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This casting director wants to up the art of acting for video games

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I was looking forward to talking to a respected video game casting director about his new book and what people who want to perform in the medium need to know.

But first he instructed me to stab someone.

I was at Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood with Anjali Bhimani, actor of the video game “Apex Legends” and the Disney+ series “Ms.” Marvel” and dressed in a tight-fitting motion capture suit. Bhimani was supposed to be my victim, and she had some advice to get the job done the first time around. Not to fake stabbings—there I was on my own—but to prepare for a video game motion-capture session.

“I wish I knew how to wear something nice and tight when I came on set. Because this,” says Bhimani, who wears a skin-tugging mocap (short for motion capture), “is pretty fitting as you can tell.” But you don’t want to wear them without anything underneath. So now I wear leggings and a tank-top underneath — so, you know, there’s no fuss or anything.”

Welcome to video game acting in 2022.

Times reporter Todd Martens participates in a motion-capture demo at Jim Henson Studios with House of Moves.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The team at animation and motion-capture studio House of Moves gave me a crash course in motion-capture acting, which is often used to depict realistic human motion in large video games. I had to play a stabbing hitchhiker, instructed to walk with a creepy inclination. After 20 minutes of light stretching to catch up on my basic movements, we were walking—or crouched, rather. While we weren’t making an actual game, and I’m no professional actor, I did try to restrain my desire to overact, thinking I needed big bombastic movements to play with animators.

Bhimani patiently reminded me that we were surrounded by cameras, all of them picking up on my every subtle move. “Those guys up there?” Pointing to the cameras that surrounded us, Bhimani said, “They are all going to catch us.”

Then I struggled with what to say or not, knowing that the voice would be added later. But Bhimani again stated that this was the wrong trend, and acting as if the voice was not being captured, which gave the actors the freedom to direct their movements when they were not in direct line of sight.

It is expected that I, a writer, will not come ready-made to star in a video game. But casting director Julia Bianco Schöffling has seen too many professionals not approach the video game medium with proper preparation. That’s one reason he wrote a book called “The Art and Business of Acting for Video Games,” which mixes direct storytelling with practical advice. It opens with an unnamed celebrity actor shying away from taking off a baseball cap in an engineering booth (they settle on rotating the cap). Throughout the book she tackles topics such as union and non-union jobs, non-disclosure agreements, and old-fashioned acting advice for the motion-capture phase.

A few quick notes: Come prepared to play, as the motion-capture stages can be barren. But also play a few video games before starring in one. And learn the history of the medium.

Schöffling is the right person to write about video game acting, say those who have worked with him. Schofling is also the co-founder of Halp Network, which connects customers with on-screen and off-screen talent. “Her knowledge in the video game casting industry is absolutely insane,” says casting director Ashley Nguyen DeWitt, “and the fact that she wrote this book is truly a gift for anyone who wants to get into video game acting and… Business and art itself.”

Reporter Todd Martens suits up in motion-capture wear for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a video game.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Schöffling thinks this is still a part of the industry that has been overlooked.

“I say 2 out of every 5 people I say I’ve cast for video games will say, ‘Oh, they have actors for video games?’ Maybe even 50% of the time.” Schöffling says of a medium she still feels is misunderstood when compared to film and television.

“One of the main reasons I wrote my book was to connect everyone to the game industry, and to make it more accessible and easier for people to understand the nuances. Games are kind of ragtags, and really There is no standard. There has never been a guide for what to expect for actors, from auditions to appearing on set.

Schoeffling has worked in the video game space since 2003, starting as a receptionist at Treyarch, a studio best known today for its work on the “Call of Duty” franchise, in which its casting focus has grown much over the last decade. Is. But Schöffling has seen an absolute evolution, given that negotiations were an eventual priority in the early 2000s. “I basically had to manage the excel sheet, go to sessions, prepare scripts, make sure the actors were there, make sure all the assets were recorded, edit it and include it in the game. It was a huge learning curve.”

That’s a far cry from today, when the annual Game Awards holds a category for top performances. Schöffling’s credits include some of the most acclaimed games for video game acting work, including major franchises such as “Call of Duty” and “The Last of Us”, among many others. Today, it is a well-known art, and older games, such as the original “The Last of Us”, are being somewhat reworked to better reflect the actors’ work.

Times reporter Todd Martens, left, attends a House of Moves motion-capture demo with actor Anjali Bhimani.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Schöffling’s book goes back to the industry’s voice acting roots, detailing the earliest examples of voice in games—1982, writes Schöffling, when the game experimented with plug-in peripheries such as IntelliVoice. It also touches on other important milestones such as “Mortal Kombat” in 1992, introducing character-specific phrases and the birth of video game celebrity in Mario voice actor Charles Martinet. But throughout, Schöffling, as well as his interviews, make the case for the power and importance of video game performance.

Actor Noshir Dalal says in the book, “I think video games are one of the only performance mediums … where your audience can be directly influenced by your performance.” “Your performance can literally change the choices a player makes in the game.”

Julia Bianco Schöffling is passionate about performing video games. Schöffling wrote the book “The Art and Business of Acting for Video Games”.

(Michael Garcia)

In the middle of our mocap session, Bhimani says: “It’s really a new language, and I love it because I really think it’s an amalgamation of film acting and theater acting and voice-over, all in one.” It’s been a really fun advancement in technology. I think it’s fun to mix all of those, all those themes into one.”

Schöffling self-published the book and cited Jenna Fisher’s “The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide” as inspiration, noting that she appreciated Fisher’s directness when it came to practical advice. To that end, Schöffling would walk a young actor by recording a voice demo but also encouraging them to get a proper night’s sleep. Schöffling’s book will decode the audition language and also tell you to avoid alcohol and cigarettes (“These things affect your voice”). And she encourages actors to take the lead on important industry and cultural issues like representation.

For example, in our mocap demo with Bhimani, the latter played a gender-swapped role. It was easy to see how tempting it would be with what would eventually be an animated setting, regardless of race, gender or age. Yet it is Schöffling’s main obsession to avoid the pitfalls of such representation.

Schöffling briefly argued that video games were slow when it came to proper representation, and then writes about his own experience in helping to cast “Tell Me Why”, which made history as a game. Made as the first playable transgender character in “Now more than ever,” Schöffling writes in the book, “it is our responsibility as creators and actors to question whose stories we should tell.”

“I think it’s really important for actors to play a role in it,” Schöffling says, noting that the book points to actors and the industry for a number of diversity resources, including one dedicated to working with LGTBQ actors. Voice Actor Training Academy includes Queer Vox. , “You don’t have to be a hand dealer to play one, but if the role calls for a South Asian man, and you’re not a South Asian, is that your story? If the role calls for a queer guy.” And you’re not gay, so is that your story? That part was really hard. I wanted to make sure everyone read and worked things out, but I need to educate people about racism Not there. “

Schöffling has some issues but cannot answer, such as noting that a fair number of video game roles are still non-unionized, which can present a challenge depending on an actor’s representation. But Shofling gives alternatives and tries to present pros and cons. Ultimately, Schöffling’s book is one of a hand raiser who seeks to lead those without video game knowledge into the medium. She says she might still have a hard time seeing an A-list actor take a game seriously if it’s not a hefty payday, and she hopes that someday the actor will consider a shorter game the same way. would do as they would an indie film – one that would increase their overall cash.

“I’m excited to see opportunities in sports for people,” Schöffling says. “I have always been bullish about sports. Just the idea of ​​the convergence of media, and how the best are the best to take the games industry by storm and become the head of entertainment. We understand the technology, we understand the nuances and we understand the crazy fan bases.”

Crazy fan base? This is a topic that will have to be saved for another book.

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