It can be easy to forget the star of the motion capture process.
Perhaps it is because of the anonymity a mo-cap suit engenders, or maybe it’s that the performer’s face rarely makes the final game. Whatever the reason, the acting talent that is reskinned and retargeted as animators apply their craft sometimes struggles for recognition.
Things are changing of course, as those that make games better understand the art of performance, while their contemporaries in realms such as film, theatre and TV grow increasingly familiar with the games medium and development process.
One actor with a wealth of experience in performing for games is hoping that this new understanding is just the start. In his 12 years performing covered in mo-cap hardware, Oliver Hollis-Leick has filled the shoes of characters like Master Chief and the video game incarnation of James Bond, and now he wants to help acting professionals, developers and ultimately players to get the most from performance in video games.
Foremost, Hollis-Leick believes there remains an opportunity for yet more actors to embrace games, and he is certain their skillset is applicable, even if the medium does demand a different type of performance.
“Motion capture performing is no different from other forms of acting, really,” offers Hollis-Leick. “You still have to communicate the truth of a character. But you have to do it in a slightly different way, to get that truth across.”
The differences are many. There’s the typical lack of costumes and sets – presenting an opportunity for, says Hollis-Leick, some of the purest forms of acting. Then there’s the fact the performer’s form and appearance often matter not, as animators tweak a person’s movements after the shoot. And that significant factor of all; capture nuance.
The game's a stage
“Despite all the advances in motion capture, it’s not 100 per cent accurate,” says Hollis-Leick. “That means as an actor you’re still having to modify your performance to accommodate for that. But within maybe ten years, that will change.”
There is a lot for even experienced actors to learn, then, if they want to be involved with games. But, insists Hollis-Leick, the opportunity is vast.
There is so much room for improvement in the way that developers and publishers work with creatives like actors and directors.
Oliver Hollis-Leick, Actor
“There’s so much to learn there, new actors have a real challenge,” he says. “It’s so unbelievably complicated. That’s why I believe in training up new actors, the standard of both motion capture and games will increase.”
Hollis-Leick’s belief led him to establish The Mocap Vaults, a learning resource and training and service provider conceived especially to better the quality of modern motion capture.
“There is so much room for improvement in the way that developers and publishers work with creatives like actors and directors, but it’s going to require a real shift away from some ingrained habits,” he says. “Video games also have obstacles that are unique to their industry, like production cycles that last up to five or six years.”
The code's a stage
Another problem is broader misunderstanding about the mo-cap process.
“You see people walk into the studio and treat it like an extension of keyframing, posing the actors one limb at a time,” states Hollis-Leick. “You see film directors walk in and work all day trying to get a naturalistic, deeply subtle performance which is inevitably lost on the mere 56 markers attached to the actor’s body. Motion capture is its own thing, unlike film or theatre, and requires a unique approach.”
It’s the reason Hollis-Leick and director John Dower established The Mocap Vaults. But what do they see as the ideal way that devs and performers should work together?
“In my ideal scenario, the developers would bring in actors to do a reading of the early script, workshop the characters and lines and collaborate on the story,” states Hollis-Leick. “When it comes to casting, we currently see actors cast on their voice alone, maybe their likeness, but rarely their ability to physicalise the character. This absolutely has to change.”