NEW YORK — From "Juno" to "Inception," actor Ellen Page has taken on a wide range of acting roles. But her motion-capture performance for the video game "Beyond: Two Souls," from studio Quantic Dream, was a whole new kind of acting— a 2,000-page script, multiple endings and side-plots, and massive amounts of memorization. Not to mention the skintight motion capture suit and the dozens of tiny motion capture dots covering her face.
Page’s work as "Beyond's" main character Jodie Holmes, and the innovative technology Quantic Dream used to capture hers and other actors' performances, is part of the reason “Beyond: Two Souls” is the first video game to be honored at the prestigious film festival. Thirty-five minutes of prerecorded gameplay was screened at the SVA Theater in New York City, followed by a panel featuring Quantic Dream’s creative mastermind David Cage, Page, Kadeem Hardison and Eric Winter. The panel was moderated by games journalist Harold Goldberg.
Performance capture in video games is not new. But often, the process involves multiple people contributing to the creation of a single character.
"What we wanted was really to get emotion across," Cage told TechNewsDaily on the Tribeca red carpet. "And with the old technology, it was difficult because there was no consistency in the performance. Sometimes it was even different people [doing the same character]; it was someone else's voice and someone else's face and someone else's moves. [With "Beyond"], for the first time we had everything coming together."
To capture face, body and voice all at once, "Beyond: Two Souls" features actors performing in full-body motion-capture suits. In addition, their faces were covered with up to 90 individual motion sensor dots to capture every curl of the lips and flare of the nostrils.
The result was an acting environment unlike anything the performers in "Beyond" had experienced before "When you shoot film, you’re used to playing to one camera, whereas [with] this, you’re surrounded by 70 or so cameras," said Page, who had never done motion capture work before. But when acting for "Beyond," there were no marks on the floor that the actors had to hit, no cameras or lights to act to. "It seems limiting at first, and then you realize there’s actually so much freedom about it."
"Beyond: Two Souls" differs from most mainstream video games in another way — it's not about fighting.
"It's a game where you don't shoot, you don't jump, you don't drive cars," Cage told the Tribeca audience. "It's a game about storytelling, about emotion, about characters. The whole idea behind the game is to put you in the shoes of the main protagonist and let you make decisions that will have consequences. You decide where you want to go, what you want to do, what you want to see, and the story changes accordingly."
As the game’s playable character, Page had to act out every possible choice a player could make throughout the course of this 10- to 12-hour video game.
"You're working in scenes where there’s not one cohesive narrative," Page told us, explaining that because the game allowed for players to choose between different dialogue options and decisions, the actors had to film multiple reactions in quick succession. "So, [in every scene] you could have four or five responses to every question in order to take the narrative in a different direction."
Page admitted that before signing on for "Beyond: Two Souls," the last video game she’d played was "Crash Bandicoot," a series of platform adventure games from the 1990s. But after Cage approached her about playing the main character in his next project, she sat down to play Quantic Dream’s previous videogame, "Heavy Rain," and was blown away by it.
"Working with David Cage was awesome," she said. "Sometimes I’d be going in to shoot, and I’d be like, 'How can I get to these places in like two seconds, shoot it and then two seconds later move on to the next thing?' And [Cage] had such a great understanding of [Jodie Holmes] and her emotional journey, and was really incredible as a director, with me as an actor, which was amazing because he doesn’t work with actors that often."
To render all this highly nuanced performance capture and make it playable, studio Quantic Dream developed a whole new proprietary game engine for "Beyond," which was first demoed in 2012 with the short film "Kara."
The engine was designed specifically for the PlayStation 3, which may be a problem for Quantic Dream because the PlayStation 4, the next generation of the console, is expected to be available some time during the 2013 holiday season, just a few months after "Beyond: Two Souls" comes out on Oct. 8.
But Cage said he’s not worried, claiming that consoles often sell well at the very end of their life cycle, when they’re at their cheapest. He declined to discuss possible PS4 compatibility with "Beyond: Two Souls," but last month, Quantic Dream’s co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumière told Eurogamer the studio is already working on its next project, a PlayStation 4 title.
Quantic Dream has made a name for itself with its use of cutting-edge motion capture and graphical realism technologies. But Cage always brings it back to story. He shared a bit of his artist approach with us before the screening: "I tend to write on things that happen to me. "Heavy Rain" was really about my experience being a young father. And "Beyond" is much more about something sad that happened to me. I lost someone in my family that I felt really close to ... I just wanted to write a story around this, based not on religion or beliefs — I wanted to make my own story about it. And this is how the story for "Beyond" came to be."
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