How did you get in to this performance capture thing?

Once upon a time in a casting office far, far, away…let’s face it, with LA traffic they’re all far away…an eager, young actor (we’ll call him Woody) arrived for what he thought would be an ordinary audition. Granted, it was for a film to be directed by one of his favorites, Robert Zemeckis, but the audition itself was pretty straight forward. Except it wasn’t.

First, there was quite a bit of secrecy surrounding this project. No advance sides, no script, and the character info was sketchy at best. Something about acting like a little kid, the wonder of Christmas, etc. No problem. I knew the casting director, Victoria Burrows, and had auditioned for her a few times before. Plus, she had cast several Zemeckis films so I had full faith in her decision to bring me in. When I got there I grabbed the sides and immediately had a question. According to the sides, I wasn’t acting like a kid, I was to be a kid. A 9 year old to be exact. I knew this wasn’t a voice over job and at 6’2” and 195 lbs. I don’t exactly scream 9 yr. old. I’m good, but I’m not that good. Nevertheless, I buckled down and did the work.

When she called me in, Victoria asked if I had any questions. Well, yeah. Two or three…hundred. It was then that she offered me my first explanation of what was then called motion capture. “I see, so Tom Hanks is also playing a little kid? And an adult? Four adults? Okay. Yeah, yeah…I get it now,” I lied. But eventually, I did get it. The part as well as the concept. And, with The Polar Express, so began my life in performance capture. A life that, thus far, has required me to spend far more hours in a skin tight, Lycra suit than anyone outside of Cirque Du Soleil. Not to mention the months on end in empty “volumes” on freezing sound stages lined with banks of computers, crazy infrared cameras, and enough cable to wrap around the Earth ten times.

But I haven’t been alone. I’ve been fortunate enough to share the those volumes with amazing, creative, talented, insane people who take as much pleasure in the unknown as I do. People like Tom Hanks, Michael Jeter, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Angelina Jolie, Sigourney Weaver, CCH Pounder, Steve Buscemi, Kathleen Turner, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, Daniel Craig, and the king (Kong) of performance capture, Andy Serkis. And we’ve been guided by such visionaries as Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Peter Jackson. Any actor would be lucky to work with just a few of these genius directors or master thespians in the course of an entire career. Thanks to crazy little world of performance capture I’ve worked with all of them and more in the span of about eight years.

Sure, there are trade-offs. It’s rare that the face of my character is ever actually my own, but their every expression, word, and emotion most certainly is. And it’s the work and the experience that counts. Thanks to this technology, I’ve been creatively, more challenged and fulfilled than I ever could have imagined. So, how exactly does it all work? How do we, as actors, create the characters who inhabit these virtual worlds? Well, I’ll tell you. But for that you have to keep reading this blog. Until next time!

~Woody Schultz

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