Capturing and Unleashing Performance

StarWars.com Team | May 26, 2007

For Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, actors Nathalie Cox and Sam Witwer will be playing the central characters of Juno Eclipse and Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice. But what does that mean for an actor in a video game? The actors’ faces are digitally captured, and then their performances are also captured through the use of motion-tracking dots placed on their faces and special camera arrays at Industrial Light & Magic. The actors describe the process…

Nathalie Cox (Juno Eclipse): It was bizarre really. It’s harder in a way. Obviously when you’re on a film set, you have your costume and the other actors around, and they’re all in costume as well, and you have an incredible set. Especially with something like Kingdom of Heaven for example — a massive production with entire villages and castles. You walk on the set and the cameras are rolling and the director says action, it’s kind of easier to get into character. With motion capture, though, is so intense and precise and it’s just your face, literally. You have to get every single emotion that you’re trying to portray in that one line through just your face. It doesn’t matter how much you wave your arms around and jump and down. If your face isn’t doing it, it’s not going to come across in the game. People aren’t going to believe that character saying that line.

Sam Witwer (Secret Apprentice): She makes the dots look wonderful, doesn’t she? Very sexy. Very sexy. I remember standing up in front of the motion capture rig. I’m not entirely new to the whole process of shooting things, but getting in front of the motion capture rig, I asked myself the question: “Can I even act in front of all this? What’s going to happen? Can I just say words? These dots are on my face! I just ate three at lunch! This is not cool!”

I was thinking we were sitting in a chair being told to act, but we actually had a lot of physical freedom. There were a lot of physical freedom, so there was a lot of physical things taking place when we were shooting the motion-capture. If I was pulling my lightsaber, I was actually pulling out a lightsaber. And we were capturing all that reference on video so that the animators can see what my body was doing at any given moment. So, yes, it was focused on the face, but it’s hard just to contain a performance just to the face. So, yeah, everybody allowed me and Nathalie to be as physical as we needed to be.

No, not like that. Not quite like that. Not like I didn’t try, folks.

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