Oliver Hollis-Leick on Motion Capture Demands & its Future

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

by: Briana Dodson

Oliver Hollis-Leick, the Founder of The Mocap Vaults, is a 13-year mocap acting veteran who has worked on over 80 video game and movie titles, with roles in such films as “Iron Man 2,” “Stardust,” “Total Recall,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” “Godzilla,” “Hercules,” “Fred Clause,” among many others. Hollis-Leick shares his thoughts about the specific creative skills motion capture demands and how software tools like iPi Motion Capture is helping change how motion capture content is created.

Q. To begin with describe The Mocap Vaults and its mission?
Hollis-Leick: The Mocap Vaults has two primary objectives at its core: One is to train people in how to excel at working in motion capture. We do this by creating free online content that people can absorb at home, as well as offering training sessions, workshops and events that give a much richer experience, sometimes in a professional setting.
Our second objective is to encourage greater use of motion capture in one’s own projects. With tools like iPi Soft's motion capture software, people have the opportunity to create motion capture content on a small budget. We want to see more and more of this independent content. The onset of virtual and augmented reality means that more and more motion capture will be required. It is very exciting to see how indie filmmakers and game developers are making use of mocap technology for use in this new frontier.

Q. Given how actors like Andy Serkis (“Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” “Planet of the Apes” reboot), has received awards for his motion capture performances, why is it more important now that the next generation of actors get specialized motion capture actor training? What are the differences?
Hollis-Leick: People tend to stick to what they know. For a long time, theatre was the one and only medium. Radio, film and television have since come along and dramatically changed the shape of the performance world. Rather than begrudge the new frontier, why not embrace it for all it can offer? There is a wonderful opportunity to grasp this new bull by the horns and dive in. It is a character actor's dream come true. Motion capture offers actors the chance to go beyond size, shape, gender, and age and to transform entirely into a character that may be miles apart from your own. It is probably the purest form of acting you can get, because it’s based entirely on imagination. It’s like going back to the days of childhood, when you just said, “Today I’m going to be this creature or this character and I’m in this place. Today I’m on a starship,” or, “Today I’m in the jungle,” and you can just create that there and then. Studios around the world are hiring hundreds of performers every year; every actor should have a solid understanding of how it works.

Q. So what do traditionally trained actors get wrong when it comes to mocap acting? What is most challenging for them to learn?
Hollis-Leick: Every medium has its own rules. Motion capture is no different. Traditionally trained actors tend to come off quite wooden in motion capture because they are so used to focusing the fullness of their experience into their face alone. Theatre actors tend to do a little better because they are more used to working with the full body and having to project their physical state to the back of an auditorium. I think people often underestimate the ability of motion capture to detect falseness. Any hesitation, tension or discomfort is immediately read by the technology and will look out of place. The hardest thing about motion capture is the rawness of it. On a movie set, you’ve got costume, props, and other actors around you, you know exactly where the camera is and you know what kind of size of shot it is and you can just perform. In motion capture, you have a bare warehouse-like set with no props, no costumes, sometimes you have no other actors in the room and you don’t necessarily even know where the camera is.

Q. Have advancements in software technology, particularly markerless motion capture, made it easier for motion capture performers?
Hollis-Leick: With tools like iPi Soft's markerless motion capture technology, pretty much anyone can now get access to the tools to do mocap at home. Just as the DSLR video revolution changed film making forever, iPi Soft's tools are giving people the power to do mocap on a budget. The only limitation is imagination. I think that makes for exciting times. You don't have to hire out an expensive studio. You can try something, watch it back, try again and eventually hone the performance. It's incredibly useful in the classes I teach.

Q. What advice can you share with actors interested in working in motion capture? 
Hollis-Leick: If you are an actor that is interested in working in motion capture you have to take it seriously. There is plenty of material on the Internet, including on The Mocap Vaults' website. Take classes. Get hold of software like iPi Motion Capture and practice. If you want to be good at something then you have to work at it. Don't assume that your current skill set will apply to a different medium.

Q. Do you think there should be an Academy Award for mocap in your opinion? Where do you see the industry heading for motion capture actors?
Hollis-Leick: I'm not sure that Academy Awards are particularly helpful to anyone. They certainly increase an actor's paycheck once they've been awarded. Yes, it's true that motion capture performances are often highly edited in post by teams of incredibly skilled animators, not to mention the modeling, texturing and so on that goes into it. It's also true that in movies a director or an editor that can make or break an actor and can shape a performance. Can we really say that any one person is responsible for anything? I'm not sure. I'm not sure it really matters. 

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