis, demonstrating how the work is done.

In the words of writer Stephen King, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

3. How Can You Prepare for a Mocap Session?

Getting ready for a motion capture session involves more than a regular acting session. Much of the preparation is mental but it is also largely physical. This means that you’ll need to warm up, and not just your voice. Doing stretches ahead of time can help you to prevent pulling a muscle or hurting yourself badly on set.

From an acting standpoint, you can prepare character-wise for a motion capture session as you would any other role, be it on camera or voice over. Smart actors do research on who their character is. This helps create better, more authentic performances and a greater connection to the role itself.

Understanding your character means knowing how their personality, physicality and backstory play into your performance. You also need to know how that character relates to others.

Unlike voice over recording sessions, motion capture sessions must be done on site (not from a home studio). The Sawmill, near Vancouver, lists some advice online to help actors prepare for a motion capture session at their studio.

4. Knowing What Happens in a Motion Capture Session

When working with a motion capture studio, you’ll find there’s a lot of coordination and choreography going on to make the session a success.

Organization is key to running efficient motion capture sessions. Directors will have certain tasks for you to perform for your character. This may also involve the use of props or special settings.

Take some time to read up on mocap sessions in general to gain an appreciation of the workflow and your role as an actor in it. Note that not all motion capture technology uses markers on an actor’s body, which makes set up practically non-existent, and therefore it can be much easier to focus on performance.

Motion Capture Takeaway Tips

Becoming a successful motion capture performer has several components – the physical aspect of getting into character – specifically how the character moves and interacts, and also nailing the vocal performance of the character.

You can prepare yourself for a motion capture role much like other voice over gigs – knowing the character’s motivation and really understanding how your character thinks and operates is crucial in giving your best performance.

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