Total War Blog

Archive for June 2nd, 2008

Empire: Total War Stunt Man Q&A

After our recent Empire: Total War mo-cap shoot at Shepperton Studios, Mark O’Connell from caught up with one of the stuntmen to learn a bit more about his art… How did you get into being a motion-capture actor?

Chris Freedman: Getting into Motion-Capture isn’t that easy, particularly the area that we specialize in. First off you need to be a competent actor and next you need to get your stage combat qualifications. Above and beyond that being a skilled acrobat, gymnast, fencer or martial artist will be greatly to your advantage. Finally, once you have all the skills you need, it’s time to find and get the work and that means auditions…. lots of them. Have you ever been involved in any film work?

Chris Freedman: Yes, I have had minor acting roles in Batman: Dark Knight, 28 Weeks Later and a variety of TV productions. Ronin has fought and directed fights in a number of film shorts and numerous theater productions. Have you had any combat training or martial arts experience?

Chris Freedman: We both hold stage combat qualifications, as this is an absolute minimum for the job. Ronin teaches stage combat to actors and is currently undergoing further teacher training with the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat of which he is an advanced actor combatant. He is a resident fight director at a theatre, an experienced fencer and has some training in Chin Woo Kung Fu. I am also an experienced fencer and hold belts in Akido, Karate and Tae Kwon Do. Do you specialize in historical combat, or is a lot of it translatable to both past and modern settings?

Chris Freedman: A lot of our work revolves around sword-based combat, so that generally places us in a historical setting. Having said that, we are equally skilled in unarmed combat, and that has a very definite place in the modern setting.

The thing that we have to remember is, that with Motion Capture, the characters we play can be in any setting, time or genre. They can also be of different skill levels with characters ranging from a general trained in the field of war, to a press-ganged sailor who is just working out which part of the cutlass is the pointy bit. As a result, we are constantly adapting our style and delivery to match the characters portrayed. Doing motion-capture for fight scenes is undoubtedly dangerous work. Has anything ever gone wrong on a shoot?

Chris Freedman: Nothing major so far, fingers crossed! Quite a few knocks and bruises though, which is pretty normal for this type of work. However, it is worth remembering that we are simulating combat, so the risks are real. We are fighting quickly and in very close proximity to each other, and although the blades we use have dull edges, the points are sharp and more than capable of piercing your rib cage or taking your eye out. The potential for injury means that we train vigorously in adapting real techniques for performance. Choreographing a fight and incorporating safety techniques enables us to fight fast and with intent and then do it all over again if required. Did you have to simulate any actions with imaginary props (cannons etc)?

Chris Freedman: Definitely. During the various shoots that we have been in for this game, we have loaded cannons, fired rockets, been in a riot and even set on fire! Do moves have to be consciously over-exaggerated for mo-cap animation, compared to regular acting?

Chris Freedman: In live theatre, the actor uses his voice, gesture and movement to impart meaning to the audience and therefore the exaggeration is only proportionate to the size of venue. Cinematic performance requires the actor to make the movements larger so that the camera can clearly see them. In Motion Capture sequences, all movement needs to extremely over performed as, not only is the actor deprived of using voice, facial expression and gesture, but it is filmed in 3600 by multiple cameras so that when it is translated to wire frame figures and eventually to the actual characters, the eventual player can rotate the action in any direction. Therefore, as the movement can be seen from any angle, it has to be both accurate and clearly defined in a short space of time. Approximately how many moves did you capture for Empire: Total War during the days shooting?

Chris Freedman: To date, we have performed between 50 and 60 fight sequences, each consisting of between 2 and 5 takes, together with 10 – 20 acting sequences for the game and 5 – 10 cut scenes. Finally, did you wear the mo-cap suit on the train home? :-)

Chris Freedman: Well of course…. wouldn’t you?

I hope you have enjoyed our exclusive talk with one of the Empire: Total War stuntmen. For more information about the mo-cap shoot itself, be sure to check out our accompanying Blog and Video Diary from the day. Stay tuned to for all the latest information.

Best regards,

Mark O’Connell