Saturday, February 20, 2016

Interview with Greg LaSalle and Review of Deadpool

Deadpool, directed by Tim Miller and starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and Ed Skrein among others, opened February 12th. Featured in this film is Greg LaSalle who is the facial performer for Colossus. The following are excerpts from our spoiler-free telephone interview. All photos provided by Prism Media Group.

Tracey MaknisI'd like to welcome Greg LaSalle, actor and veteran motion capture artist to The Qwillery. Hi Greg, how are you today?

GL:  Great. How are you?

TMFantastic, thanks. Greg, let's talk Deadpool. You're featured as the facial performer for Colossus. You must be excited for this film.

GL:  Yes, for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I think it's going to be a blast of a movie.

TMCould you tell us some of your experiences while working on this film?

GL:  Sure, well first let me explain a little about about this new technology that we're using. It's the first time it's been used on a major character in a film. The original technology is about ten years old but this new version is about two years old.

Tim Miller, Deadpool's director, has been involved with the company, MOVA, that does the facial capture side of things for a long time and that's where he and I became friends. We invented this new technology, that unlike the traditional motion capture which give you approximately 200 to 250 data points from the facial performance, gives 6 or 7 thousand data points. It actually creates a scan of the actor's face per frame of film. It then mathematically transfers that performance to the computer generated character. So, whatever the performer/actor does, all the subtlety in that performance, the wrinkles from their face, every expression down to micro expression is transferred to the final character.

I think that's really important for Colossus because he's a very empathetic character and he spends a lot of time in the film talking to Deadpool and trying to convince him of certain things and how he should live his life. I think if the subtlety of the performance wasn't there he wouldn't be as believable in trying to plead his case.

So it's exciting for a number of reasons, one is to play a character that is so prominent in the film and two, to use a technology that actually transfers the entire performance over to the character.

TMTell us a little bit about Colossus's character.

GL:  It's unique because Tim's take on Colossus is that he's got a very human element. He has beliefs that he holds near and dear to him about superpowers being used for good. He's quite a gentle soul. He doesn't even want to fight unless someone's in trouble. He's very sensitive to blood and guts. He doesn't like it. He's very gentlemanly. I think it's really important that in order to transfer those emotions you need subtlety in the performance and that's what Tim believes too and this really is the first time we are able to do that.

TMDid you have the chance to interact with the actors on set?

GL:  In this case I didn't interact with any of the actors, only with Tim. Of course, the other actors had filmed all their parts months and months beforehand. So I didn't have any real interaction with them, only the plates from the film and the WAV files from the voice.

So, how it worked was they split about 60 to 40 percent whether the audio was recorded beforehand or whether they went back and did it again after the fact. The filming was a little bit tricky because then I would get WAV files and I would just rehearse and rehearse and rehearse the timing of the voice but not any of the actual voice performance. Until it became kinesthetic - I could just do it.

Then, when we were filming, that's where we had the performance part. Tim would tell me 'ok this is what's going on, this is what you're trying to do, this is your behavior, this is why you're doing it,' and that's where the performance actually comes out in that part of the process.

TMIs it difficult to work on the facial performance aspect with only the director to play off of?

GL:  There are plusses and minuses. In this case, we get to loop the plates which gives us the chance to play the scene repeatedly over and over again. This gives me the opportunity to modify and get more into the character instead of having to wait to reset a scene.

For instance, in a fight sequence, I can go through the entire fight sequence and stay in character the whole time. When you're filming you don't get that opportunity. So I don't get to play off of the other actors as much.

But in the case of creating a computer generated character, this process is actually me playing off of Tim and having live action playing as well. The director has a clear idea of what he wants to achieve with Colossus and in between each take or loop we have about 10 seconds where he will actually shout out things like 'You need to convince him more. Be more upset that he's not believing you' or 'try harder.' Those kinds of things are really, really useful as an actor. It's just a lot of fun and you can do these lines over and over again, getting about 10 -12 takes in a matter of a minute or two. So awesome.

Greg LaSalle and Tim Miller

TMYou and your team were honored during the 87th Academy Awards with a Technical Achievement Award for the innovative design and development of the MOVA Facial Performance Capture system. Can you tell us how your system evolved into the award winning system it is today?

GL:  Sure. When I originally moved to California, I started working with a friend of mine who owned two motion capture systems really just as a hobbyist. I learned how to use those and that was about the time when the technology was getting good enough that instead of using the large markers and reflective balls that you'd see on actors, the cameras got good enough to see very small markers. So people would glue those to an actor's face, but you can only glue so many markers to a face.

We decided that was kind of a bastardization of the existing technology and instead there needed to be a whole new technology that actually captured the surface of the skin performing at high resolution. We got a team of excellent engineers and software developers together and we spent three years trying different things. We eventually came up with the idea that's the current MOVA system where we are delivering what is basically a high resolution scan of an actor's face per frame of film that is useful to a visual effects company.

Then, when I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, Digital Domain took that a step further and said 'Well, this is great data but no one had never come up with a way to actually apply it to the computer generated character without having it be something animators have to deal with.' So we invented a technique that mathematically transfers the performance to a computer generated character that looks nothing like the performer and you don't need animators to do anything.

So when Tim is directing me he knows that that performance, or take that he wants, is the way it's going to look on Colossus. No animator goes in there and says 'oh, it didn't transfer well enough because the data center is too sparse.' And that advancement has just meant everything now in being able to portray these characters in all their subtle detail especially where the character is the full size of the screen.

TMIt must be so exciting for you to be at the cutting edge of that.

GL:  It's half luck, being at the right place at the right time. To be in an area that is growing like that and you are able to actually help advance it. And in my case, to actually be on both sides of it.

I mean, think of my position, one of the co-inventors, I started the company with a friend of mine
and now I'm doing the facial performance for the first time this technology is ever used in this way for a major character in a film. I didn't even dream about this.

TMAre there any more Facial Performance roles on the horizon?

GL:  It's funny, I started doing some acting about 2 1/2 years ago. I didn't plan on any of this happening. So, I hadn't been pushing very hard on it. I don't know if it has a release date just yet but I'm actually working on a film with Ryan's wife, Blake Lively, where I play two characters in that film. They are human characters but one is her newborn baby.

Here again, it's like pushing the envelope. They wanted a computer generated version instead of having a real baby, because it's literally just delivered. The baby is in the delivery room and is taking its first breath and opening its eyes and you know it can't see yet but its eyes are still moving around. So it was really interesting to play that especially as a middle aged man trying to pretend I'm a newborn and I'm trying to get my first breath and I'm crying. It's interesting.

TMAre you working on any non-motion capture roles?

GL:  I'm starting to do some shorts with some friends. I met a really good new director down here. Shooting some shorts, kind of developing a new way of writing and filming. This is all kind of new to me but apparently it's working. So I'm trying to move a little bit in that direction.

It actually all started when we were developing the technology and we needed to put it on a character to see how it was going to work. I had been taking acting classes, actually I was lucky enough to work with Josh Brolin and we became friends and he set me up with one of his acting teachers, and it was this eye opening experience and it still is.

So, when we were generating this new character they were like 'Greg will do it.' And so it's my voice and my performance on a minotaur in an interview process and it's phenomenal the way the technology shows all the subtlety of the performance. The performance itself was an improv kind of thing in an interview process which Digital Domain now uses for pushing the technology.

I'm always amazed that all these actors and directors are seeing this work and they keep commenting to me. I was so lucky about a month and a half ago, I had a meeting with Stephen Spielberg and before the meeting they showed him my work. And the first thing he said is 'You're really good, it's very funny, I liked it.' I'm like Holy Moly. It's Stephen Spielberg telling me this!!

TMWow, how cool is that?! On Digital Domain's site, it shows your transformation from man to minotaur.

GL:  I'm hoping they will release that soon. There's been talk about getting it out there in the public. I think it's really amazing.

TMIt's amazing, but creepy in a way.

GL:  It looks creepy but it's amazing that after 2 seconds of watching it, it's not creepy anymore because it's 100% believable. Same thing with Colossus. After 2 seconds you're not going to think that Colossus is computer generated; you're going to think he's just another character in the film.

TMFinally, ask yourself a question and then answer it.

GL:  You want me to do your job too? (laughter) What do you hope for this movie?

I hope that this movie brings more computer generated characters using this sort of performance technology to the screen because it really works well. Colossus in Deadpool is a pretty major character and a perfect stepping stone for this kind of technology.

Now that technology has solved the problem with computer generated characters, I hope that we'll see more scripts come off the shelves that can leverage the technology in an awesome way. All the writers' and directors' imaginations can flow with the knowledge that they can have the actor's performance on that character and let it be purely a creative process. They don't have to worry about the technology.

So, I'm really hoping that this is the beginning of a new phase in filmmaking. For instance, the first movie I worked on was Benjamin Button and that movie had been floating around Hollywood with a lot of different directors. (Director) David Fincher was taking it around to a bunch of places. He was adamant that it had to be Brad Pitt playing Benjamin the whole time, that it couldn't be different actors. But how do you do that?

It was a fluke that we were able to get a meeting with him. And he was onboard. But back then you couldn't transfer the performance on a frame to frame basis, so Benjamin Button is still hand animated. The system was used to capture Brad's facial expressions and then that was turned into a system that could do that. So this progression is really awesome and I hope it continues to drive more projects like this.

TMGreg, thank you very much for joining us at The Qwillery. Much success to you.

GL:  Thank you.

About Greg

In 2014, Greg starred in his first feature as an actor in Night at the Museum: Secrets of the Tomb, playing August Ceasar opposite Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Robin Williams in his final on-screen role. He followed this performance with his on-screen debut in the X-Men Cinematic Universe, with the aid of new breakthroughs in motion capture that fully embodied his facial expressions and performance in the character of Colossus, the surprisingly gentle 7 and a half foot tall metallic powerhouse.

As a veteran of facial motion capture performance, his work has appeared in over two dozen productions, including Marvel's The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gravity and both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films. A member of visual effects house Digital Domain, Lasalle and his team won a Technical Achievement Award at the 87th Academy Awards for the innovative design and development of the MOVA Facial Performance Capture system. He also shares ownership on several patents for facial capture.

LaSalle's early career spanned from teaching and performing music and owning a successful chain of music stores, to writing music for and editing children's videos. Following his studies at the Berklee School of Music, he relocated to San Francisco and later Los Angeles to help develop the technology that has revolutionized motion and facial capture in films today.

Tracey's Review of Deadpool

Director:  Tim Miller
Screenplay:  Paul Wernick & Rhett Reese
Producers:  Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner, Ryan Reynolds
Actors:  Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand

Wade Wilson's backstory is interspersed between beheadings, skewerings, and shootings. Wade, a messed up ex Special Forces operative, works as a mercenary and enjoys starting fights in his local hangout. Wade's life changes when he meets Vanessa, and these two impossibly twisted human beings fall in love. All is good in the world until Wade discovers he's riddled with cancer.

Desperate to stay alive, he agrees to radical treatments that will not only save his life but make him into a superhero. Enter bad guy, Ajax, and his foul tempered associate, Angel Dust, whose radical treatment involves torture followed by more torture. Wade's treatment leaves him severely disfigured and he becomes obsessed with finding Ajax, hoping that his disfigurement can be cured and that Ajax will pay for his foul deeds.

Deadpool is markedly different than most of the other Marvel Comics movies because it doesn't follow the same template and definitely marches to its own insane drumbeat, making it fun and refreshing. For instance, referring to the film's producers as "asshats" and the director as "an overpaid tool" in the delightful opening credits is just one indication that this film doesn't take itself seriously.

Ryan Reynolds is perfectly suited to play the merc with a mouth. His voice lends the right amount of charm to Deadpool's foul-mouthed diatribes and he portrays the suffering Wade Wilson with just the right amount of disbelief and shock.

The movie, directed by Tim Miller, pokes fun at whatever it feels like, and is especially successful with properties within its own franchise like X-Men and in particular, Wolverine. Deadpool continuously breaks the 4th wall by speaking directly to the audience, and it's especially rewarding because he lets other characters in the film know that he's speaking to the audience.

Deadpool's cast is terrific. Kudos to Mr. Pool's friends and acquaintances, Colossus, a fully computer generated character played by actors Stefan Kapicic (voice)and Greg LaSalle (facial performer), and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, played by Brianna Hildebrand, who both help and hinder Deadpool, adding some interesting twists to the plot. Also enjoyable are the lovesick taxi driver, Karan Soni, Wade's pal Weasel, T.J. Miller, along with Blind Al, Leslie Uggams, who added some really hysterical moments to the film.

On the minus side, Ajax and his sidekick Angel Dust are just not very impressive villains and because of this, the story lost some of its oompf. Deadpool also falls into some of the inevitable stereotypical superhero tropes that I had hoped this film could avoid. Finally, the climatic showdown between Deadpool and Ajax was simply not as exciting at the opening sequence of the film, although to be fair, it tried really hard.

This movie is raunchy, with plenty of sexual encounters, strippers, bare breasts, crude language and a couple instances of male nudity. There is some gratuitous violence, but nothing that made me cringe. This film certainly earns its R rating, and is in no way appropriate for children. That said, it was a pleasure to watch a superhero movie that had the freedom to say or do whatever it likes because it is intended for mature audiences. The first half of the movie was definitely stronger, but overall I found it irreverent, brazen, action-packed, slightly gross, and extremely enjoyable. I'd see it again and would recommend it to fun-loving adults everywhere.


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