Monday 21 October 2019

It's game on as actors tackle digitised world

More and more Hollywood A-listers are making the leap from film star to video-game avatar

Emma Stone
Emma Stone

Joe O'Shea

In the hit US drama House of Cards, Kevin Spacey plays an amoral politician obsessed with computer games. In his latest role, Spacey is still a villain, but now he is inside the game.

The double-Oscar winner - or a digitised version of him - stars in the latest edition of the multibillion-dollar video-game franchise Call Of Duty.

Spacey plays the amoral boss of a private security firm in his first major role as a computer game avatar.

The actor is just the latest in a growing army of Hollywood stars to make the jump from movies to games, often a lucrative choice for actors.

And while gaming may traditionally have been seen as a macho (or at least male-dominated) world, a lot of actresses are following the trend. The likes of Ellen Page (of Juno fame), Kristen Bell, Milla Jovovich, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sigourney Weaver and Emma Stone have all lent their talents to a range of game titles.

For the game Beyond Two Souls, Page underwent days of motion-capture and voice recording to create the Jodie Holmes character, her own pixelated doppelgänger.

"You're creating something that could go in so many different directions," she said of her first big video game role.

"You're acting out elements of a story with an emotional intensity that a lot of people might never see. Every single person who plays this game will have their unique journey."

Our own Michael Fassbender has also been pixelated for the most recent edition of the Fable series of games, adding an Irish voice to a true-blue Brit cast that includes Ben Kingsley, Stephen Fry and John Cleese.

The gaming industry is now huge, with revenues dwarfing those of even the biggest blockbusters. When Grand Theft Auto V was released in mid-September, the sales topped $1bn in just three days. Call of Duty: Black Ops has made over $1bn while the fourth Grand Theft Auto has earned $1.35bn.

The agents who represent the biggest stars have realised their clients can earn major cash for little effort.

A basic three-day, voice-over session can be worth €100,000 to a top actor. If they spend a week doing performance capture in a studio, that can go up to around €250,000.

The trend started in the mid-noughties, when actors began to do the voices in games based on their movies.

However, it has recently accelerated as performance-capture technology - the kind used to create Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings - is increasingly used in games.

Performance Capture allows software to record voice and body movements at the same time. For Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the lead actors, including Spacey, worked for 10 days on the same LA soundstage where the Avatar sequels are being shot.

The only difference between movies such as The Lord Of The Rings series or Avatar and a video-game performance, is that Spacey is being animated to look like himself, rather than some super hero or alien.

But it takes a bit of getting used to.

"It's really odd," Spacey said of the process, which involves acting in front of green screen while wearing a special suit. "No make-up, no hair, nothing. They put dots on your face. Then you get into a kind of jumpsuit, which is exceedingly unattractive. A bunch of rubber-dot things all over that... you have to do all kinds of physical things."

Not all actors thrive in the game environment. Some find it difficult to "act" in performance suits or the voice-over box.

"When you pay $100,000 for an on-camera celeb, and then you put them in the voice booth, sometimes you get the worst performance imaginable," says Lev Chapelsky of Blindlight, a firm that helps game studios land well-known actors.

And some actors refuse to have any role in the new genre. The late Robin Williams, an avid gamer himself, famously turned down huge cash to lend his voice and image to games.

Actors who see the gaming industry as either too strange or too far beneath them are really losing out. In terms of cold, hard cash, five days of jumping around in a rubber suit can earn enough to put a sizable down-payment on a Malibu beach house.

Irish Independent

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