Early last month gamers and the industry as a whole were treated to something that could change how we see and experience games in the coming years. I’m of course referring to the short film Kara in which Quantic Dream founder David Cage premiered at his GDC panel. By now most of you out there have either heard of Kara or seen the stunning video so it’s obvious what sort of promise it has not only for Quantic Dream’s next project, which is still unannounced, but for the video game industry as a whole.
What Kara proved was that emotion can be found in video games through unlikely sources and that it’s once again possible to push the limits of what graphics can be achieved on current gen systems. Yes, the next-gen is nearly upon us but Quantic Dream showcased some incredible visual and performance capture work with Kara that I assume will result in one of the last great games to be released on the PS3 once Quantic Dream unveils their next endeavor.
Beyond the amazing visuals and promise Kara held in respect to the industry finally waking up and changing its tune in what games it offers, Kara worked because of the acting it presented. With the powerful premise of a robot seemingly becoming self-aware Kara lived or died upon its acting as it needed to be believable yet not too naive or predictable compared to other projects we’ve seen in the past with a similar theme.
The success Kara had as a short film was in part due to the rather terrific acting of actress Valorie Curry who portrayed the high-end robot in the project. For her first debut in the world of video games Valorie turned in a stellar performance that so far has left all those who have watched Kara completely stunned at the end due to the range of emotions it offers. I had the opportunity to chat a bit with Valorie about her time on Kara amongst a few other things.
Ian Fisher: For all the people who didn’t know about your career prior to seeing you in Kara, can you tell us what made you want to become an actor and how you got into the business?
Valorie Curry: I grew up performing in theatre. My mother was working on her college degree throughout my childhood, and being the youngest in the family, that meant being dragged to a lot of her classes. She majored in playwriting, so I was exposed to theatre from a very young age, and it was just the most magical world to me. I never really wanted to do anything else.
Ian: Those who attended the GDC presentation David Cage held in which Kara premiered saw a glimpse of your audition for the role. With the free form nature David likes to take when auditioning actors, what was it like for you to not only go into an audition like that but one that was for a video game/digital short film?
Valorie: Acting for video games was something I had never done before, so as far as I was concerned, the audition was just an experience. In the beginning, I really had no expectation of being cast, so I just played and experimented. It wasn't until I came in for my callback with David Cage that I was given the actual Kara scene (my first audition had used other text with a totally different character), and I was immediately taken with her. A lot of people who have seen the film have expressed an instant attachment to Kara, and it was the same for me, I just fell in love. Then I was determined to get the part.
Ian: As an actor did you have any initial reservations about doing Kara since it was a video game project to an extent or did the nature of the role and general premise really hook you in despite it being new territory for you as a performer?
Valorie: I had no reservation about entering this new territory. I think that games are only going to go further in incorporating skilled actors and sophisticated performances that bring more complex characters to life, and I feel really lucky to be here at the beginning of it all. My husband is a gamer and an actor, and he has been telling me for years that games were the new frontier for legitimate acting, and he's happy to have been proven right.
Ian: For you as a performer what was it like getting into the hang of the performance capture set-up/routine once the project went underway? Was there a period where you had to familiarize yourself with the new surroundings of being in a soundproof room with dozens of cameras strewn about in addition to making sure you stayed completely in character throughout?
Valorie: Acting in the studio felt a lot like going back to my roots in the theatre. Yes, there are sixty-four cameras surrounding me, but they are small and flush to the walls in this expansive room, so those cameras were actually less intrusive than a single camera on a film set. I wasn't even really aware of them. My greater challenge was to imagine the machinery in the room and interact with that while also taking my personal journey. It was a struggle between fighting this chaos around me and having what was really a very private moment. Thankfully, there was a team around me to help create that atmosphere.
Ian: Kara is an interesting project not only because of the visuals and technology Quantic Dream developed but the story as well, which while short, is still very strong. What was the most challenging thing about assuming the role of Kara and making sure it was not only different but managed to strike a chord within those who watched it?
Valorie: To be honest, as an actor, my job isn't to think about how my choices affect the audience. My only loyalty is to the character and being true to her circumstances. In the case of Kara, it's all about everything being new. She is like an infant encountering this world of sensory experience she has never known, but with the adult intelligence and sensitivity to be affected by it herself.
Ian: It was really interesting to hear David Cage talk about the advances Quantic Dream made with their performance capture tech and then to see such a thing in action within Kara. After getting used to the performance capture and all that business, did you find a certain sense of freedom within performing a role through performance capture, at least in that it allowed your performance to be transplanted into a world and scenario that may otherwise never be created within the confines of film and TV?
Valorie: From my perspective, it really wasn't a different process than it is in the case of film or TV. I think whenever I watch the final product of something that I worked on, it always feels like something completely new and different from what I experienced shooting it.
Ian: When the Kara video first started playing during David Cage’s GDC there was a noticeable shock amongst those in attendance with a resounding applause once the video was over since it was amazing. When did you first see the finished version of Kara and what was your initial reaction to the video?
Valorie: I wish I could have been at GDC to see that! It's funny, my reaction had to be relatively stifled when I first saw it because I was sitting in a busy restaurant. David Cage and Guillaume de Fondaumiere [Quantic Dream Co-CEO] were in Los Angeles for business and they invited me to dinner to catch up and see the film. I watched it on a laptop, listening with headphones. It was bizarre, to say the least, to see myself like that for the first time, but by the end I was speechless.
Ian: What element about your work on Kara or your time on the project stood out the most for you? Was it the sheer fact that you were doing some rather advanced performance capture work or was it simply the tone the project sought out to achieve, which I assume allowed you to try some unique things as an actor?
Valorie: Everything about the project was new to me, even the country, so it's hard to say what stood out. I think what stuck me the most was the isolation. I've never been in a situation as an actor where it is truly just me, not even a set, let alone other actors. But that feeling of isolation as an actor only informed Kara's isolation and, ultimately, her helplessness.
Ian: Over the last few years different forms of performance capture technology have been utilized both in video games and in major films with the notable ones being James Cameron’s Avatar and Tintin. Having dabbled with performance capture yourself in a project that many believe to be groundbreaking and being an actor, do you think performance capture will catch on in a bigger way as the years go on? So far the use of it seems limited to sci-fi/fantasy based projects in the medium of film, but with the dramatic nature the tech was used in Kara do you think performance capture tech has a place to be used by filmmakers in a way that doesn’t involve alien worlds?
Valorie: As I've said, I think that this is only the beginning. It's funny - for so long actors worried that advancing technology would mean that they would no longer be needed, but it's just the opposite. As the technology gets better and better, and capable of picking up such minute details of the performances, great actors are needed more than ever. I don't think that traditional film will ever go away, but I hope that performance capture will open the door to a whole new medium for artist of every kind.
Ian: A major element that David Cage has sought out to do with the projects he has worked on is to bring emotion to games along with a level of seriousness that is otherwise absent from the industry. He achieves this through a variety of things but one key factor is the actors he selects as they bring his characters to life. So with that said do you think capturing an emotional element in video games, either in a dramatic way such as Kara or something else will help close the gap some people may have when they compare video games to films in terms of their overall effectiveness when telling a story and the performances that are offered in them?
Valorie: I don't think it's a question of "closing the gap." Video games aren't films, and I don't think that people are being more emotionally affected by them because they are becoming more film-like. I think it's because the games are evolving and coming into their own, becoming more perfect as their own specific medium.
Ian: Since Kara presented people with a very emotional story and visuals that nearly matched what we’re accustomed to seeing in movies, do you think at some point video games will become the go-to source for creators to tell their stories, not just because of the interactive elements that are offered but because in some cases a game may be more flexible and have more freedom as opposed to getting a high-end premise off the ground as a movie?
Valorie: No, I don't think that video games will ever replace films. I don't think that would be a good thing for either medium, and I think that there is a place and a need for both. I do think that they will become a more accepted form of creative story-telling by a wider audience. People keep comparing video games to movies, and I think it's the wrong perspective. A film is more comparable to a painting - one can be moved by it, but he or she is still, essentially, a viewer. It would be more accurate to compare a game to a musical instrument - the art comes from the interaction.
Ian: As an actor who has seen firsthand that video games can take an entirely serious approach with tech that conveys all the subtleties of an actor’s performance, is there a particular tale or genre you would like to see explored in the medium of video games?
Valorie: This is where I lose all credibility with your readers, but I don't really play video games, so I'm not the best judge. That said, I would love to see a game that plays with the notion of reality - a sort of David Lynch video game, if you will.
Ian: For all the folks who want to keep track of your career moving forward are there any upcoming projects you want to let people know about?
There were a lot of different factors in making Kara a success and one of the big ones was the performance Valorie delivered. One of the key aspects that David Cage seems to be striving for both on a technological and game design front is to allow actors to deliver a full range of emotions and have their performance translated perfectly into a digital medium. Not only did Kara prove that the tech is there for such a thing to happen, but Valorie’s performance showed that actors can indeed reach a very emotional and sophisticated level of acting in a video game that is a direct representation of their performance with minimal, if any, touch-ups required by animators.
I want to extend a huge thanks to Valorie for taking the time out to chat about Kara. I don’t know if we’ll see Valorie pop up in Quantic Dream’s next game but it would be nice to see her talents once again in a Quantic Dream production.