Nerds. Geeks. Game enthusiasts. Whatever it is you want to call them, there can be no denying the fact that today’s generation of high tech PC and console video game players are part of a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow by leaps and bounds every year.
Gone are the days of those annoying, little white blips and sounds on a PONG screen. Today’s video games are more like an alternate universe. A door into a world where larger than life characters take on near impossible challenges. Ones where the risk is often greater than the reward and a world where we (for the most part) are in complete control.
In celebration of this amazing entertainment medium that’s kept gamers aged six to sixty glued to their couch, Anchor Bay Entertainment and Amplify have just released the new feature length documentary, “Video Games: The Movie”.
Produced by Zach Braff (“Scrubs”) and narrated by Sean Astin (“The Lord Of The Rings” Trilogy), “Video Games: The Movie” takes a look back at the history of gaming culture through the use of in depth interviews with some of the industry’s most renowned enthusiasts – including Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari), Warren Davis (Q*Bert), Doug Tennapel (“Earthworm Jim”) and Cliff Bleszinski (“Gears of War”) to name but a few.
In addition to conversation, the documentary also features a look into the history of the games and consoles. From the early days of PONG and the arcade dominance of the 1980’s to today’s state of the art virtual environments. There’s also a cool section on the future of the gaming industry as well as a look at the infamous “E.T.” debacle that nearly destroyed it.
“Video Games: The Movie” will certainly entertain those of us who’ve lost countless amounts of quarters at the local mall as well as those who’ve grown up with Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox consoles. But the real magic with this documentary is its ability to educate audiences on the history, development and dreams of those early pioneers. The ones who saw a future beyond a blip on the screen, and were brave enough to pursue it.
I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with many different actors, authors and artists about their current and upcoming projects, but perhaps none of them has been cooler or more unique than actress Michal Sinnott. Let’s face it; it’s not every day you get the opportunity to talk to someone who’s played a role in what’s poised to become the best-selling video game of all time.
It was recently revealed that Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 broke seven Guinness world records, including the highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours.
Michal’s role of Tracey De Santa in GTA 5 is truly one of a kind. It’s acting, but not something you’d see in a typical film or theatrical role. Michal actually describes the experience as a hybrid combination of the two. Working exactly like the actors in Avatar, each was rigged up to get their performances captured in 3-D and then have those recorded images digitally transferred into the game world.
In my interview with Michal, we discuss her role in GTA 5 as well as how she got her start and the projects she’s currently working on.
What attracted you to such a unique project?
It was Rockstar so I knew that it would be a quality project. It was a cool opportunity that turned out to be an amazing experience. Way more that I had anticipated.
Were you presented with an actual storyline or script – like one you’d get for a film?
Not exactly. They really tried to tell you as little about it as possible [laughs]. I knew it was a character, but I was only getting my material and not the whole picture. They really wanted to have everyone focus on their own part. There are thousands of pages of dialogue in this game and it takes hundreds of hours to complete, not to mention that there were so many people involved in working on the project. If you watch the credits, it takes about twenty minutes to go through them. It’s a massive amount of information. But once you know the character and know the world, you can focus on doing the best job possible. Then it all magically comes together.
How do you prepare for a project like this?
The research I had done on Grand Theft Auto couldn’t really prepare me for it. The cool thing about the series is that it’s always different with new characters and new worlds. My character, Tracey may not be the most complicated person in the world, but there’s a larger than life quality to her. She wants to be a celebrity but doesn’t have any talent. She’s one of those people who’s really focused on having everyone look at her. She’s got really big needs and thinks everything is so tragic. Tragic in a sense that she can’t find the right color nail polish [laughs]. The fun of it was being able to take it on fully and have those extreme emotions over something so petty and small. In reality, that kind of behavior could lead to an awful life, or at least alienate you from your friends. It was cool to go and explore and then still be able to walk away unscathed.
What was the filming process like?
We would usually shoot for a three-week period and then take a few months off. Then we’d start up again. The entire process took somewhere in the realm of three years to complete. Along the way, I would always be given clues about who Tracey is. I remember that every time I would come back for another shoot I’d get the script of new material and say “Oh cool! This is who this person is!”
How would you describe performance capture as it relates to typical acting mediums?
I think it lies somewhere in between the realms of film and theater. You wear the balls [the same technology that was used in Avatar] and you have a camera recording your facial gestures. The balls help process the movement so that they can be transformed into a 3D image of you. Your movements also have to be larger than life, so there has to be a sense of theatricality to it. When you’re angry, you really have to stomp! It’s almost like you’re a cartoon character. You also film on a sound stage and don’t really have a backdrop when you’re shooting. It’s acting without any stimulus. So you have to learn to fill that void with your imagination. To see that world and realize what all the technical people did to fill that world is amazing.
When did you realize you really wanted to pursue acting?
I went to a performing arts high school and had written a play that ended up winning a festival and I got to go to a playwright conference. Just being on the other side and having my work not be so personal really opened me up to how magical it is to really live out your dreams and pursue what you want. I remember being out in the audience watching this play and realized in that moment that I couldn’t deny myself this life. After that, I never looked back. I majored in theater in college, moved to New York and went full throttle. I’ve been at it ever since.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m an associate producer on a biopic about Rick James that I’ll also have a role in as well. Right now, we’re in talks with a production company and it’s coming along really well. It’s been exciting to get the opportunity to wear a lot of different hats and work the other side. It feeds your understanding of the business.
I also like to blog. It’s something that I started doing as a way to share with my friends, family and other actors the inner workings of what it’s like to be an actor growing on her path. It’s funny, quirky and a little bit spiritual.
For more info on Michal Sinnott be sure to check out her website by Clicking Here!
I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was Tuesday, October 5th, 1982 (ok, I looked up the day of the week, but I did remember the year) and I had just completed another long, grueling day at school.
The big yellow bus had just dropped me off at the corner of Charles and Wilkes-Barre streets and I had to walk the usual two blocks to get home.
Normally, this would be a challenge for me because the weight of my science and math books would always wear me down by the time I got home. But today I probably could have carried a dozen thousand-paged text books without a problem. Because today was no ordinary Tuesday.
It was also my birthday and I KNEW that there would be some kind of present waiting for me as I walked through the door. And sure enough, there was.
It was a brand new Atari 2600 video game system. The first state of the art system I ever owned and my first real taste of home video games. I quickly set everything up on our 19 inch color television and put in a game. I didn’t even need to read any instruction manual. Everything was so easy to figure out.
Needless to say, I relished every moment playing games like Combat, Pitfall, Pac-Man and my all time favorite: Haunted House. Each one easy to play and all providing me countless hours of mindless entertainment. (I’m also quite sure that the sounds eminating from the games drove my parent absolutely insane).
It wasn’t long before technology started making games “better” and a few Christmas’ later my neighbor got a Texas Instruments mini-computer that also played video games. I’m sure his parents probably spent a million dollars on it because the graphics (from a 1984 stand point) were just so cool.
That winter I think we spent every waking moment we had playing games in his basement and listening to records on an endless loop. We played Vital Signs from Survivor, Wheels are Turnin’ by REO Speedwagon, Midnight Madness by Night Ranger and Heartbeat City by The Cars. So, in addition to dominating the game “Tunnels of Doom” we also memorized every lyric from every one of those albums.
Over the years the gaming systems continued to change. Each one getting progressively better than the last. Coleco Vision, Sega, Nintendo and the Sony Playstation all came along and one-upped each other. I owned quite a few of these consoles myself and marveled at how much better the quality of the games had become.
Fast forward: It’s now thirty years later and I wanted to buy a game for my Playstation 3.
I decided to try Skyrim – the 5th installment in the Elder Scrolls series. It’s about a bunch of dragons who attack this city. At least that’s what I think it’s about. I never played any of the other games in the series but I assumed it would be kind of like a 21st century “Haunted House” meets “Tunnels of Doom”.
I started playing the game to try and get a feel for the controls and quickly discovered that this was no “Haunted House”. This is a game in which every single button on the controller is used in some way. Failure to know what each button does and when to use it can lead to an untimely death.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I needed to do to play this game properly. So I do what I always do when I’m stuck playing a game – I cheat. I went to the local Game Stop to look for any cheat manuals and sure enough they had one.
I am not kidding you – the companion guide for this game is the size of a phone book. There are 655 pages of information ranging from how to create a character to side quests that steer off from the main objective.
What the <insert expletive here>? Haunted House only had 12 pages and three of those were just information about the Atari company. There were nine pages about how to play the game and I didn’t need any of them.
As I began perusing the data contained in this volume of War and Peace it suddenly occurred to me that as great and realistic as these new games are I sorely miss the days of just popping in a video game and playing.
My time is limited enough as it is for these games so when I do get a spare hour or two to play them I shouldn’t have to read a novel just to maneuver a character.
I’d much prefer to spend that time playing Side A of Vital Signs and slaying some dragons.