The following Monday, I make the early morning trek to Digital Domain in Playa del Rey. My GPS (which, by the way, is one of the most valuable pieces of technology an actor can buy) leads me to an unmarked, gated building. I check in with the gate guard, park my car, and walk in the building. It’s quiet… uncomfortably so. There’s not a soul in sight. I see a heavy-looking door with the red recording light lit up. I decide to look for wardrobe, which is my fallback whenever I have no idea where I’m supposed to go on set. You can’t miss wardrobe, and they’ll always have a schedule or a walkie.
I walk up to a partially open door, and I’m met with a white room, lined with skin-tight, velcro, motion capture suits against one wall, and changing rooms along another. In the room is Damon, the man who helped me squeeze into my first motion capture suit. He hands me a wardrobe bag with my name on it, containing a black velcro suit, shoes, and undergarments. Damon explains how to put on the suit: which way it faces, how to deal with the secondary set of stretch pants sewn into the suit (kinda like those weird, meshy “underpants” sewn into swimming trunks – but knee length), and then leaves me with some parting advice: “It’s going to be snug.”
The next 15 minutes in the dressing room is a blur of expletives, pinching in weird places, and lots of sweating trying to get the damn
suit on. Look, I’m not a small guy, and well… have you ever seen sausage being stuffed? Yeah it was like that, except you know… me. At one point, once I got the suit finally zipped up, I realize there’s an uncomfortable bunch of fabric around my butt. I missed the second pair of sewn in pants. So, I had to take the entire thing off, and try again. I can only imagine the mixture of grunts and heavy breathing Damon must have heard on the other side, because when I’m halfway through my second attempt, I hear a knock on the dressing room door, and Damon’s voice say, “You alright in there?”
A feeble, “Yeah, I’m good,” squeaks through my lips. Eventually, though, I get the suit on correctly. “Snug” fails to encapsulate the level of intimacy that suit had with my body. I thought for a second that they were going to have to cut me out of that thing. Then came the reflective balls. I was wearing quite possibly the tightest piece of clothing I have ever struggled to put on, and then they covered in 50-odd reflective balls. New sensations, everywhere.
Oh, and the ordeal wasn’t quite over. After squeezing myself into the reflective ball casing, they fitted me with another very snug piece of equipment: my performance capture helmet, complete with two mandibles that came down either side of my face. At the end of these each of the mandibles was a tiny camera, each carefully aimed and calibrated to capture all the necessary nuances of my facial movements. Boy, was that uncomfortable. Not the helmet’s fault though, I’ve just got a massive head.
So, there I was, body vacuum-packed into a velcro suit, oversized head stuffed into a normal-sized helmet, my first day on a motion capture set. Apprehension was starting to set in. That all melted away the second I stepped through the double doors with the red light, passed the giant curtains and into a large, white room with hundreds of cameras lining the walls, and a quadrille floor. They call it “The Volume.”
“This shit just got real, ” I thought. Actually, that wasn’t part of the vernacular quite yet, was it?
It was probably more like, “Holy Shit.”
How much realer could it possibly get? Oh, tons. That , however, shall be a tale reserved for next week, along with meeting the cast, velcro props, bacon donuts, and acting for mocap in comparison to film. Grreeeat!
::End Part 1