It’s the end of a long day when we sit down with Liam. My photographer and recordist are likewise reeling from the day, but the sun is shining through the glass windows and when we introduce ourselves Liam just smiles. His laid-back attitude and undemanding speaking makes it easy for us to chatting. He’s here to talk to the acting students in about two hours, so we have plenty of time to settle into conversation, which ultimately ends with everyone in stitches laughing.
‘I go around pretending to be other people,’ he tells me when I ask for a brief introduction to him and his job. ‘I essentially lie for a living’. Liam’s done everything, from short and feature films, to theatre. ‘Theatre is my original thing, it’s where I started doing it as a kid. That’s what got me into acting in the first place’. But it’s his experience in motion capture that drives most of our conversation. ‘The thing I’m most known for is Final Fantasy: Kingsglaive, which is the motion capture tie-in film to Final Fantasy XV’.
“the first step is always go to the script: look at the script, read the script, know the script well”
It’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t anti-commercial avenues. Acting is acting, and even the supposedly less glamorous stuff is still worthy experience. And can have fun with it too, whether it’s dancing and moonwalking in motion capture suits or playing with social media. ‘I did one corporate job which was a team-building exercise based around The Apprentice, so I played Lord Alan Sugarcube and got to stomp around shouting at people for a day, it was great. We had Twitter accounts and they got hundreds of followers! They set them up on Tuesday, and by the Wednesday there was like- I think the Alan Sugar one had something like 1,500 followers. We were tweeting nothing, there were about three tweets on it. Just everyone followed it, it was amazing’.
I ask if he approaches these various forms of acting differently. You’d imagine that theatre is quite a bit different to voice acting, or motion capture. But Liam explains that ‘the main difference is actually when you’re doing the job rather than the prep; a lot of the prep is the same, you get your emotional beats, you look for the changes in character’. As with everything, ‘the first step is always go to the script: look at the script, read the script, know the script well,’ you start doing things differently once you get on set. ‘In theatre, you can move around anywhere, as long as they can see you, whereas in film you have to get your angles right, you have to make sure you’re not blocking people and you’ve got to know if it’s a wide shot or a close-up. It changes how you act because if you act the same in a wide shot as you would a close up, you won’t be able to see it’.
“I actually find motion capture much more freeing because in a way you can just try stuff, and if it doesn’t work you can just reshoot”
‘For motion capture, you are being filmed and its being recorded but you don’t have to worry about things like angles because you’ve got 360 degree coverage at all times. If they don’t like where you’re stood they’ll just move the dots and shift you out the way, so you can do what you like. […] Motion capture is one of the only things where you can actually do a scene in one take. You can do literally one take at the scene and go “yes, we’ve got that”, and then they’ve got eight to nine different angles, various different cuts, but they’ve got it all because it’s all recorded in one go’.
At first I wonder if there’s any extra pressure from being under such scrutiny from ever angle, but Liam doesn’t see it like that. ‘I actually find motion capture much more freeing because in a way you can just try stuff, and if it doesn’t work you can just reshoot. […] One thing you don’t have to do so much in between takes is stay constant, whereas in film you are changing angles in a shot and you have to give exactly the same performance all the way through’. With motion capture ‘there are no real limitations to it, you’re not having to worry. If you move across someone and they don’t want that person blocked off they can just move you,’ so there’s more chance to really get into the performance.
The introduction of technology like motion capture into the industry is starting to change the way we approach acting because, as Liam points out, it doesn’t matter what you look like. ‘With Kingsglaive, the number of characters is twenty or thirty, something like that, but actors-wise, I think it was a cast of – for the motion capture – about fifteen people in total. All of us playing multiple parts, all of us doubling as soldiers. […] If four of us were on set that day and they wanted to stick in another character they say “oh, we just need him in the background, do you want to do it?” and you can just step in for someone else’s character’. He tells us about a really brutal death scene that wasn’t even for his character, much to our amusement; Liam’s body with another actor’s character design, with someone else’s voice entirely. ‘I play virtually all of the characters in the film at one point, just sort of jumping off and various bits and pieces like that, nods and looks and that sort of thing’.
To end one of my more informal interviews, we chat for ages about anecdotes and bloopers. ‘One of the coolest things was in Tokyo when we were shooting… I think we just wrapped. One of the localization guys, who does a lot of work on a lot of big square games, he’s a really good dancer. So they put him in a mo-cap suit and filmed him dancing. They had him do a full routine.’ At this point we’re all laughing and wondering why it isn’t included on the DVD extras. ‘It was so, so good,’ Liam grins.
Interview by Daisy Leigh-Phippard, Photographs by Ewa Ferdynus