Deadpool, the most hyped movie in years outside of [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158), officially hits theaters tonight, even though it already broke two records last night on its "preview" night after racking up $12.7 million at the box office.
The movie was a labor of love from everyone involved, and with a budget on the low end for a superhero movie, the team had to get creative in how to bring it to life. One of their innovations was the way in which they brought metal-skinned mutant, Colossus, to life.
I spoke with actor and facial motion capture supervisor for a number of films over the last decade, including quite a few in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He provided the mocap work for Colossus, and the process, as it turns out, was fascinating.
I read that you actually invented the technology that was used in the film about fifteen years ago and then upgraded it?
Actually, I invented it with some other people - it wasn't just me! But Tim [Miller, Deadpool director] had actually been using it off and on already because he has a visual effects studio. So he’d been using it for quite a while in its initial form. Then about two years ago, the team at Digital Domain made some advancements with how the information is used. Tim actually had a conversation with me about that part of the technology and wanted to see how it worked and he was impressed. So Colossus is the first character to use that – actually, we did one smaller part in the Night of the Museum that came out on Christmas – but nothing to the extent of Colossus. He’s really the first big character in a film to use this technology.
You had to do your mocap work after Stefan Kapcic [the Colossus voice actor] – how difficult is it to bring out that real emotion in your performance when you’re trying to match it with the audio?
It is more difficult to some extent, but not if you prepare for it. What we did was we recorded Stefan as early as possible, about a week before we were gonna do the capture, so I had a number of days to literally just sit and loop and practice moving my lips at the same time. I didn't worry about the expressions or what was going on in the scene, because at that point, all I really had was the sound compiled from Stefan, but I practiced it enough so that I could just move my lips at the same time without thinking. So when it came time to actually do the performance, what Tim and I did was look at the live action plate and say, okay, this is what’s going on in this part, these are the prior circumstances, this is what you’re trying to do. Which is what an actor needs to understand the behavior of what’s underneath those words so the performance of the face gets it across. You know, you can say the same words in a number of ways, but it's the facial expression that gives away a high percentage of what you’re trying to say. So that’s how we did it for almost all the lines. Some lines, we had to rerecord them, but for the most part, that’s how it worked.
So similar to the idea of muscle memory, like an athlete practicing a free throw thousands of times to get it right in a game situation.
Yeah, exactly! The example I give sometimes, because I play the piano, is that. Learning the notes for something, you practice and practice and practice so that you get the notes down so that you’re not thinking about them anymore. You’re thinking in musical terms, phrasing and tempo and all that. That’s the approach I took with this. The words are the notes, but the musicality comes from the performance itself.
You have a lot of experience with visual effects, but you’ve always been behind the camera as the mocap supervisor. What made you want to jump to acting?
I’ve always known that I wanted to do it, I’d just never had the guts to. Even with my musical career, I was always the guy in the background, or in the orchestra pit. I always enjoyed it tremendously, but I was afraid to have people looking at me while I was doing it. So the ten years or so of being the motion capture supervisor just inspired me to say, I have to get over that fear. There were two things: One, I have had ten years of working with fantastic directors and actors which is an education in and of itself that I could never buy. And then I was super fortunate to work with Josh Brolin on Guardians of the Galaxy. We became friends, and he set me up with one of his previous acting teachers who is just marvelous. After working with her for two years, she convinced me that, you know, I had this, that I could do this and get out there in front of people. She gave me the tools to be able to work on things and get over that fear.
Speaking of that fear, because it’s your face but behind a digital mask with mocap, does it free you up from that fear more than it would if you were doing it as yourself?
Wow, that is a really good question. I never really thought about that. It’s funny because in the acting that I’ve been doing in training for other things, it’s actually been in front of other people so I got over the fear through that. But I never really thought about it like, oh yeah, there isn’t a ton of people around me when I’m doing it. I mean, there are still about a dozen people standing around watching you work, but you’re not live on stage. I think I’ve really just learned that it’s a different way of concentrating, in which you’re putting all your focus into what you’re doing instead of part of our brain worrying that there are people out there. That’s the big thing I’ve learned about control over the last few years.
Colossus is the gentle giant of the Marvel universe and you’ve done quite a few Marvel films before this. Were you familiar at all with his character prior to landing the role?
I wasn’t that familiar with him originally, but when I started researching it last year, it was even more exciting because I thought, ‘Oh, now I am even more excited to use this new mocap technology to capture the performance.’ It’s really cool, because it’s not just about him running around beating people up, which he never really wants to do unless someone else is in trouble. His goal is really just to convince Deadpool to join the X-Men, you know, most of what he’s doing in the movie is trying to convince Deadpool to be good instead of seeking revenge, and that’s all in these little mini speeches that he says. To me, it was that gentle giant aspect that was intriguing. It’s not really hard to pretend you’re fighting somebody. What’s hard is to get the emotional content there to try to convince somebody to do something that they know they should do but don’t want to do. When I stated learning that’s who the character was, I became even more intrigued and wanted to do it even more.
What was your favorite scene to shoot, then?
My favorite is this mini speech that I give at the end, which is trying to convince Ryan—er, not Ryan [laughing]—
You know, they’re really just the same person at this point.
[laughing] You know, it may seem like that because Ryan’s humor is the same, but his personality is much nicer than Wade Wilson.
But my favorite was the scene toward the end where I’m basically trying to convince him that he has to use his powers for good, there’s only a few times in this life where we get the opportunity to make a real change, you know. That was my favorite part.
Deadpool slices and dices his way into theaters tonight, Friday, February 12th.