Cutting-edge CGI is bringing back acting, says 'Warcraft' star

"Warcraft" and "Planet of the Apes" star Toby Kebbell explains how his computer-generated orc was able to interact with other actors on set -- even when he was in his PJs.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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"Warcraft: The Beginning" stars (left to right) Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton and Dominic Cooper.

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Advances in special effects mean there is more of an actor than ever in a CGI character, said Toby Kebbell, who plays computer-generated characters in "Warcraft" and "Planet of the Apes".

In "Warcraft: The Beginning", Kebbell plays Durotan, the soulful chieftain of a faction of rampaging orcs. Like each member of the orc horde, Durotan is entirely computer-generated. The character is created by animating over Kebbell's movements and facial expressions, which were scanned using motion-capture technology that registers dots on a skin-tight suit worn by the actor -- which he describes as "PJs".

"You turn up in your PJs and people can see what religion you are," joked Kebbell at a press screening of the new film in London this week. Actors wearing the mo-cap suit stand out a bit next to actors decked out in costumes and makeup. "Everyone's in their armour and they've all been working out", he said.

Watch this: 7 geeky questions for 'Warcraft' director Duncan Jones

Even though motion-capture performers look a little different, it's other actors' reactions that help mo-cap actors like Kebbell get into character, by reacting to him as if he really is a hulking 8-feet-tall behemoth.

Earlier forms of motion capture required the performer to be on a special sound stage, separate from the other sets and actors. Now the technology has advanced to the point that mo-cap performers are in amongst the actors as scenes are filmed.

Orc shoulder.

Orc shoulder.

Universal Pictures

"I get to be in front of them instead of doing a separate take," noted Kebbell. "It brings it much more back to acting."

Kebbell previously brought skillful nuance to the role of the angry ape Koba in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", a role that showcased how compelling a motion captured performance can be. This video shows how it was done:

Watch this: Behind the scenes of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

Kebbell also appeared in last year's much-maligned "Fantastic Four" and will soon be seen in the new King Kong film "Skull Island".

Kebbell had fun with the physical role of the warrior orc in "Warcraft". "It's like playing around with your little brother," he said of the fight scenes. "I don't have a little brother, but I imagine that's what it's like."

"Warcraft" co-star Travis Fimmel noted the transformation that takes place after filming is complete. "The thing that blows me away," he said, "is that he [Kebbell] is there in his PJs [on set], and then two years later you see [the animated character in the finished film]. It's amazing what they can do."

"Warcraft: The Beginning", directed by Duncan Jones, is in movie theatres in the UK on 30 May, the US on 10 June and Australia on 16 June.

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