Casting director wants to take video game acting to the next level

I was curious to talk to the respected video game casting director about her new book and what those who want to work in this medium need to know.

But first she ordered me to stab someone.

I was at Jim Henson’s Hollywood Studios with actor Anjali Bhimani from the Apex Legends video game and Disney+ series Ms. Marvel” and is wearing a form-fitting motion capture suit. Bhimani was to be my victim and she had some advice for a newbie. Not for a fake stabbing—I was alone there—but to prepare for a video game motion capture session.

“I wish I knew I would be wearing something nice and tight when I arrived on set. Because they, says Bhimani of the skin-tightening mocap (short for motion capture), are, as you can tell, very flattering. But you don’t want to wear them without something underneath. So now I’m wearing leggings and a tank top underneath – so you know, there’s no chafing or anything.”

Welcome to video games 2022.

Reporter Todd Martens participates in a motion capture demonstration at Jim Henson's studio.

Times reporter Todd Martens participates in a motion capture demonstration at Jim Henson’s studio with House of Moves.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

The team at the animation and motion capture studio House of Moves gave me a crash course in motion capture acting, which is often used in large video games to depict human movement realistically. I had to play a stubborn hitchhiker who was ordered to walk with a terrible stoop. After 20 minutes of light stretching to fix my basic movements, we began to run – or rather slouch. Although we didn’t make a real game and I’m not a professional actor, I tried to curb my desire to overact, thinking I needed big bombastic moves for the animators.

Bhimani patiently reminded me that we were surrounded by cameras, and they were all capturing my every slightest movement. Are those guys up there? says Bhimani, pointing at the cameras surrounding us, “all these guys are going to catch us.”

Then I struggled with what to say or not to say, knowing that this voice would be added later. But Bhimani again said it was the wrong instinct to act as if the voice was not being picked up, which gives the actors the freedom to aurally dictate their movements when they are not in line of sight.

As a writer, I’m not expected to come prepared to star in a video game. But casting director Julia Bianco Schoffling saw too many professionals who didn’t approach the video game environment with the proper training. That’s one of the reasons she wrote The Art and Business of Video Game Acting, which mixes first-hand stories with practical advice. It starts with an unnamed celebrity actor refusing to take off his baseball cap in an engineering booth (they compromised by flipping the cap). Throughout the book, she touches on topics such as union and non-union work, non-disclosure agreements, and old-fashioned motion capture acting advice.

A few quick notes: get ready to play as the motion capture stages can be fruitless. But also play a few video games before you act in one of them. And study the history of the environment.

Schoeffling is the right person to write about playing video games, say those who have worked with her. Schoffling is also the co-founder of the Halp Network, which connects clients with on-screen and off-screen talent. “Her extensive knowledge of the video game casting industry is absolutely insane,” says casting director Ashley Nguyen DeWitt, “and the fact that she wrote this book is a real treat for anyone who wants to get involved in video game acting and the business and art itself. “.

man in motion capture suit

Reporter Todd Martens wears motion-capture clothing to get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of video games.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Schoeffling believes that this is still part of the industry, which is not given due attention.

“I’m saying that 2 out of every 5 people I talk about video games to will say, ‘Oh, do they have video game actors?’ Maybe even 50% of the time.” Schöffling speaks of a medium that, in her opinion, is still misunderstood in comparison to film and television.

“One of the main reasons I wrote my book was to connect everyone else with the gaming industry and make it more accessible and easy to understand the nuances. Games are a mess, and there really is no standard. There was never any guidance for the actors on what to expect, from audition to showing up on set.”

Schoffling has been in the video game industry since 2003, starting as an administrator at Treyarch, the studio that is today best known for its work on the Call of Duty franchise, and her focus on the cast has occupied much of the last decade. But Scheffling saw a complete evolution, noting that in the early to mid-2000s, dialogue was the last priority. “I basically had to manage the excel sheets, log in to the session, prepare the scripts, keep an eye on the presence of the actors, make sure all the assets were recorded, edit them and put them into the game. It was a huge learning curve.”

It’s a far cry from today, when the annual Game Awards has a category for top performance. Schoffling’s accomplishments include some of the most famous video game titles, including major franchises such as Call of Duty and The Last of Us, among many others. It’s famous art today, and old games like the original The Last of Us are being reworked to somewhat better reflect the work of the actors.

Man and woman in motion grab a mechanism

Times reporter Todd Martens (left) participates in a House of Moves motion capture demonstration with actor Anjali Bhimani.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Schoffling’s book goes back to the beginnings of the voice acting industry, detailing the earliest examples of voice acting in games, back in 1982, Schoffling writes, when games were experimenting with plug-in peripherals like Intellivoice. It also touches on other milestones, such as 1992’s Mortal Kombat, which features character-specific phrases, and the birth of video game celebrity as Mario voice actor Charles Martinet. But everywhere, Schoffling, and those she interviews, prove the power and importance of video game performance.

“I think video games are one of the few performance media… where your performance can directly impact your audience,” actor Noshir Dalal says in the book. “Your performance can literally change the choices a player makes in a game.”

Julia Bianco Schoffling is passionate about video game performance.

Julia Bianco Schoffling is passionate about video game performance. Scheffling wrote the book The Art and Business of Video Game Acting.

(Michael Garcia)

Bhimani adds in the middle of our mocap session, “It’s a really new language and I love it because I really think it’s a fusion of film acting, theater acting and voice acting all rolled into one. It’s really a funny advance in technology. I think it’s fun to combine all these, all these disciplines into one.”

Schoeffling self-published the book and cites Jenna Fischer’s Life of an Actor: A Survival Guide as inspiration, noting that she appreciates Fischer’s directness when it comes to practical advice. To this end, Schoffling will guide the young actor through a voice demo recording, as well as advise him on how to get a good night’s sleep. Scheffling’s book will decipher the listening language and also advise you to avoid drinking and cigarettes (“those things affect your voice”). And she encourages actors to hone in on important industry and cultural issues like representation.

For example, in our mocap demo with Bhimani, the latter played the role of a sex change. It was easy to see how tempting it would be to go with whoever is at hand, regardless of race, gender, or age, in what would eventually become an animated setting. However, Schoffling’s main passion is to avoid such representational traps.

Schoffling briefly states that the video game space was slow when it came to proper representation, and then writes about his own experience helping to create Tell Me Why, which went down in history as the first playable transgender character in a game. “Now more than ever,” Schoffling writes in the book, “it is our responsibility as creators and actors to ask ourselves whose stories we should be telling.”

“I think it’s very important for actors to play a role in this,” says Schoffling, noting that the book points actors and the industry to a range of diverse resources, including Queer Vox, a voice actor training academy dedicated to working with LGTBQ actors. . “You don’t have to be an arms dealer to play him, but if the role calls for a South Asian and you’re not South Asian, is the story worth telling? If the role calls for a queer person, and you’re not queer, is that your story? This part was really hard. I wanted to make sure everyone read and did the right thing, but I don’t need to educate people about racism.”

There are some issues that Schoeffling touches on but cannot answer, such as noting that a significant number of video game roles still tend to be non-union, which, depending on the actor’s representation, can present a problem. But Scheffling offers options and tries to present pros and cons. Ultimately, Schöffling’s book is a book about him reaching out to bring those who don’t have much knowledge of video games into Wednesday. She says it can still be hard for her to get a star actor to take acting seriously unless it’s a hefty salary, and she hopes that someday actors will treat a small acting the way they would an independent film – one that will increase their total cache.

“I’m glad people see the opportunity in games,” Schoeffling says. “I have always been optimistic about games. Just an idea of ​​media convergence and how games are best suited to take the industry by storm and become the head of the entertainment industry. We understand the technology, we understand the nuances, and we understand the rabid fans.”

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