Peaking out from Behind the Scenes - Specialization Week

By Timothy Dillon

There have always been the people behind the scenes of our favorite entertainers. Crew members who are never seen, their names tucked next to an esoteric industry title like “Senior Production Associate” or “Key Grip”. And while their roles are essential to the final product, they are at their best when their labor goes unnoticed.

Motion capture

Due to the recent uptick in 3D movies coming out of Hollywood, however, this trend of hidden crew technicians has changed. New filming techniques pioneered by visionaries like James Cameron have created a unique opportunity for actors that did not exist before this current 3D boom. What’s so special about this? Well, like their crew counterparts, they are also not to be seen.

Specialized acting behind the scenes is nothing new, but just as voice over work became a market where screen actors and voice actors competed for the same roles (thanks in part to the success of Pixar’s films and the expanding video game industry), the demand for motion capture actors and 3D graphics engineers has risen.

Saskia Maarleveld

Saskia Maarleveld graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where her primary focus was acting. Despite having a look that might have, in the past at least, bound her for the screen or the stage, most of her work has been in voice acting.

Maarleveld recently signed a contract working on a series of Dungeons & Dragons books, an  has been working tirelessly to accurately pronounce the mythical words and phrases used in the fantasy books adapted from the role playing game.

“I did the cold calls and auditions thing,” Maarleveld tells BTR, “It wasn’t for me. You don’t want to do what we do if you have to go through that everyday. It can be humiliating.” Her work as an audiobook narrator has given her a lot of credibility in the voice world, and because of this she has been able to make it work for her career.

Maarleveld was fortunate enough to grow up abroad and develop an adept ear for sounds and accents. Her New Zealand accent is her best, and is featured on a web series called Kevin and Phebe, which she created with friends in her spare time. While her side projects help fulfill her need for viewed performance, it is what her voice does that pays the bills.

Alissa Simmons

Alissa Simmons is also a young and beautiful aspiring actress in New York, but unlike the more theatrical Maarleveld, Simmons has been highly trained in voice. “I have been singing since I was a child and was in every show growing up I could be,” Simmons says.

Despite her background she has decided, for the time being, not to pursue a career in voice work, acting, singing, or narration. In fact right now Simmons is on her way to Japan to film a new motion capture based film.

“It’s really exciting and I have no idea what to expect.” Simmons tells BTR, “I’ve been going over everything that needs to get done, and there is just so much. All these lines they send me that are in blue, may not even be in the shooting script. Then there’s the fact I have to go from Tokyo to San Francisco. It’s just a lot.”

Although it goes without saying, in the film industry it’s always best to know someone. Simmons managed to land this job through an old connection she had long lost touch with.

“I got a call asking if I could submit a video performing certain moves and actions to see if I would work well with the motion capture team,” Simmons says. Although she has dance and movement training, she still felt unprepared. “My lovely roommates helped me. We set up lights and gave a few points of context [for depth] and we shot it in an evening. Few days later, I got the call saying I was going to Japan.”

Much like the multiple-take process inherent to traditional film production, the motion capture actor is often required to repeatedly perform their capture sequences to ensure a polished finished product.

For Simmons, the process will happen in two very different ways: First comes the general body motion capture process. Later on, she will repeat the same scene but instead of a body suit, her face will be wired with various dots and light reflective points that will capture her facial features and be superimposed onto the final product.

“As an actress, whether you’re in a play or a movie, you have to do these things over and over again. I’m not too worried about it,” Simmons tells BTR. Though this will be her first time crossing the Pacific, and this role is perhaps the beginning of a new start in her career, she seems to have a level head about it. Even though she has tapped into consistent work in her field, like Maarleveld, there is still much more to come.