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Actor Nolan North (Pretty Little Liars) provides more than just the voice of Nathan Drake in developer Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games. And now the 2.4 million gamers who have picked up a copy of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception for Sony’s PlayStation 3 can see just what goes into the interactive adventure. North has just published a new book, Uncharted: Drake’s Journal – Inside the Making of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. The actor talks to The Hollywood Reporter about the advances in performance capture that the game industry has been pushing with Uncharted and other games in this exclusive interview.
The Hollywood Reporter: What were you trying to accomplish with your first Uncharted book?
Nolan North: My goal was to just really highlight what we do and how we do it, but then the personalities, stories, little quirks and funny antidotes that happen during the process. Hopefully, I’ve achieved that.
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THR: What do you think Hollywood might learn about how games are made from this book?
North: There was a time when all the actors were saying, “We should get residuals on videogames.” I just kept going, “You don’t have any idea what goes into making a game, do you?”
THR: What stood out to you about how Los Angeles-based Naughty Dog created the Uncharted games?
North: The co-presidents, Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, work just as hard as their employees do. There’s no real management structure. Their big quote is, “Go make it awesome.” They just trust in their employees. That collaboration, that self-motivated attention to detail, is what it is. That spills over onto the mo-cap stage, so now every actor’s thinking, “I’ve got to step up my game. They’re working hard, and I’ve got to keep making it the best it can be.” It ends up being this brilliant game.
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THR: How have you seen performance capture advance from the first game you did to this last game?
North: In terms of the technology, I think it’s always progressing. For the first game we didn’t capture the voice at the same time; we did that on the second one. The third one, Sony actually built us a soundstage on their Culver Studios lot. I would say we’re much more comfortable with our characters, but the mo-cap became a little more advanced. The tailor from Avatar made all the actors custom suits.
THR: Why hasn’t Naughty Dog employed facial capture yet?
North: That’s one thing I like about how Naughty Dog makes these games. I know a lot of games have been going to the facial capture. And movies like TinTin are using it, as well. There’s something known as the Uncanny Valley where things look a little too real and you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at. It becomes weird like it did in The Polar Express, where the eyes seem so realistic, and yet you know it’s animated. Because Naughty Dog relies on their facial team to hand animate the faces of each game character and they do such a remarkable job, I think you can be more realistic with your acting. It gives the story and what’s happening to you the feeling that it’s a game.
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THR: How do you think this book and the digital version with its videos might shed light into what goes on in the performance capture space for games today?
North: I like to quote Andy Serkis a lot. I read an article where he got upset because people kept saying, “I loved you. You were the guy that voiced Gollum.” He was, “No. I am Gollum.” He is everything. He had a great quote where he said that, “Everything I do is just like any other actor, except I wear digital makeup.” I think that’s brilliant. It is absolutely a full performance. In fact, it’s the closest thing I’ve done since the day when I used to do theater in New York. You’re with other actors. You’re on sets with props. And they’re recording your voice and actions simultaneously.
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THR: Serkis has compared game performance capture to live theater, as well.
North: Go watch a production of Our Town where they just have nothing but window frames hanging; you imagine that world. That’s what we do with this. I think it gets tossed aside because, “Well, it’s a game,” but we did the same thing that they did in Avatar. As a matter of fact, Reuben Langdon did some of the stunts in Uncharted 3. He was Sam Worthington’s stunt double inAvatar. It is the same thing, it’s just distributed in a different media form.
THR: What are your thoughts on Hollywood making an Uncharted movie with Arad Productions and director Neil Burger?
North: I think Burger’s great. I hope he writes a good script. We’ll see how the casting goes. I don’t know what to say about it anymore. It’s such a big part of my life that it’s hard to think about somebody else doing it other than myself and Naughty Dog. So many people have come to me and said, “But it’s already a movie. Why would they do that?” It will be a different movie. I don’t know how it will play out. It’s almost gotten so much acclaim, and so many people are such die-hard fans of this, you almost feel like the movie might face some real negativity coming out.
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