Reese Alexander is a highly diverse actor with an eclectic range of roles under his belt. But at Animatrik, we know him best for delivering sensational stunt work and soldier-style motion data in production for hard-hitting video game franchises.
From Gears of War to The Interview, Reese has been seen across screens both big and small. We caught up with the actor to discuss his experiences starting out in the performance capture business and adjusting to a vast, 360 stage.
Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got involved in the motion capture industry?
I never knew really what I wanted to be when I grew up. Actually, I never really wanted to grow up, period! I went to University for economics and eventually came to Vancouver in 1993. I’d take up driving jobs quite regularly, when one of my business ventures failed. The last time that happened, a friend convinced me to apply as a driver in the movie business. I got hired with Sharbak Entertainment. After a few years of watching actors come in, say some lines, and leave… I figured “I could do that”.
Next, I got an agent and started acting classes every Saturday. Turns out, I had a lot to learn – I’m still learning 15 years later. While training, I also took up martial arts in case I wanted to get into stunts someday.
What was your first experience with motion capture?
Well, my first motion capture experience was actually with Animatrik. I filled in for a stunt performer on Microsoft’s Gears of War Ultimate Edition, playing a soldier called Dominic Santiago. I had a great first day! The director and crew turned out to be really good people. It was a calm atmosphere. That’s where I do my best work. Once I got over walking around in the skin tight outfit they make you wear!
I found it intriguing – especially the technical elements of a motion capture stage. I’d never seen so many cameras in one place before. It’s a 360 degree filming experience on the volume.
As soon as they entered me in the system,I saw myself on the big screen translated into a CGI character … I was like a kid in a candy store! Plus, you can fall on soft pads during stunts, because they won’t register in video game animation. There’s a lot of potential for dramatic dives and falls that just isn’t as easy on a live action set.
What has been your favourite role in motion capture?
I really enjoyed playing Delmont Walker when Microsoft brought me back for Gears of War 4. He’s a very loyal character, with a lot of heart. I can relate a lot to Delmont, especially since he gets overwhelmed by the crazy predicaments these characters find themselves in. I like the humor that comes out of him, just dealing with each situation. His reactions are brilliant – Dell just steps back and says “What the heck are we doing here?”
Tell us a bit about your average day on a motion capture stage.
We get to the studio, greet each other, and catch up on what everybody’s been doing. Next, we have breakfast and go through a rough outline of the day’s work with Greg Mitchell, our awesome director. Then it’s time to suit up in these tight fitting uniforms, with tiny attached balls that the cameras use to calibrate us through a range of motion. I liken this phase to an easy yoga workout. The crew digitally enter us into the system and then we’re good to go. Next, we’ll be shown an animated storyboard of the scene to block it out, rehearse and then shoot.
What do you like best about working with the Animatrik team?
They’re very professional and friendly. It’s a diverse group of people, which makes the performance more interesting. There’s all kinds of banter going on behind the scenes. I’m sure there’s a few blooper videos out there.
What is the greatest challenge in a motion capture performance?
I’d say the hardest part of a mocap session is matching up your performance with the voice actors, who often pre-record video game dialogue. I’ll come in with certain ideas about a scene, then have to reactively change up my movements after listening to the actor. He might deliver the scene with a drastically different tone to me.
For example, I might hear humor in an actor’s voice, instead of the excitement I originally interpreted from a basic script. My movements must reflect that new emotion, so the whole character can come together consistently. I can’t lock myself into anything until the day itself, listening to the voice actors and looking at previs references.
What excites you about motion capture today and in the future?
The graphics are getting better and better every time I take part in new games. In the future, you won’t be able to tell what’s motion capture and what isn’t.