Greg LaSalle Provides The Face For Deadpool’s Collossus [Interview]
Interview by Justin Dash
You might not recognize his face or name, but you’ve more than likely seen the work of veteran motion capture artist Greg LaSalle. A pioneer of facial performance capture, LaSalle has lent his talent to more than two dozen films, including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2, Marvel’s The Avengers, Green Lantern, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, John Carter, and more. He is one of the men responsible for the MOVA Facial Performance Capture system, which he and his team at Digital Domain won an Academy Award for. Not just a motion capture artist, LaSalle is also an actor, having two performance capture roles under his belt; one as Augustus Caesar in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and the other as the facial performance for Colossus in the upcoming 20th Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment film, Deadpool. I was able to speak with Greg over the phone and pick his brain about performance capture and his upcoming film.
AC: What drew you to performance capture in particular?
LaSalle: Well in the beginning it was that the technology was really cool. Lately, it’s actually been the fact that with this newer technology you can capture the subtlety of an actor’s performance, an actor’s face, and transfer that to a computer generated character so they will have all the subtlety and nuance, and that the performance will come through on that computer generated character. And that’s really kind of new and really fun to see because acting is so much more than just the line; it’s everything that’s going on in the face, it’s the behaviors, it’s the micro expressions. And now that we can see that kind of performance from a computer generated character, it’s much more fascinating to stay on the technical side.
AC: You are one of the people behind the MOVA Contour surface deformation system which revolutionized the process of capturing facial performances. How does the system differ from how the process was done in the past?
LaSalle: It’s actually pretty easy to understand. You know the motion capture used to be, or is, with reflective markers on a body and the computer systems connected to that generate a skeleton, which works extremely well. But then as the camera resolution got better and the technology advanced, people started gluing small markers to a performer’s face. But the face isn’t just driven from a skeleton. There’s lots of things going on to make a face move. So me and some friends of mine felt that there’s got to be a better way than to capture such sparse data from 200-250 markers.
I had this one friend who was willing to spend the money to try and develop this system, and it took about three years and we were able to do it such a way that we can now capture the entire surface of a performer’s face per frame of film. So now instead of 200-250 data points you have 6,000 or 7,000 data points. Every wrinkle, all the micro expressions, all of that is being captured. At Digital Domain, in the last two years, we’ve actually developed a system that can mathematically transfer that performance to the computer generated character, so it doesn’t take a team of animators anymore to triangulate that data; it’s now done through the program that captures the performance, with all the subtlety and nuance of the original actor’s performance.
AC: Your work will be appearing in the upcoming film Deadpool, which is pretty hotly anticipated, where you will be providing the facial performance for Colossus. What went into bringing the character to life? How did you prepare for the role?
LaSalle: Well as far as preparing, [director]Tim Miller knows and understands this technology quite well. He owns his own digital animation studio and they’ve been using the motion capture technology, for many years. That’s where I met Tim almost fifteen years ago. When we developed this new system of how the MOVA system could read, what we call “retargeting the data,” he was very enthralled in how we could take Colossus and do something no one else has done before, which is to take the best things we could find in a couple of different actors. So there’s a different voice actor because Tim was adamant that the voice be a real Russian accent, not some actor who learned to do an accent.
The stunt performer, you know, is a real big stunt guy. And using this technology we’re able to take these things and bring them all together to create the character. So you take all the best traits you can find in a couple of different people and smash them all together to create this…you know it’s funny, you’ve got the superhero on screen and you’ve got the super technology combination to pull it off.
AC: Did you get to work with the voice actor (Stefan Kapicic) or the stunt performer (Andre Tricoteux) at all?
LaSalle: No. I didn’t have to. In order to create computer generated characters it can get kind of expensive. So what Tim did was he waited until we had a cut of the film. We didn’t actually start filming anything for Colossus until September, the facial performance and the audio. The big challenge here was that sometimes Tim wanted to have the audio done first. You know typically in animation, even in a live action film, looping happens at the very end, where someone’s just lip syncing what’s on the screen. In this case a lot of the time I had the audio first, so I had to rehearse for days with these wav files, making sure my timing was exactly the same as the audio.
AC: Ah, so you’re basically mouthing what the audio is saying.
LaSalle: Right. And in that process not imparting anything from the performance, just getting the timing down. Because the performance is based on Tim’s concept of what’s happening in every shot.
AC: So you didn’t get to work with any of the other members of the cast. You just worked on Colossus exclusively.
LaSalle: Yup. All of the Colossus stuff was done right here in Los Angeles. We started in September and finished in December. But I did have the pleasure of working with Ryan [Reynolds] previously on the Green Lantern film.
AC: What was it like working on Deadpool? Was it different from any other project you’ve worked on?
LaSalle: The biggest difference was that I’ve known Tim Miller for so long…it was almost like we weren’t even working together, we weren’t filming anything. I mean we were, but he’s so much fun to work with, he and I have so much fun when we’re together that it was almost like a no pressure situation. He’s very easy to work with and we have a lot of fun. So for me it was the greatest experience. I wasn’t nervous, well I was nervous as much as anyone would be nervous when you’re trying to get a part exactly the way it’s supposed to be, to see that you’re getting everything across, but it was like working with an old friend. It was really fun.
AC: What do you think audiences can expect from the film?
LaSalle: That’s a good question. I haven’t seen the completed film so it’s hard for me to say exactly. But I think that comic book fans will be really happy to see how true to life the characters and everything are portrayed. Tim didn’t turn this into something just to sell tickets. He wanted to tell the story around the way the characters…you know he loves these characters and he loves comics and he wanted to keep these characters as true to the original comics as he could. For Colossus I think they’ll enjoy that he’s in a good portion of the film as Colossus. He doesn’t take human form at all in the film.
AC: One last question. What’s next in store for you? Any projects that you’re working on now or will be in the future?LaSalle: Yeah, yesterday I just finished filming…it’s kind of funny, Deadpool has Ryan Reynolds as the lead and this next movie I play different characters in is with his wife, Blake Lively in a film called All I See Is You. It’s not a superhero movie or anything but there are two characters, two portions of characters that are computer generated. So I play those two characters.