Actors put a face on video games | Culture

Actor Giancarlo Esposito, during his motion capture work, and his digital recreation in ‘Far Cry 6’.

Giancarlo Esposito (Copenhagen, 63 years old) likes to play villains. Theatrical and secondary animal in series and movies, were his roles as the villains Gus Fring in Breaking Bad and Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian the ones that catapulted him to world fame. His last interpretation is also that of an infamous, General Castillo, but he does not carry it out in a movie or a series, but in a video game, Far Cry 6 (Ubisoft). Thus, he becomes the latest in a long list of interpreters who have put their work at the service of the interactive world.

“It’s very different working on a video game,” says Esposito across the screen, with a huge smile far removed from the coldness of his iconic Gus Fring. “I am grateful for having trained on stage because this work has been very theatrical. Motion capture work is something very specific, you have to act with your whole body, with that helmet full of cameras that you have. It captures all the movements of your face, of the elbows, shoulders, each one of your fingers, and for all this the theater helped me, to realize that acting is something very physical, very concrete, “he confesses about the differences with their usual roles.

In the game, the sixth of the successful first-person action saga, he plays Anton Castillo, antagonist of the game and leader of the fictional Caribbean country of Yara, where its protagonist will start a revolution against the tyrant. “He is a man who would give everything for his country,” says Esposito maliciously. “A man who deep down wants the best for his people. We are in a time where technology allows us to have characters like this, where it allows actors to interpret in games ”. The truth is that, although the technological leap favors increasingly spectacular performances, the marriage between film and video games goes back a long way.

Already in the eighties and nineties of the last century the FMV boom (Full-Motion Video) as a milestone of this union: it was about games shot as an interactive movie, such as the one about File X that in 1988 they interpreted David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and that was a kind of extra episode of the series. But it would be in this century when motion capture made possible the translation of an interpretation to the digital world. For example, in 2004 it was Jean Reno who put not only his voice but also his image to a game, the Onimusha 3, but we are talking about 16 years ago, and that collaboration seen today exemplifies (and drags) the technical limitations of the time.

I am grateful for having trained on stage because this work has been very theatrical

During the past decade, the number of stars who turned to video games grew dramatically. There were several top-notch actors who used only their voice, such as Susan Sarandon in Dishonored (2012), Mark Hamill in the Batman saga Arkham Asylum (2009 onwards) or Peter Dinklage in Destiny (2014); But as technology advanced, others lent their movements and interpretations in addition to their voices, such as Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014) the Sigourney Weaver en Alien Isolation (2014). In 2019 the visionary Hideo Kojima, father of the saga Metal Gear, revolutionized the interactive world with Death Stranding, an indescribable and great game that bases much of its appeal on the characters played by Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Seydoux or Margaret Qualley, who for months worked tirelessly on a game with a Hollywood blockbuster budget. In 2020 Cyberpunk 2077 he repeated the play, turning Keanu Reeves into one of his main characters.

The last to hit the market (it did last August) that has turned to famous actors is the independent Twelve Minutes, a game with a single location (an apartment), and that reproduces a 12-minute time loop in which a married couple must prevent a murderer from reaching their house to finish them off. The trio of characters are played by none other than James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley and Willem Dafoe.

Twelve MinutesBy the way, it is not the first video game in which Willem Dafoe participates. Already in 2013 he took part in a game that exemplifies one of the dangers of transferring the appearance of real people to digital. It was about Beyond: Two Souls (Quantic Dream), who co-starred alongside Ellen Page (who in 2020 declared herself a transgender man and changed her name to Elliot). Well then: Page denounced in 2013 that, although it appeared in a consensual way in Beyond, another game from that year used his image without his consent: the very successful The Last of Us, whose lead, Ellie, looked much more like Page then than the actress who actually played her, Ashley Johnson. The company that created The Last of UsNaughty Dog then claimed that the resemblance was undeniable, but that it was only due to coincidence.

The digital recreations of Mads Mikkelsen and Margaret Qualley, in the game 'Death Stranding'.
The digital recreations of Mads Mikkelsen and Margaret Qualley, in the game ‘Death Stranding’.

For Esposito, this path from the screen to the console will be more and more traveled by the day. “I am convinced that in the future more and more actors will switch to video games. When they see how fun and captivating it is, and when they see the result that is obtained, they will discover that it is a whole field to explore “, explains Esposito, who points out his particular cotton test:” When my representative saw clips of my character in the game, he swore that he thought he was watching a video of me, and not my digital recreation, “he explains. “The reality is that this transfer is becoming more real every day, the technology is getting better. We are at the beginning of a series of big changes that will allow many actors to act [y aquí la palabra que emplea no puede estar mejor escogida, pues en inglés play significa tanto actuar como jugar] in this digital world ”.

Esposito highlights the importance of video games not only as entertainment but also as a critical artifact for understanding the world. East Far Cry 6, for example, in addition to having a morality system that rewards or penalizes our character for his actions (which they already had in previous installments of the franchise) adds a political dimension. “I think it is necessary. We live in a world where people must empower themselves, they must ask themselves if they are happy with how their lives and their communities are managed ”, he explains.

“This particular game can help accompany the moment we are in. I’m not talking about a revolution, but I’m talking about a point where people stop and say: wait, what are we doing? We are destroying the Earth, getting worse, and the game I think is a good analogy for that. A product that will allow you to investigate your own moral values, but also your political connections, what can you do to make this world a better place? ”. Issues that previously committed actors struggled to bring to the big screen. And now they can move to another screen: that of video consoles.

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Actors put a face on video games | Culture