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Performance and Motion Capture: Lycra, Data and Movement

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

This month we were joined by Jessica Jefferies and Victoria Atkin to find out all about performance and motion capture as an actor. They talked about the difference between the two, terms you need to know and the joy of acting in this medium. Victoria describes it as 'The best of both worlds of film and theatre” as it allows an actor to fully embody and delve into a character.

Here’s what we discovered -

What is Performance and Motion Capture?

Performance and motion capture are a way of capturing and digitising live performance, enabled by infrared cameras, full body lycra and technology.

Motion capture refers to recording only the movement of the body, while performance capture recording the movement of the head, body, hands, fingers, face and often voice. Both terms can be abbreviated as Pcap and Mo-Cap.

Performance Capture is often be a mix of different actors in one character. Someone performs the voice, someone performs the body, and someone performs the facial or is scanned for likeness. As an actor in motion capture, this presents the challenge of working with a pre-recorded character voice and being required to embody the voice, breath and intonation and physicalise this into movement. Alternatively, the characters movements are recorded without a voice and a voiceover artist works with your movements to create the voice of the character.

How is the live performance digitised?

A performance capture studio normally holds 100 – 150 infrared cameras in a 360 degree setting. This forms a ‘stage’; referred to as a ‘volume.’ It is named ‘volume’ because everything on the stage is being captured, opposed to one angle.

The actor wears a lycra suit covered in reflective silver markers which are on key points on the body. The infrared cameras pick up these markers and send this as data to a computer software which creates a ‘skeleton.’ This ‘skeleton’ data is the fed into a game engine and mapped into a live 3D avatar. All actions recorded live become the movement of the avatar in real time. Because of this, the actor is usually able to view this avatar on screen whilst on set, which can be a great visual cue for translating your movements into the avatar.

Types of Shoots

In game/Locomotion Shoots – This is when every move that is physically possible for that character to do in the game is recorded. For example; walking, jogging, running all at different paces, turning and pivoting, as well as doing these motions whilst the character is in a particular mood, like happy or disappointed.

Cinematic Shoots – These are the movie sections within a game that help to move the narrative along which can be more scripted and dramatic.

Likeness scans – When 3D scans are taken of a body to be used as character reference.

So does performance and motion capture sound like something that you’d like to move towards in your career? We’ll leave you with five things to consider as an actor moving into Performance and Motion Capture

  1. Ask yourself what games and projects that you’d like to be a part of; and work towards getting the skills you need. For example, if you’d like to work on Call of Duty, have you got training in gun handling and combat?

  2. Head to YouTube to check out cinematic scenes in video games. They can be a useful way to be able to help get into character and to help prepare for an audition or role.

  3. Play with characters movements and explore a character physically in your body. Think about creating something unique to the character within this movement.

  4. Explore puppetry and how puppeteers work. This can be a great skillset to have, and you can translate the life brought to a puppet into your body as the character.

  5. Be off book for your audition - movement and physicality are key, and a script can limit this and your chance of getting the job.

Jessica Jefferies Headshot
Jessica Jefferies

Jessica Jefferies is a casting director who works primarily within VFX and SFX. Her speciality is pinpointing specific skill sets and physical attributes which lend themselves to the world of performance capture, prosthetics and creature performance. She works closely with her clients and VFX / SFX teams to really gauge the specifics in how the characters are going to be created. This enables her to translate this to direction for the actors she auditions and into her ability to see their potential and piece together the best possible cast per project. Recent credits include; Peaky Blinders (VR), Unknown9:Awakening (video game), Little Hope (video game), Warhammer 40K (VR). Recent clients include Maze Theory, Supermassive Games, Games Workshop, Netflix, Google, Imaginarium Studios, Sony and Warner Bros. Find out more about Jessica here.

Victoria Atkin Headshot
Victoria Atkin

Victoria Atkin is an English actress and the first to portray a fictional trans-gender teenager on British television in the long running show Hollyoaks. In 2015 she landed a game changing role in the world of Performance Capture when she was asked to bring Evie Frye, the first playable lead female Assassin on next generation consoles to life for the Assassins Creed franchise. She completed the full performance capture for this role, launching her into this exciting new field of acting and technology. She has continued to work with companies including Guerrilla Games, Blizzard, Epic Games, Ubisoft, EA, Activision, Kakao Games, Microsoft, Warner Bros, Sony, Frogsware, Pixel Toys, Square Enix and more. Alongside this, she is the Executive Producer and Host of "The Performance Capture Podcast" sponsored by Vicon and runs regular workout classes on Zoom to help actors continue to hone their skills in Voice Acting and Performance Capture during the pandemic. Find out more about Victoria here.

WFTV would like to thank Jessica and Victoria for such an insightful and interesting conversation.

WFTV Members, you can view this even on the catch-up hub here.


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