I was curious to speak to a respected video game selection director about her new book and what those who want to perform in the middle need to know.
But first, she ordered me to stab someone.
I was at Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood with actor Anjali Bhimani from the video game “Apex Legends” and Disney+ series “Ms. Marvel” outfitted in a skinny motion capture suit. Bimani was supposed to be my victim, and she had some advice for the first time. Not for fake stabbing – I was there alone – but to get ready for a video game motion capture session.
“I wish I was wearing something nice and tight when I came to the set. Wearing a mocap (short for motion capture), Bhimani says of wearing mocap (short for motion capture), “as you can tell they are very form-fitting. But you don’t want to wear it with nothing underneath. So now I’m wearing leggings and a tank top under it—so, you know, there’s no anger or anything.”
Welcome to the acting video game of 2022.
The team at House of Moves animation and motion capture studio gave me a crash course in motion capture representation, often used in large video games to depict realistic human motion. I was supposed to play a stab motor driver, ordered to walk with a creepy sag. After 20 minutes of light stretching to capture my basic movements, we were running and running—or rather slouching. While we weren’t making an actual game, and I’m not a professional actor, I tried to restrain my urge to over-act, thinking I needed big stylized motions for animators to play with.
Bemani was patiently reminding me that we are surrounded by cameras, all of which capture my every minute movements. “Those guys over there?” “All these guys are going to catch us,” says Bhimani, pointing to the cameras that surrounded us.
Then I struggled with what to say or not to say, knowing that that voice would be added later. But Bhimani said again that this was a faulty instinct, and to act as if the sound had not been captured, giving actors the freedom to dictate their movements by auditory when they are not in direct sight.
Predictably, I, a writer, wouldn’t be ready to star in a video game. But director Giulia Bianco Schöving has seen a lot of pros who don’t treat the video game broker with the right setup. This is one of the reasons why she wrote a book, The Art and Works of Video Game Acting, which mixes first-hand stories with practical advice. The show begins with an unnamed famous actor who refrains from taking off his baseball cap in a geometric booth (they have waived the flip of the cap). Throughout the book she addresses topics such as union and non-union jobs, non-disclosure agreements, and legacy representation advice for the motion-capture stage.
A few quick notes: Be prepared to play, as the motion capture stages can be barren. But also play some video games before acting one. Learn the history of the broker.
Schoeffling is the right person to write about video game acting, say those who have worked with her. Schoeffling is also the co-founder of the Halp Network, which connects clients with on-screen and off-screen talent. Casting Director Ashley Nguyen DeWitt says, “The breadth of her knowledge in the video game selection industry is absolutely insane, and the fact that she wrote this book is really just a boon to anyone who wants to be involved in video game representation, business, and art itself.”
Schoeffling feels that it is still a part of the industry that is being overlooked.
“I say 2 out of 5 people who I tell I choose video games will say, ‘Oh, they have video game actors? “Maybe even 50% of the time.” Shufling says of a medium she still feels misunderstood compared to film and television.
“One of the main reasons I wrote my book was to connect everyone to the gaming industry, to make it easier and easier for people to understand the nuances. Games are kind of junk, and there is no real standard. For the actors, there was no clue as to what to expect, from auditions to Appearing on the set.
Schoeffling has been in the video game business since 2003, starting as a receptionist at Treyarch, a studio known today for its work on the “Call of Duty” franchise, where her focus has consumed much of the past decade. But Schoeffling has fully developed, noting that dialogue in the early 2000s was a last priority. “I basically had to manage the Excel sheets, get into the session, prepare the scripts, make sure the actors were there, make sure all the assets were recorded, edited and entered into the game. It was a huge learning curve.”
That’s out of reach today, when the annual Game Awards have a category for top performers. Among Schoeffling’s credits are some of the most well-known games for the video game acting business, including major franchises such as “Call of Duty” and “The Last of Us,” among many others. Today, it’s popular art, and older games, like the original “The Last of Us,” are being partially redesigned to better reflect the actors’ work.
Schoeffling’s book goes back to the roots of voice acting in the industry, detailing the earliest examples of voice in the game – 1982, Schoeffling wrote, when games experimented with additional parties like Intellivoice. It also touches on other important milestones, such as 1992’s “Mortal Kombat” that introduced character phrases and the birth of popular video game star Charles Martinet. But all the while, Schoeffling, as well as those she interviews, are proving the power and importance of video game performance.
In the book, actor Noshir Dalal says, “I think video games are the only way to perform…your audience can be directly affected by your performance.” “Your performance can literally change the choices a player makes in the game.”
Bhimani adds in the midst of our mocap session: “It’s a really new language, and I like it because I really think it’s the fusion of cinematography, stage acting and voiceover, all combined into one language. It’s really a fun advance in technology. I think it’s fun to combine All of those, all of those disciplines in one.”
Schoeffling published the book herself and cited Jenna Fischer’s “Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide” as inspiration, noting that she appreciates Fischer’s candor when it comes to practical advice. To this end, Schoeffling will lead a young actor through a voiceover recording, but also encourage a proper night’s sleep. Schoeffling’s book will decode the language of the test and also tell you to avoid drinking alcohol and cigarettes (“these things affect your voice”). It encourages actors to focus on important industrial and cultural issues such as representation.
In our mocap demo with Bhimani, for example, the latter played a gender swap. It was easy to see how tempting it would be with whoever was at hand, regardless of race, gender or age, in what would eventually end up being a moving place. However, Schoeffling’s primary passion is to avoid such pitfalls of acting.
Schoeffling briefly argues that the video game space has been slow when it comes to proper acting, then writes about her own experience helping to choose “Tell Me Why,” which made history as the game’s first playable transgender character. “Now more than ever, it is our responsibility as creators and actors to ask what stories we should tell,” Schoeffling wrote in the book.
“I think it’s really important for actors to have a role in that,” Schoeffling says, noting that the book directs actors and the industry to a number of diversity resources, including Queer Vox, a voice actor training academy dedicated to working with LGTBQ actors. “You don’t have to be an arm trader to play one, but if the role calls for someone from South Asia, and you aren’t from South Asia, is this your story to tell? If the role calls for a stranger, and you aren’t, is that your story to tell? This was The part is really hard. I wanted to make sure everyone read and did things, but I don’t need to educate people about racism.”
There are some issues that Schoeffling addresses but cannot answer, such as noting that quite a few video game roles still tend to be non-union, which can be challenging, depending on the actor’s acting. But Schoeffling makes choices and tries to present the pros and cons. Ultimately, Schoeffling’s book is one that reaches out, one that wants to lead those who don’t have much knowledge of video games into the middle. She says she’d still struggle to get a A-list actor to take the game seriously if the payday wasn’t huge, and she hopes that one day the actors will think of a mini-game in the same way they would a standalone movie — a game that will maximize their abilities. Comprehensive cache.
“I’m excited that people see opportunity in games,” says Schuffling. “I’ve always been an optimist about gaming. Just the idea of the convergence of media, and how games are the best to take the industry by storm and be the head of entertainment. We understand the technology, understand the nuances and understand the rabid fan base.”
Rabid fan bases? This is a topic that should be memorized in another book.