We learned how to act for motion capture

  • Motion capture technology creates incredible computer-generated characters for movies, TV, and video games.
  • You’ve seen the technology used in everything from “Lord of the Rings” to “Avengers: Infinity War.”
  • Richard Dorton of the Mocap Vaults taught us some of the unique skills needed to act for motion and performance capture.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories

Following is a full transcript of this video:


Don’t, don’t.

And cut.

Hi, I’m Caroline. I’m at House of Moves at Los Angeles, and today I’m gonna learn how to act for motion capture. I’m gonna get suited up. I don’t know what I’m gonna look like on-screen, but let’s find out.

Caroline: House of Moves has been the stage for many projects in TV, film, and video games that involve motion and performance capture. I’ve seen plenty of videos of actors wearing these suits covered in dots or Ping-Pong balls. Did I have what it takes to be the next Caesar or Alita?

To coach me through it, we met with one of the best in the business, Richard Dorton. He’s a professional motion-capture actor and a teacher at The Mocap Vaults. His résumé is extensive.

Richard: If you’ve played a video game, you’ve probably killed me.

Caroline: He gave me some valuable acting tips, and then I put them to the test. But first, a little background on motion and performance capture.

Richard: Motion capture came out of the medical industry. They were capturing the moves of peoples walks, their gaits, they were studying it for medical reasons. As it moved into the entertainment industry, motion capture was used for video-game characters. And performance capture, that grew out of “The Polar Express,” the movie with Tom Hanks. He coined the phrase “performance capture” because we were now capturing the body with the face and with the voice.

Caroline: Motion and performance capture are responsible for some amazing performances. Now it was my turn to get suited up.

It’s not itchy or anything, so it’s pretty comfortable. It’s kinda like your workout clothes. This is fun.

I was covered head-to-toe in these reflective markers, which are actually made from ground-up glass. They will help capture movement from all different parts of my body. Why do I feel like a mannequin?

Through some sort of miracle of technology, I was going to be transformed into one of the creatures from the 2016 online game “Paragon.” I would be a character named Grux, and this soldier. But first, I had to get a full-body scan.

Motion-capture artist: Lean forward. Lean back. Side-to-side. Twist. Twist. Reach up to the sky.

Richard: Your range of motion, we do this so that we can, when we put the animated character on top of you, we can see that it has a full range of motion. It’s just basically getting the system to recognise your skeleton. In the game industry, we have to fake everything, and motion capture’s all about pure imagination. So you have to imagine the environment. You have to create the environment with your body.

Caroline: And with that, it was time to start faking. The scene: a dark, grimy subway station. I started off as Grux. Needless to say, Grux doesn’t look anything like me.

Richard: So for Grux, we want this big, hulking character, right? But we’ve now gotta bring the weight and the heaviness to this character ’cause he’s vicious character. So it’s all about how you center yourself, how you center your weight. Walking is really important. We wanna figure out how, how he moves. How we can stay center. And you’re holding your breath.

– Yeah.

You need to breathe. Your breath should help…

– I’m nervous.

It’s gonna help create this character, you know?

Caroline: It was a little nerve-racking at first, but after a while, I started to get the hang of it.

So I should breathe heavily.

– How does he breathe?

Caroline: Dorton told me to find the animal that Grux is most similar to and try to imitate what that real-life animal is like. We landed on a rhino. Once I could walk like a mocap monster, I had to adjust to holding weapons.

– So let’s give you something to swing.

Oh. OK, wow, I’m sweating.

– And now, because these are lighter weight, lightweight, you have to bring the weight to them. You have to make them heavy. But you’re a big, you’re a big creature, so it’s gonna…

I have zero arm strength, so they’re pretty heavy.

– This is good. But let’s just take a, let’s just take a swing to the right. And to the left.

Caroline: Maybe the most important part, a trademark roar.

Oh, OK.

– You gotta have your big growl.

It’s gonna be loud.

– That’s why we’re here.

– We just have to find where, where this monster is inside of you. You’re a very happy, nice person. You’ve gotta get angry. You’ve gotta get a little tough. You gotta get a little meaner.

Caroline: Once I felt more comfortable and found a character motivation, I was ready to fight!

Richard: What the hell is that? Easy. Don’t, don’t, don’t make, please don’t.

Caroline: [Growling]

Richard: So creating that kind of monster, heavy characters, that’s one thing that we do. Now, you have to be a believable person.

Caroline: OK, well now I’m gonna be the soldier. God, I’m losing my voice already. I really got into character there.

There were some key differences to playing the soldier. This time, my breaths had to be quieter. Rather than being big and intimidating, my body movements needed to express plausible fear.

Richard: [Growling] And up, T-pose.

Caroline: The real key to giving a great mocap performance is actually pretty straightforward.

Richard: The technology has really helped performance capture. There were certain things we couldn’t do early on. We couldn’t cross our arms because the markers would get blocked. I tell my students, “Don’t let the technology interfere with your performance. That’s not your job. Your job is to perform, and the postproduction, it’s their job to fix it if they need to.”

Caroline: This was awesome. This was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. I am exhausted. I’m losing my voice from all the growling and all the movements that I was doing. But once you kinda get into the character, you feel like it’s, it comes like second nature to you. With, like, you don’t feel like you’re wearing a suit or anything, and, like, your weapons become your actual weapons. I think the most important thing Richard taught me was to really get in character and just imagine everything. Like imagine where I am, imagine where the character is, and just go for it.

This is my runway walk.

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