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The Body Behind Vice City's Tommy Vercetti
Written by Andy Grieser
June 9, 2003

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Vice City antihero Tommy Vercetti snarls with the voice of Ray Liotta, but thatís only half of what brings the character to life. Meet the body: Jonathan Sale is a 29-year-old New York-based actor; youíve seen him on everything from Law and Order and Ed to the soaps Guiding Light and As the World Turns. Heís also acted in independent films, off-Broadway shows and TV commercials. Jonathan graciously answered some of our e-mail questions about what itís like to be Tommy Vercettiís body.

You did motion-captures for the main character, Tommy Vercetti. Did you provide motion for any others?

Mo-capping Tommy was a full time job. The one scene that I wasn't in, they made me a waiter.

How'd you get the job?

The audition came to me through my fantastic commercial agent Doug Kesten at Paradigm. I had to act out a scene, do some improv and some pantomime.

Jonathan SaleHow were the scenes acted out? Was it just you, or you and other actors? Did you act out the script, to get the various motions just right?

It was much like shooting a movie. We had the entire script. We rehearsed for two weeks and shot for one week. We shot all of the cutscenes ... with up to four actors at a time. The computer could not process more than four motion capture actors at a time. The days were long; lots of scenes to shoot. All of the dialog was memorized.

Funny thing is, with all of the money they spend and make on (Vice City), the set pieces we used were very basic. The getaway car that the lawyer uses to help Tommy escape at the beginning after the coke deal goes bad was just four metal folding chairs, a Fisher-Price steering wheel (literally) and a wrestling mat covering the 'back seat' so that I didn't hurt myself jumping in.

What'd you base your performance on? Gangster movies? Pure imagination?

There was a lot of talk of Carlito's Way on set. I thought of every tough guy Iíve ever seen in a movie. It was great for me because Iím usually cast as the nice guy or the funny guy. It was nice to threaten someone and not have them laugh.

I get the image of a guy in a body suit covered with Ping-Pong balls surrounded by cameras. How far is that from reality?

Pretty close actually: Spandex/Velcro body suits including hats and coverings for shoes with 33 balls, a little smaller than Ping-Pong balls, covering the suits. About 20 feet off of the ground there are a grid of 14 cameras that read only the light reflected back to them from the balls. The cameras compile this info in the computer and make a moving model that they later put the skins over for the game. They also filmed all of the scenes with two digital video cameras and later cut that footage together for the voice actors to work with. Ray Liotta spent a week in the booth matching my performance. I always thought that was pretty cool.

How long did the process take, both daily and overall?

Six to eight hours a day, five days a week, with two weeks of rehearsal and one week shooting.

Describe your first day on the set, from getting into the Spandex suit to working with the other mo-cap actors.

Tommy Vorcetti played by Jonathan SaleWell, we had been rehearsing for two weeks so we all knew each other pretty well. We were in this terrific studio in Brooklyn in which every room is decorated as a different set. And I don't mean the rooms that we shot in; I mean every room. The room where the staff would meet looked like a spaceship boardroom. The hallway looked like the inside of an Egyptian tomb, the lunchroom looked like a tropical forest. Every dressing room was different. it was really cool. The room where we shot was a huge concrete room with a big square taped off on the floor, which was the playing area. Outside of the taped area, some of the cameras couldn't see us and therefore the computer couldn't calculate us fully and we would disappear. We showed up and donned the spandex for the first time and we were all a bit shy, but they were not nearly as embarrassing as we thought. We kind of looked like blue/black or red/black superheros! One of the actors arrived to set on his big Harley Davidson. And I mean to set. He drove it right in the bay doors and right into the room where we were shooting. Another actor improvised a theme song for him on his guitar simultaneously. Funny stuff. These were two of the guys that play most of the other characters in the piece. Everyone was creative and great to work with.

What advice do you have for any readers interest in doing motion capture?

Call Navid Khonsari at Rockstar Games. His number is... No, seriously, the more I treated it like a regular acting job, the better. When I was really acting well, it showed through the motion capture. Also, stuff your Spandex mo-cap suit. That's the key.

Do you have plans for future mo-cap work?

Actually, I was slated to play Max Payne in Max Payne 2, but Navid and I couldn't work it out in our schedules. Hopefully we'll work together on the next project.

 

 

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