As actors, we learn that we must overcome any uncomfortable situations. As a matter of fact, sometimes feeling uncomfortable makes us do our job better. So what’s it like being a Motion Capture actor and putting on a skin tight bodysuit and having markers placed all over your body?
Motion capture (aka MoCap) records the motion of the actor and translates the movements into a digital character. This is very popular in video games and films such as Avatar, Tron: Legacy and The Hobbit.
We talked to Joseph Gatt (Star Trek Into Darkness, God of War games), Lawrence Kern (Comanche, Mortal Kombat games), Elaine Hendrix (The Parent Trap, Two and a Half Men), Sorin Brouwers (Frames, Injustice: Gods Among Us game) and Brenda Barrie (Freudian Slip and Injustice: Gods Among Us game).
Let’s see what these talented actors, who also do MoCap, have to say!
Joseph Gatt is most recently recognized from Star Trek Into Darkness which was just released on DVD. However, he’s no stranger to acting OR motion capture. Joseph has 13+ video games under his belt! Photo by Diana Ragland.
What’s it like to be added into J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness” after the fact?
It’s always a little strange when you enter a project as the “new kid. But J.J. and the established cast made us all feel very welcome right away. The first day on set was a kind of “getting to know you” situation. In addition to Chris, John, Zoe, Anton, Zach, Karl, & Simon, etc., there were only two new principals including myself, but a large number of background extras completing the Enterprise bridge ensemble. We all got into wardrobe and took our places on the bridge, and J.J. asked everyone including the main crew to stand up, one at a time, and to introduce themselves to the rest of the cast and crew. It was a little nerve-wracking, but a lovely way of saying “you are all part of this process and are all responsible for making this movie fly. J.J. also made a huge effort to speak to everyone and treat all with equal important and respect. My most important memory though was the feeling of butterflies I got when I first walked onto the bridge. This wasn’t my first rodeo, but a little voice inside my head was saying, “Dude, you are on the bridge of the USS fracking Enterprise!”
What was your audition like for “Star Trek Into Darkness?”
So, this is how this story goes… I get called in by Webster/Weisberg casting. Everything is very secretive and lots of NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) are signed. I arrive at the casting office at Bad Robot and while waiting, April Webster comes out & we start talking. She tells me that she was at a pre-production meeting and mentioned me to the team saying that she knew the perfect actor for this movie and started describing me to everyone. At the same meeting was Neville Page, Creature designer extraordinaire, who jumped in and started saying that he knew this actor who’d also be perfect. I had modeled for him for a character design class at a school he taught at, and he proceeded to describe me to casting and the producers. April asked him what my name was. He couldn’t remember my name but had a scan of me from a drawing he’d done. He showed it to April and she responded, “That’s Joe Gatt! That’s who I was talking about!” LOL! So I ended up reading about three times I think, with different sides (or audition materials) each time. After about two months of back and forth they made an offer to my manager, and I was in.
I guess my favorite audition story was for the TV show “Banshee. I live in L.A., and the casting directors were based on the east coast in NY. I was asked to put a role down on tape. It was the MMA fighter role from a different episode. I put together a great tape, even cut in bits of me working out with a bag in the gym. They loved it but said that they were going in a different direction with that particular role and they ended up casting an African-American actor. But the producers and casting director wanted to have me put “The Albino” on tape, which was a bigger recurring guest star role, which was great! So my girlfriend Mercy Malick and I set up the camera, and we started working on the audition. I was having a lot of trouble with the copy, as it was very disturbing and edgy stuff! We were going around in circles, and I just couldn’t get my head into it. Finally, Mercy grabbed hold of me and said, “Right now you get to make a decision as to what kind of actor you’re going to be. Are you going to be the kind who always plays the same kind of characters, guys who are just like you, so it’s easy? Or are you going to be the kind who challenges himself and delves into difficult material that’s uncomfortable and requires a lot of thought and work? Either one is okay, but you have to choose right now.” So I did… and ended up booking the most rewarding role (so far) of my career! I still get fans tweeting and Facebooking me telling me that I was the best bad guy of the season and that they wish that I’d come back for Season 2! It’s been incredibly rewarding. Thank you Mercy and thank you Banshee!
Why did you decide to move to Los Angeles from London?
I moved to L.A. about eight years ago. I always knew, as an actor with my very particular “look, that I was never going to have a career in London, and that the kind of roles I was an appropriate casting for were being cast in American TV and movies. When was the last time you turned on British television or watched a British movie and saw someone with a physique like mine or someone who has alopecia? It just doesn’t happen. Although, saying that, now a huge amount of American productions are being shot in Britain and Europe and cast locally. To get back to the question, one day an opportunity for me to get a work VISA in the U.S. became available, and I grabbed the chance. I worked my last show in the U.K., packed essentials into two large suitcases, put important possessions (like my huge Star Wars toy collection) into storage, and sold everything else. I was not intending on coming back. This was it, and I’ve never looked back! There are a lot of things I miss about London, but the grey isn’t one of them, although, on a beautiful, sunny, spring day, London is still one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The problem is that those days are so damned rare! Without a doubt, the weather in L.A. is a huge bonus.
You’re also known as a motion capture performer, especially as ‘Kratos’ in the video game “God of War.” Have you done any mocap since you moved to the USA?
I have been doing motion capture for many years, but all of the GOW stuff has been since moving to the States. I started many years ago in England, working on a game called “Driver 2,” playing “Tanner,” the lead character. I then continued to work on many other games over the next few years. I also worked as one of the lead mocap actors for the animated “Captain Scarlet” TV show. That was a huge amount of fun with tons of stunts and action as well as regular acting scenes. After moving to L.A. one of my first auditions was for SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment America) for GOW. At the time I felt pretty confident because I fit the character description and had years of mocap experience, and I ended up booking it. I spent two weeks in San Diego at SCEA’s mocap facility down there in Miramar and shared the Kratos role with another actor. Then Sony just kept calling me back to specifically just play “Kratos” for all the subsequent games. It’s been an amazing ride! Mocap has changed so much since I first did it. When I started there were a handful of Mocap actors who’d be booking all the work, because it was a very technical job to do, and things moved much faster and were less costly with actors who had lots of specific mocap experience. Then voice actors would do the voices, and separate body models would be photographed for the artwork and the look of the character. Now, because the technology has moved forward so fast, mocap gigs are auditioned and booked just like regular acting jobs, where the actors will do full performance capture, performing the mocap for body & face, and doing the voice. So most mocap now is done by the “name actors or stunt people. It generally takes two people and about 20 minutes to put on the mocap suit and attach the 47 markers. There are no specific wardrobe people as such. The super talented tech / computer people do it all.
Would you recommend actors to pursue a career in motion capture?
No. There isn’t a career, as such, anymore to pursue. I used to know actors back in the day who made a living from just doing mocap. Hell, I made a pretty good living at it for a while back in the U.K. But now it doesn’t exist. It’s just another branch off of the acting career line, just like doing voice over work, but unlike V.O. work, you can’t sustain a living from just doing motion capture.
You have quite a look. What is your workout routine and food intake?
Thanks. I don’t really have a specific diet or training regime as such. I have more of a lifestyle. Working out to me is like eating and breathing. It’s something I do as part of my life, not as something I feel the need to do to get work or look good in front of the mirror. Saying that, because it’s more of a lifestyle thing, both my diet and workouts change regularly to accommodate my life, and sometimes visa versa. I generally do resistance (weights) about six times a week, and each workout is between one and two hours long. I favor always working super heavy, but using very strict, safe form. I believe in always going to 11 or staying at home. And this doesn’t mean always lifting more and more weight. It means lifting your “11” for that workout. I used to keep a workout diary, but that drove me insane, so now I just make sure I’m pushing 110% of what I’m capable of at that time. I hope that makes sense. I then mix in to all of that stretching, a little cardio, hiking and martial arts from time to time. If I’m working on a show that’s more action-heavy, I’ll add fight training into the mix. As I said, it’s all pretty organic and fluid. My diet is a similar deal. I try to eat generally in a very healthy way by avoiding fat, dairy and wheat as much as possible. I’ll have a protein shake about every two or three hours and have at least one real food meal a day. I do cheat. Mercy and I love to relax to “Grimm” and Organic Ice Cream, or “Elementary” and a donut or two. Life’s too short not to eat the foods you love. It’s just all about moderation and body awareness. Don’t get caught up in workout and diet trends, simply because most of them don’t work and / or could actually be dangerous. Do it right and do it healthy, and you’ll stay that way.
Do little kids stare or start to cry when they see you walking down the street?
It has happened, but I always win them over in the end =) No, seriously, I kind of get that anyway. Women cross the street to stay away from me. A big, muscular, white dude is scary by anyone’s perspective, unless you’re an even bigger white dude! It’s a judgment people have of someone with my look. It’s a human thing. But I’m used to it. Sometimes the reactions are so exaggerated I even find myself laughing out loud. Mercy tells me I don’t smile enough and that the bigger you are, the more you need to smile to compensate so you don’t scare people. So I’m becoming a good smiler, even when I’m not happy, or she smiles for me! I remember this one time when I was signing at a convention in Houston last year. A couple came to my table with their kids. I think they had five kids, each of them dressed as a different Avenger. Ironically, the eldest, a girl, about 10 years old, who was dressed as Thor, was visibly scared of me and wouldn’t say hello. So I was playing tag with the younger kids and talking to the parents for a while, they were such a cute family, and eventually she joined in the fun and started having a good time. In fact, she made them come back and say hi the next day! I love winning people over like that and surprising them. My favorite fan comment is, “You played such a mean, nasty character, but you’re such a nice guy!
How long were you in the British Royal Marines and why did you leave?
I was a British Royal Marine reserve for four years and left to go to drama school. My passion for acting was more powerful than my pull to join the Marines full time. My experience with the BRM has been invaluable in my career. In a practical way, having the firearms and soldiering skills has helped me with many roles. It never ceases to amaze me how few actors know how to hold a firearm properly. But also, in an emotional and spiritual way, it’s really helped me in life in general. It really developed my patience, determination, tolerance and organizational skills, which really prepared me well for my acting career.
You’re in a recurring arc on Cinemax’s “Banshee.” Tell us about that.
I had three episodes on Banshee. It was always written that way. The problem arose after my arc aired. There was a bit of a fan outcry asking for my character to return, which, if you know the show, would be a little complicated! I was very touched and surprised with the reactions to “The Albino. He isn’t a very nice person and behaves in a pretty reprehensible way, well, actually quite disgusting! But I’ve been getting fan messages and tweets saying really kind things like, “You’re the best guest star / bad guy from Season One,” “You scared the hell out of me, but you’re so hot, etc. My favorites are comments from people who know me and are totally surprised at how such a big teddy bear can play such an evil person. I really miss the Banshee team! It was an amazing experience.
What’s the difference between filming a TV show and a film?
There can be a huge difference between shooting TV and film. The general difference is that film moves way slower. Principal photography on a two hour feature can be anywhere from six weeks to six months. This is just the time it takes to actually “photograph” the movie. It doesn’t include pre and post production, which can double or triple that time span. Most hour-long TV shows or episodics will shoot a whole episode from start to finish in a week to 10 days, or two weeks at most. So, as you might think, this really changes the way we work on set. A lot of TV shows don’t even have time for real rehearsals before running the camera, and then you get one or two takes. Some of the more expensive shows move a little slower and do allow time for the actors to work the lines and run the scenes through a few times for blocking and feel while the DP (director of photography / cameraman) sees what he’s going to be shooting. Setups between scenes are much faster, as a lot of the camera work is handheld and much of the lighting on sets is fixed and pre-set, while on a movie, scene changes can sometimes take a whole day. A simple camera turnaround can have you sitting in your trailer for hours. On Thor, there were days when we’d spend six hours getting into make-up and costume, sit around for the day and then be wrapped without even getting onto the set. It’s crazy. Or we’ll spend hours doing 35 takes of an actor turning to camera and saying one line. Some actors have their preferences, but I find happiness in both equally!
Whenever you’re shooting away from the studio or on location, you always have trailers for the artists. Sometimes you get a trailer on big studio lots, because it takes so long to get actors all the way back to the dressing rooms, which may be miles away as some lots are so huge!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ll be appearing at various comic cons and conventions across the country throughout the year. If you go to my Facebook page you’ll find all my schedule details there: www.facebook.com/actorjosephgatt
The best advice I can give to actors just starting out is be honest with yourself, work very hard, do your research and enjoy the adventure. If you’re in this for a quick road to fame and fortune, get out. If you’re prepared to weather the tough times and celebrate the successes, and you’re in it for the passion and love of the art… make it so!
Lawrence Kern is currently working on F-Men (https://www.facebook.com/FMenSeries) which is an action comedy about superheroes. You know him from the video games Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Us! This is a pic of Lawrence goofing around in the weapons closet during some downtime at the Injustice shoot.
How did you become involved as a motion capture performer in video games?
I found a Craigslist ad from Midway Games looking for actors to do motion capture for their games. I was fresh out of grad school and I thought it sounded like a cool opportunity. Lord of the Rings had put motion capture acting on the map, and no one else I knew was doing this kind of work yet, so I hoped if I got my foot in the door early I could build a decent career. When they hired me, Midway was just starting to include movie-length story content in their games, and I think they wanted people who could bring the most out of the characters they were writing. Before this time, they would just have the video programmers and whomever they could grab put on the suits and act out the scenes. If I remember correctly the first games they wanted me for were This is Vegas and Vin Diesel’s Wheel Man. I’ve worked with Midway, which has become NetherRealm Studios, for every game they’ve done since, and have also worked for a few smaller companies as well.
Has stage combat helped you in your motion capture video games?
Stage combat has definitely helped. I’ve had training in different forms of combat and stage combat since middle school. When I was in 7th grade, I started taking classes in fencing and rapier at Austin Community College in Texas. I wasn’t technically old enough to register, but my sister was enrolled there and she was taking fencing, so she put in a good word for me. The teacher was a great guy and let me sign up under my dad’s name. I pursued that off and on throughout my high school career.
As an undergrad at Southwestern University, I trained in armed (mostly broadsword and rapier) and unarmed stage combat. And then I enrolled in the Master’s program at Roosevelt University/CCPA where I studied under Chuck Coyl, who was president of the Society of American Fight Directors. Someone else I worked with at Roosevelt who was a huge help in my motion capture work is Adrian Danzig, the Artistic Producing Director for 500 Clown. He taught me a lot about clowning, mask work and physical comedy which is all extremely helpful in being a motion capture performer. With motion capture the audience is never going to see your face so your movement and body is all you have to create a recognizable character.
I always loved the idea of stage combat. It appeals to that little kid side that likes to play pretend and get stabbed and die in the coolest way possible. I have no qualms with being the guy in the fight who loses. That’s the best part. I also have a sick love of being thrown around. Once they got the crash pads out at Midway and had me jump off a pillar into one I was pretty much hooked.
For your motion capture jobs, did you wear a suit with the markers or were the markers placed directly on your skin?
We wear very comfortable, skin-tight suits with the markers placed directly on them. The first time in the suits, there’s no way to not be self-conscious; when you wear something that tight, you worry everyone can see every line and every detail of your ENTIRE body. After a while, however, you really forget you are wearing the outfits until you walk down the hall for coffee and someone does a double take.
The markers are drawn to the material of the suits so them falling off isn’t the problem. The problem is when you are in physical contact with another actor, even something as simple as brushing past them when you walk, the markers sometimes jump from you to them. Your entire body is Velcro for these markers and they go wherever they want. Sometimes you don’t notice that you are missing one until the artists behind the computers ask, Why is your arm broken? or Why don’t you have a pelvis? If the markers aren’t where they are supposed to be, the computer fills in the gaps, which can make for a weird looking body. Everybody then has to do a marker check and make sure they aren’t stuck with an extra marker.
How does it feel to have reached your goal on Indiegogo for your project called “The F-Men?”
It feels exhilarating but also very humbling to not only have reached, but also exceeded our fundraising goal for F-Men’s Indiegogo Campaign. It’s a weird thing, asking people to fund an idea that has no guarantee of going anywhere. Most of my friends are artists, so it’s not like we have tons of money to throw around. If people couldn’t donate, all we asked was they spread the word. And they did! I got so many emails from people telling me how cool the idea was and how excited they were to see the finished project. Our fanpage has been steadily growing as well and word of mouth has really been helping it along. It’s wonderful knowing other people believe in us enough to support and encourage this story, but I also feel a huge responsibility to make this as good as I possibly can and not to screw up with other people’s cash!
My partners on F-Men are Sean Okerberg and Chris Bashen. Sean is one of my best friends from grad school. When I started doing motion capture he loved the idea, so I passed his resume on to the studio. We met Chris while shooting Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe. During MK-9, we decided to start working on other projects together and have filmed a few sketches and pod-casts, and now F-Men.
I came up with the initial idea of F-Men, but we all had a hand in writing. F-Men takes place in a future world where mutant powers are starting to develop, but there was no giant leap forward in evolution like in The X-Men, so these mutants have less-than-impressive powers. For instance, my character is named 64 and he can lift, with his mind, anything up to, but not exceeding 64 ounces. Sean plays Mensa, the smartest man in the world but he has crippling test anxiety, and Chris is Synesthesia whose psychic powers only work if he licks the person or thing he wants to read. These hapless guys are thrown together to be the world’s first superhero team, and they have to deal with their insecurities in a world that expects them to be amazing.
We’ll start shooting at the end of this month (September). We have a lot of stunts to work out and some special effects we want to pull off within the budget we have from our Indiegogo success. Luckily we’re working with some really talented and generous friends. We are filming it as a short film, so we can enter the finished product into festivals and shop it around. If all goes well, we have enough material to flesh it out into a full series.
In your mocap videos, are you filmed by yourself or do you interact with other actors at the same time?
Most of the time, we act across from another actor. However, we usually all play multiple characters in one game, so there are times where you are acting in a scene with yourself. For instance, in Injustice I played Green Lantern, Yellow Lantern, Lex Luthor and Nightwing. There were a few scenes that included both Green Lantern and Yellow Lantern. If one of those characters had a small part, I’d play the bigger role and one of the other actors would stand in for the other character. However, if it was a big scene for both characters, we’d film the scene multiple times with me playing Green Lantern, and then again with me playing Yellow Lantern. The graphic artists take the best take of each character and overlay the two scenes so I’m acting with myself.
The most extreme example of this was in Vin Diesel’s Wheel Man. In one scene I played a character named Paulo Lial, who had to torture a guy for information. It was a big scene with about six characters and not enough actors. So I not only played Paulo, but I also played the man being tortured, and one of the thugs holding that man down. So in the finished video game there’s a scene where I torture myself while another me is holding one of my arms down. It can get pretty confusing.
In regards to fight scenes, when it comes to the cinematic fight scenes all of the actors have a broad enough knowledge of stage combat and our director knows us well enough, that he lets us choreograph our own fights. There are some fights that are blocked ahead of time and we’ll get to watch those fights and step in for the actual recording. Some of the more technically martial arts work is done by some truly gifted fighters that step in when the fights are above our abilities or too dangerous.
What does your girlfriend think about your job?
My girlfriend, Kathryn (Katie) Yohe, has a BFA in Drama and pursued an acting career for a while, so she knows all the crazy stuff that goes with it and is very supportive.
Katie is a certified Pilates and Gyrotonic Instructor, which is lucky for me. When our schedules match up, she’ll work out with me, and give me advice about cross training and stretches to keep my body safe and in shape. During Injustice, she taught a Pilates workshop for myself and a few of the other mo-cap actors, to help us develop a good warm up routine and some exercises we could do between takes to keep our bodies warm and make sure we didn’t hurt ourselves.
She also founded and directs the Teen Drama Program for GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago, for individuals with Down Syndrome. While they were rehearsing their first show Romeo & Juliet in early 2011, she asked me to come to class to teach the kids some basic sword-fighting skills. It was supposed to be just one class, but I couldn’t leave, and have been volunteering with them ever since. We get to work together with that group, and I’m grateful for that time with her doing something we both love.
There’s only one time she’s ever told me Your job is ridiculous. One of Katie’s college friends recently married a Marine. At the rehearsal dinner, we got into the usual what do you do? small talk around the table, and it came up that I worked on Mortal Kombat. Grown men tend to turn into little boys when they hear I work on video games; they get really excited and have a ton of questions. Katie’s heard my spiel a hundred times â€“ this happens a lot when we go to social events. But these guys were extra excited. Most of the wedding guests were staying in the same hotel. People I didn’t know were calling me Liu Kang all weekend. By the time we got to the wedding, I had a group of Marines, wearing full formal dress uniforms with swords, coming up to me. It was so bizarre, these are brave men who’d been Afghanistan and Iraq telling me I’m cool because I hit people with nerf swords. Katie just shook her head.
I can’t speak for her but I like to think she enjoys when I’m working in motion capture or any other acting gig because that means a steady paycheck and time off from my day job, so I’m a lot happier and easier to be around. Like any actor I’ll stress out about getting work. Although, when I’m not involved in a project, I do a lot of cooking and cleaning to offset the stress, so she likes that too.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I just recently filmed an episode of the new ABC show Betrayal that will air October 13. I can’t reveal too much because of plot points but I am excited to actually see my real face on TV.
I’d like to bring up GiGi’s Teen Drama Troupe again. GiGi’s Playhouse is a nonprofit organization with locations around the country all aimed to raise positive awareness for individuals with Down Syndrome. Katie started the Drama program with another theatre friend three years ago. They offer weekly classes and put on two public performances a year with this team of teens with Down Syndrome. For all the things I’m proud of, volunteering with them is at the top of the list. In this industry, it’s easy to get caught up in yourself, but working with this group has given me a chance to use what I know for something bigger than myself. Encouraging these individuals, forming friendships with them, and helping bring to life their amazing performances, keeps me grounded and grateful. I’m also so proud of Katie for all the work she has put in to develop and grow this program. She works her butt off because she loves those kids so much and it shows in the final performances and in the kids themselves. You can see some clips and pictures of past performances by joining our group at www.facebook.com/groups/gigisdrama. Our next show will be December 21 at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater.
For those who might be interested in pursuing a motion capture career, the best advice I can give is to focus on movement work. Any and all different kinds you can – stage combat, dance, gymnastics, clowning, pantomime, mask – you name it. You have to bring to life monsters and animals as well as regular people and motion capture is all about the way you move. The better you are at moving and knowing where your body is in space and how to make different shapes, the better you will be.
Elaine Hendrix. Animal lover, actor and now a motion capture participant! Elaine recently starred in the Off-Broadway NYC Stage production of It’s Just Sex. You’ll recognize her from Disney’s The Parent Trap and the cult classic Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion!
You’re working on a video game due out November 2014. How did you become involved?
I got this gig through my agent, and I am thrilled about it. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do. Of course, it’s one of those top-secret, hush-hush type projects, so I can’t wait to talk about it…to see it…for it to come out! The creators are in Japan and there’s a good deal of back and forth via video, computers and such. Obviously, I’m only involved in one portion of its full creation.
When you first heard about the project, what excited you the most?
This is my first time doing motion capture and I’m amazed at how much detail goes into it. The company creating it is out of Japan and their whole team flew over just for the costume fittings (it shoots in Los Angeles.) They examined me closer than just about any of my doctors ever have. They are so sweet and a lot of fun though – GREAT senses of humor! But they take their videos games seriously.
I think what excites me the most about doing a motion capture video game is that the entire character is me – it’s not simply my voice. I had no expectations about it and still don’t have many. I can’t believe that I’ve never done motion capture before, and I also can’t believe that despite being in the business as extensively as I have been, I had no idea how involved the process is. I am constantly astounded. In a good way, of course.
Are you involved as an actor or taking on other roles?
This is a project I’m only involved in as an actor. And that’s enough. This thing is so detailed – I’m not sure I’d want that kind of pressure on me. For example, I spent an eleven hour day of scanning – with only one stop for lunch. Still photos, computer imaging and then the motion capture itself. The markers are a trip – hundreds of them all over my whole body and face. The face is the creepiest part because they’re going directly on me. The rest is like stepping into a Christmas Tree suit. I’m having a blast.
Why is this video game project so secretive?
I have no idea why this game is so secretive?! Doesn’t it seem like they are all these days?! My guess would be because probably like movies, companies are trying to protect their product branding as much as possible, leaving SOME element of surprise to the audience. Competition with other games may factor in, I’m not really sure. I actually like that it’s so secretive though. It’s fun…sexy…I feel like a spy. =^.^=
Did you do any research when you decided to take on the motion capture job?
There was no research called for with this project and I didn’t feel the need to do any on my own. I want to learn as I go. The opportunity came up and I jumped on it. The only thing that I did confirm was that there would be no harming of animals in the game (and I think that’s safe enough for me to say.) As an ardent animal advocate there’s no way I could get onboard with a game that had any violence towards animals.
When you first became an actor, did you ever think that you’d be doing video games / motion capture?
Doing videos games didn’t come into my orbit until recently. I’ve done A LOT of special effects in films and TV, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of numerous pop culture projects as an actor. Doing videos games as a viable avenue for actors is relatively new. I definitely want to do more of them. I’m also looking forward to attending events like Comic Con. I’ve been at a few of those types of conventions and I LOVE meeting the fans. They’re off the hook!
Anything else you’d like to add!
At the end of the day, it all boils down to a few things – being happy, enjoying what I do and saving animals. For me ALL my screen work – whether it’s big, small, silver or touch – points back to my work with animals. I love acting, and I’m beyond grateful for the resources and exposure it gives me for my philanthropic passions like The Pet Matchmaker (www.ThePetMatchmaker.com) If people knew helping animals was as easy as turning on their X-Box, this world would be a better place. Hopefully, they’re just waiting for me to show them.
Sorin Brouwers is currently working on a short film called Frames. Check out his website at http://sorinbrouwers.com. You know him from the hot video games Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Us!
You’ve acted in both motion capture projects and non-motion capture screen projects. Which excites you more and why?
They both excite me for similar and different reasons. Getting the chance to act is always exciting, but MoCap and on camera are two different animals that tend to borrow heavily from one another. The real excitement is being a part of a story and getting to work your craft. Movement and blocking skills developed through theater and on camera studies are critical to a successful motion capture performance, while the specificity of motion capture lends itself to on camera work. In an on camera role, you’ve got some kind of a costume while motion capture has you outfitted in a spandex suit with little reflective balls – clothes and the character’s body are keyed in later. Often in MoCap we create entire universes in our heads, play to animation or dialogue sequences or carry out specific isolated movement beats. Film work can have similar demands, but often less extreme – and you’ve got wardrobe and dialogue. On camera work can be more about you as a character, while in motion capture, imagination may be the only limitation to creating a character. Overall though, I love being a part of a great story, MoCap suit or not, and the real excitement lies in getting the chance to bring a great story to life.
How did you become involved as a motion capture performer in video games?
Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe was my first MoCap job and I’m indebted to Dominic Cianciolo for that first opportunity and most after it. The audition was initially like any other – I was given sides (part of a script) and an audition time. The motion capture category for actors wasn’t fully established at that time, so I’m not sure if we even knew the job was motion capture or even for a video game. I do know the sides were a bit â€˜out there’ (references of other worlds, universes in peril) and we were told to dress for movement. I didn’t really know what to expect so I prepared as I would have for an on camera audition. For the first call, we went through the sides as if I were a few different characters, or character types. Movement was emphasized and the director asked for some adjustments. I might have improvised a bit for the callback. There was a fair amount of play, movement and conversation. The auditions were really fun, actually.
In the video games, you play more than one character. Did you move differently for each character?
For any of the main characters, it’s important to try to physically set them apart. For example, a thuggish character will inherently move differently than, say, a super hero. And we’re fortunate that, in video games, we can exploit certain physical traits. Some characters may require a good bit of homework as I might be working with a codified character with an established attitude and specific set of skills. For one character in particular, I worked pretty hard to become comfortable with his weapon of choice, so when it came time to shoot, the weapon was a natural appendage and we could spend time really honing the stunts. Also, attitude is key. A character’s attitude will manifest in his movements.
Sorin’s Twitter: @SorinBro. Sorin’s done commercials, voice overs, film/TV and theater and is an adept musician.
You also have an interest in making furniture. Tell us a bit about that.
I do a number of things apart from acting, though they all seem related to me. I spent many years touring and recording with bands and now I score films and theater. And I do also make furniture. I got involved with that a couple of years ago as a sort of meditation. I love the process and I think I’m getter better. Like writing music, it can be a cerebral departure from the more athletic, or visceral, aspects of acting. Also, there’s something about working with your hands that helps to put things into perspective. It’s in the creative process – it’s all a type of story telling.
What’s the difference between the stage work and video work?
They do complement one another. The skills come from the same well, but they’re honed and appropriated. Stage training helps you define your character in a three dimensional space, which is very helpful for MoCap. Understanding blocking and ensemble work helps too. And MoCap can tend to be a bit â€˜larger’ overall. But the specificity, or smallness, of screen work informs MoCap in its efficiency or economy of movement. Like on camera, you’ll definitely have to â€˜hit your mark’ in MoCap. Both mediums have the same overall goal, but it helps to know when to employ tricks from either discipline.
For your different motion capture jobs, have you noticed any differences in technology as the years went on?
We’ve all seen the quality of animation and graphics improve greatly over the years. The realism and depth of character achieved now is staggering, allowing for more complex and detailed story-telling. I feel like the evolution has been quick. The quality of the studios themselves has also improved, with the capacity to offer facial capture and great three dimensional detail. We’ve upgraded studios over the years, mainly allowing us to capture more action at once with a larger playing space. Most of the advancement, though, seems to come from the programmers and animators.
Anything else you’d like to add!
Not many people knew what MoCap was when I started. I was fortunate to have landed a MoCap job when I least expected it and it’s a testament to the fact that you should always keep your options open as a performer. You never know what amazing gig awaits.
Brenda Barrie is currently working on a show and started a new film. She’s known in the gaming world as Wonder Woman/Cat Woman in Injustice: Gods Among Us and Kitana in Mortal Kombat.
You’ve done a ton of stage. Has theater helped you with any techniques that you used in your motion capture video games?
My first introduction to the world of acting was on the stage. Whether in a large venue or small intimate space, your body is your instrument and your vehicle for communicating what you are fighting for. How you move through space says a lot about your character, and as an actor I really love to explore the physical side of my character while I’m also digging through the emotional side of things. So when it comes to motion capture and I’m given a black suit head to toe with a bunch of reflective balls all over, and red light is shining on me for the camera to pick up the dot coordinates, my work is still the same.
How did you get the parts in the video games?
The first time I saw our motion capture studio I nearly lost my cool. Picture a large dark room with cameras attached to the wall all around you at different heights and angles, each with soft red lights focusing in on you. I am honored to say that I performed the motion capture in the video games Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe and Injustice: Gods Among Us.
My first game was MK vs DC Universe and you can only imagine how over the moon
I was to play Wonder Woman and Cat Woman. Beyond what we know about these iconic characters, these women are confident, graceful, powerful and very focused on the matter at hand. When you start to think about their agenda and how they get what they need or who they trust or mistrust, movement starts to become clear. How fun to express all that with my body! Yes, I understood that Cat Woman is typically sexy. But you can’t just play that, because that’s not really an action. She toys with people, pretends to be coy while lining them up right where she wants them before she pounces.
Are you still married?
My husband is a social worker and works with people with severe mental illness. We love sharing our day to day stories with one another because at the core, we are both interested in understanding people and adding a touch of humanity in this sometimes crazy, busy world. He loves learning of my new projects and often is pulled along for the ride. For instance, research for my current role included sailing on one of the Tall Ships at Navy Pier â€“ my husband had no complaints being my date. And I’m training to ride my bike 247 miles through Africa, so we had to ride our bikes to Navy Pier. He was game for it all.
Did you have any training to do motion capture?
If you’re performing more than the story mode of motion capture, a slew of training will help and make you a better candidate for the job â€“ stage combat, stunt work, martial arts, archery, sword combat, the more skills the better.
In the video games you played great, strong characters such as Wonder Woman and Cat Woman. In real life, are you just like them or totally different?
Oh goodness, maybe in some of my better moments or for Cat Woman my more sassy moments. But truth be told, I’m a dork. I play, goof and tell jokes that crack myself up most. We have a lot of fun between takes; high energy and good morale on set enhances everyone’s performance (at least that’s my justification).
Find out more about Brenda on her website at http://www.brendabarrie.net
Anything else you’d like to say!
I recently became a Company Member with The House Theatre of Chicago where
I am currently performing in The Crownless King and soon The Nutcracker. I also have a piece called Veterans’ Voices that I helped devise with Erasing the Distance being performed in November on and around Veteran’s Day. I’m also grateful to say I dedicated time to train and fundraise for my upcoming challenge “Cycle Kenya to Tanzania 2013″ on behalf of the International Childcare Trust in October.
I’ve been performing since I was 16. I saw a production of Our Town by Thorton Wilder in my hometown community theatre and though I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding that I do now, I knew in that moment that I was witnessing magic and I wanted to be a part of it. Chicago has been a wonderful place to grow as an artist. Before moving to Chicago, I only understood my options to be theatre or film (and even then, I thought I had to choose one over the other). I’ve been in the city nine years and in the time my career has taken me to all sorts of interesting places and what I’ve learned is that no two careers are alike. For instance, I’ve opened alongside some eclectic theatre artists for Paul Simon at private party, performed stage readings overlooking the Magnificent Mile, shot a commercial in front of the weather forecast green screen at CBS studios, shot print ads looking sleek on office furniture or looking droopy without breakfast from Jimmy Deans, performed voice over for radio, served as a Fly Jack at Blue Man Group, interviewed people whose lives have been affected by mental illness and transcribed their story into a performance piece, performed the motion capture for my childhood heroes and how remarkable that I can keep going with random opportunities that will multiply if you put yourself out there, make friends, say yes, uphold your integrity and work ethic and be willing to learn!
I love being a part of projects outside of performing as well. An abundant life allows you to more richly give in your work. I’m currently training to cycle 247 miles from Kenya to Tanzania in October on behalf of the International Childcare Trust. With the help of somany incredible people, I’ve worked to raised over $5500. I’m looking forward to all thatI will learn and do.
As an actor, we are asked to dream, step outside our comfort zone, find love and forgiveness and essentially understand the human condition. The more we can do that in our day to day, the more successful we will be in our work.