Tuesday, 29 October 2013

ASSASSINS CREED IV: BLACK FLAG WEEK: PIECES OF EIGHT: Guest Blog: The Freedom of Game Acting - Ralph Ineson

Today, as part of our Pieces of Eight Feature for the release of Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag, we're proud to host a guest blog by actor Ralph Ineson,

Here he chats about vocal acting vs stage acting and we hope that you enjoy this special feature:

Hello, my name's Ralph Ineson, I'm an actor. I've worked on ninety odd films and TV shows over the last 20 years, I'm a character actor, and in the words of the late Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty Withnail "I shall never play the Dane". As a jobbing character actor I'm always looking for new work, I have distinctive voice which has lead me into voice over work over the last few years, but until this year I had not had the chance to work on video games. Actually I'm lying, I did appear as Amycus Carrow in a Harry Potter game, but that only required a two hour voice recording session as the facial/body scanning was done during the filming of the movies. Having auditioned in London twice, I was cast as the pirate Charles Vane, the audition process being much the same as for a film or TV show. In fact, to guard against any snobbery towards the project being 'just a game', Agents were told that the project was a TV series. I however have an old mate who just happens to work at Ubisoft in Montreal who tipped me off that I was someone they were interested in and filled me in on the details (not what you know etc.). To be honest, the thought of motion capture filming had never really done it for me, I was excited to be trying something new, but I'd always imagined the work to be incredibly detached and over technical with little opportunity to actually 'act'.

The process of creating a game on the scale of Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag is mind boggling, Ubisoft studios from Singapore to Sophia all combined to create an amazing world; the cinematics of the game were all recorded at Ubisoft's state of the art motion capture studios in Montreal. These cinematics were not shot continuously as would be the case with a film, with mo-cap the schedule seemed to revolve around a week’s recording followed by 2weeks of working with that technical data. This meant I had four trips to Montreal over 3 months. A typical week would involve a day’s rehearsal at the main Ubisoft studio with lead writer Darby McEvitt and cinematics director Kama Dunsmore, followed by 3 days recording in the mo-cap studio. During the rehearsal day we would work through the script and block out the scenes to be recorded, we also had the chance to play the game which meant we could go to the tavern we were about to record a scene in, look around, make a mental note of the view that the character is looking at when doing a certain scene etc.

On recording days we'd start with the suiting up, a strange process where you squeeze into a skin-tight Lycra suit and stand there for about 15mins whilst 3 French speaking animation technicians buzz around you attaching 50 Velcro patches to very specific points on the body to hold the malteser sized white balls that are picked up by the mo-cap cameras. It's an odd experience, like a knight being dressed in armour by his pages, but quite a useful one when you're getting into character for a pirate captain. Next step is the head cam, I have an unusually wide head so this was not my favourite part of the process, the technology for head cams is still in its infancy really so there are not that many available and unfortunately none to fit my outsized cranium. The upshot of this is that I'd spend most of the day with my temples crushed, not ideal but handy character help when playing a permanently angry psychopath like Charles Vane. The head cams would be calibrated and matched up with a matrix of black dots applied to the face (it's a good look). The last part of the pre shoot process is the range of movement test or ROM, another strange and ever so slightly humiliating part where you perform a set routine of movements for the animation software to register.

Now to record, the studio itself is small compared to a sound stage at a movie studio, about the size of a basketball court with 50 motion capture cameras around the walls, it has a badminton court sized rectangle marked on the floor within which we record. It's at this point that mo-cap filming gets interesting for an actor, if you were shooting a scene for a film you would set up multiple shots (wide shot, 2shot,various close ups etc.) and in all probability do multiple takes of those shots. In all of those the actor has to match his performance for continuity, to make sure that he picks up the glass on the same word of the line each take for example. This technical side can often feel like a compromise on film, something that inevitably gets between you and really inhabiting the character you're playing, the way mo-cap works is different. Because all 50 cameras are recording, the Director can take whatever shot they like from the one take without having to edit from different takes, this gives an extra freedom to the actor. The way you can let go, throw yourself into a scene fully without having to think about focus marks, lighting etc. is quite exhilarating and particularly great for me playing Vane with his screaming and howling at the moon. There's something reminiscent of theatre performance about it all.

My first proper taste of working on Video games has been a fascinating experience, there's much more to motion capture than I'd imagined and I hope it's an area I get to do more work in. I hope you all enjoy the world of the Golden age of piracy we've created, there are fantastic performances from Matt Ryan as Edward Kenway, Mark Bonnar as Blackbeard and many more, the writing is superb and the look of the game is just stunning.


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