In a new technological trend, Hollywood stars are migrating to video games



The New York Times

A number of actors who built their careers in Hollywood are making their digital presence felt in video games, a once-stigmatized medium that is increasingly seen as a unique storytelling platform with the ability to reach large audiences.

Some are dubbing, transferring skills they may have honed in animated films or TV shows, while others are contributing their likenesses through advanced motion capture technology that can replicate furrowed eyebrows and wrinkled cheeks.

Last year, Cameron Monaghan led “Star Wars Jedi: Survivor”, Megan Fox played a character in “Mortal Kombat 1”, and Idris Elba and Keanu Reeves provided the basis for “Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty”.

In this month’s remake of the 1992 horror game “Alone in the Dark,” both Jodie Comer, who won an Emmy for “Killing Eve” and a Tony for “Prima Facie,” and David Harbour, known for his work on “Stranger Things” are making their video game debuts. They are among the group of actors who are meeting younger generations where they already are.

“I hope people are still watching two-hour movies decades from now, but I know they will be playing video games,” Harbor said in an email.

In a behind-the-scenes video from the game’s publisher, Comer said that working on the film “Free Guy,” set in a fictional video game, gave him a new appreciation for the industry. “It’s amazing to be able to step outside of what you usually do and explore something new, and challenge yourself,” she said.

In “Alone in the Dark,” Comer’s character and the private detective she hires, played by Harbor, explore a mental hospital to uncover the truth behind a recent disappearance. Both are playable characters, with different scenes and dialogues.

Mikael Hedberg, the game’s creative director, said that when the characters reunite after being separated, the player feels immediate relief because of a real sense of recognition.

“Everyone has some level of parasocial relationship with celebrities, where maybe they feel like they’re their friend,” Hedberg said.

The shift to video games is happening for several reasons, including technological advances that have reduced the disconnect between real-life and digital performances.

Convenience is another factor. Filming a live-action feature film like “Dune: Part Two” can require actors to spend weeks in the deserts of Abu Dhabi. Motion capture sessions for games can often be completed minutes from an actor’s home in Los Angeles.

Bringing in well-known actors also allows studios to engage with people who might not otherwise be interested in their games. The indie game “Open Roads,” a mother-daughter road trip due out this month, features the voices of Keri Russell and Kaitlyn Dever.

“If you saw that David Harbor and Jodie Comer were starring in a new horror movie ‘Alone in the Dark,’ you’d probably go see it,” said Michael Csurics, the game’s casting and voice director.

A known presence can drastically increase a game’s reach. For big-budget games, on-screen actors are a small vote of confidence. For indie games, they can be an all-or-nothing gamble. “Having a celebrity definitely tips the scales on a budget,” Csurics said.

At last year’s Game Awards, a studio revealed its space game Exodus by bringing Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey to the stage, who promised that his first video game character would have “a unique relationship with each player.” Later in the ceremony, the real-time strategy game “Stormgate” was introduced by Simu Liu, fresh from his work on “Barbie.”

Hollywood actors have participated in video games before this most notable trend. In 2008, Liam Neeson played the protagonist’s father in the post-apocalyptic “Fallout 3”. Martin Sheen voiced the Illusive Man, a space paramilitary leader, in 2010’s “Mass Effect 2” and its 2012 sequel.

Film and TV actors who have transitioned to video games note the similarities of acting in any medium. Karen Fukuhara has joined the cast of “The Callisto Protocol,” a 2022 horror survival game, a few years after starring as Kimiko in “The Boys,” a satirical superhero series.

Fukuhara said that she had “imagined a video game cast would be like, OK, just act like you’re in a war zone or shooting at someone”, but that she was surprised by how much the experience “felt like a scene”.

In the end, acting is acting. “I write down and build a character the same way I would any role,” said Melanie Liburd, who was on “This Is Us” before being cast as the main character in last year’s “Alan Wake 2.”

While it may be exciting to see the lines blur, it’s mostly happening in one direction. Camera actors are easily slotted into games. But prominent video game actors like Yuri Lowenthal and Troy Baker have struggled to be cast in live-action stories.

“Oh, you were in, you know, the biggest game that came out last year,” said Lowenthal, who played Spider-Man as well as characters in the “Saints Row,” “Diablo” and “Prince of Persia” series. “But you won’t even be considered for a supporting role on a TV show.”

The move comes as film studios and streaming services are investing in games. Netflix has a free game library built into every subscription, and Annapurna Pictures has published several acclaimed games, including “Kentucky Route Zero” and “Outer Wilds.” Director James Gunn, who is now managing the DC Comics universe for Warner Bros., has stated that he wants to cast actors who can play the same role across TV, film, video games and animation.

“When you try to label or define art too much, it is, by nature, limited and boring,” said Monaghan, who was a lead actor on 11 seasons of “Shameless” before wielding lightsabers in two popular Star Wars games. Wars.

Actors describe the experience of filming on a motion capture stage as somewhere between theater and cinema. Surrounded by at least a dozen cameras in a blank white room with minimalist sets, the actors wear tight costumes covered in dots that help the system capture their movements. Team members observe from afar and often render performances in real time.

Some actors found the experience liberating, including Shannon Woodward, who was Ellie’s girlfriend in the post-apocalyptic game “The Last of Us Part 2.”

“I don’t worry if something is at a bad angle for my chin,” said Woodward, who built his career on television shows such as “Raising Hope” and “Westworld.” “I can fully focus on how to represent this story and be present in this moment.”

For younger actors, video games are already part of their everyday lives. Liu said in a video from the studio behind “Stormgate” that it was exciting to voice a character for developers who once worked on “StarCraft” and “Age of Empires,” the real-time strategy games he played in the end. of the 1990s.

The transition from video games to cinema is considerably more difficult. Colleen O’Shaughnessey, who voiced Tails in the “Sonic the Hedgehog” games over the past decade, was the only actress to reprise her role for the 2020 live-action film. 2022 sequel until it was publicly announced by the studio.

O’Shaughnessey said he told his agents at the time that playing Tails “would be a huge win for me, but this would be a huge win for the entire voice acting community.”

Despite the challenge faced by long-time game actors, many have encouraged the recent arrival of more famous camera actors. Lowenthal said he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do voiceover work on the “Afro Samurai” miniseries and film if Samuel L. Jackson hadn’t been behind the project.

“You can look at it like, oh, that person took my job,” Lowenthal said. “Or you can look at it as that person gave me a job.”

Unlike other mediums, games transform the viewer into an active participant. Harbor said video games hold potential for art, social commentary and emotional catharsis, and that he joined “Alone in the Dark” because “it seemed like fertile ground for an imaginative retelling and the opportunity to really take risks.”

Abubakar Salim, who starred in the game “Assassin’s Creed Origins” and the TV show “Raised by Wolves,” is now creating his own game, “Tales of Kenzera: Zau,” about a shaman trying to recover his father’s spirit in a world inspired by Bantu traditions. Salim wants people to embark on a journey of grief and beauty.

“The experience I wanted to provide had to be a game,” he said.

Source: Folha

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