Inside Motion Capture: An Interview with Tod Fennell

Motion capture actor Tod Fennell. Motion capture actor Tod Fennell.

Tod Fennell has been a mocap actor in numerous games over the years. Most recently he's been in The Division as a Riker (As in Riker's Island) thug and a lab assistant, but he's also had roles in everything from the Assassin's Creed series to Thief to Deus Ex.

"The Division takes place in a post-apocalyptic world gone to shit. Different people and groups are piecing city back together and some people take advantage of chaos. I played an escape convict from Riker Island to take over city. Zero respect.”

And after challenging roles like that and numerous other roles, what are the difficulties in mocapping?:

“The tech you wear. You're wearing a black spandex suit with sensors. On top of that is a battery pack with mic, glasses and a huge camera strapped to head for facial recognition. You get huge LEDS in face. Getting over that can be difficult at first.”

“A lot of death scenes too. I've been shot everywhere for games, and I die falling every way possible. Like when I had to get thrown out of a chopper onto a crash mat. So much adrenaline is going during this that it feels like you got hit by a truck the next day.”

We also asked him what the funnest part was:

“The funnest part is being cast as other people. I'm a short guy, but I can be 6'4 in the game and modify my voice. You never know who you're going to be. In Assassin's Creed 2 I played an overweight Italian banker (Bernardo Baroncelli). In Assassin's Creed 3 I played an entirely different character – a sketchy helper who's also mysterious (Mason Weems). I've also been giant ogres, gnomes and dwarves. Mason Weems was my favorite to do. He was very mysterious, and didn't fit the environment."

Via Orcz

"I also liked playing a Riker in The Division. I've never done a tough guy before, so it was a completely different experience. My first role at Ubisoft was a thug in Rainbow 6: Vegas. I had only one role, a thug. All I said “The Vegas lights are beautiful at night”, and then I was sniped in the head.”

It also can stretch out your voice:

“For one game I was told to play a huge warrior with a sword, so I used my deepest voice. Then I had to play an ogre twice his size, so I had to go even deeper. Then I was told to play a dragon and I went so deep that I went a little hoarse.”

And it's also be really weird to play as yourself:

“It's really weird to play characters you've done because its you and its your walk. You know how you can identify one of your friends by the way the walk sometimes? It's like that. I'm playing and I suddenly see my walk. And its weird to see another face. You know it's you, but it's a completely different face than your own.”

Tod is also an accomplished actor, being in movies like The Spiderwick Chronicles or on the show Lassie. We asked him what the difference between mocap and movie acting was like:

“In Motion Capture you have to imagine more and pretend a stick with a sensor is a flamethrower. You need to pretend with almost everything. It builds and alters the 3D space. No like in acting on a set. It takes a little time getting used to it. It's why they use the same people over and over again (i.e. Andy Serkis) – it can be a learning curve. (Some actors, like Ian McKellan on the set of the Lord of the Rings prequels, almost couldn't take it - and that was without the headgear). It's tough to block out LED visual stimulation too. You see it on behind the scenes features, it's a helmet with lights to capture your facial movements. They actually upgraded the facial camera to turn off LED lights between takes. But you need to tough it out. Actual SWAT and police come in to some mocap work too. It's a culture of tough guys, and we all tough it out together.”

"Mocapping has come along way too. Twenty years ago it was a spandex suit with white balls attached to capture movements. Now it's extremely sophisticated. Facial recognition has also come a long way: "

"The first time I did facial recognition the helmet was an old bicycle helmet with vice grips. It was really uncomfortable. Now its carbon fiber and weightless. Don't even feel it.”

And what's next for Tod (that he can tell us)?:

Via Notey

“I have one project for iDos coming up. And new Division stuff coming out. I'm playing more of an agent like a CIA operative.”

His last words on that also pretty much sum up his career:

“It's really exciting.”

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