Friday, December 1, 2017

The Emotion Behind Performance Capture - An Interview with KARIN KONOVAL 12/1/17


If you are a fan of the recent Planet of The Apes films (Rise, Dawn, and War), then you certainly know who the character of Caesar is.  What other characters come to mind from all three films?  Maurice, of course!

If you are familiar with the process of performance capture, then you know the heart and soul of each character comes from the actor that portrayed the character in the film.  So, who is behind the memorable performances of Maurice?  

Karin Konoval.

Below is my interview with Ms. Konoval.  I am thrilled to feature this interview as a part of Eclectic Arts.  Enjoy!

Mark Sugiyama
Eclectic Arts

Karin Konoval Photos: Gordon Dumka

Planet of The Apes VFX and BTS Photos: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox, the BTS images are Doane Gregory

EA: Hi Karin! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. How are you?
KK: Fine, thank you.

EA: Great.  For those that aren’t familiar with you, can you tell the readers a bit about your background? I read that you were born in the U.S. but have lived most of your life in Canada…
KK: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to Edmonton, Alberta with my family when I was eight. After I graduated from the University of Alberta when I was nineteen, I moved to Vancouver, B.C. to study at a theatre school and pursue a career as an actor. I've lived in Vancouver since then.

EA: I read that you have an extensive background in dance as well as acting. When did you start in both? Who/where did you study? What drew you to both?
KK: Dance and writing were my first loves. I trained as a classical dancer until I was sixteen and apprenticed that year with a ballet company. I realized then that a career as solely a dancer may not be the most fulfilling for me. When I entered university the next year I began to take part in extra curricular theatre productions and discovered a joy in playing different characters and being part of the storytelling that compelled me. And in being an actor, I could continue to use and develop my skills as a dancer, and eventually as a singer too.

EA: What was your first on stage experience like (play/theater)?
KK: Well, the very first onstage experience I remember was in kindergarten. Some kind of musical dance performance in our blue uniforms. I only remember that all the other little girls were wearing white socks, but for some reason I'd chosen to wear red ones. It had nothing to do with wanting to be noticed because I was actually quite terrified of being onstage and looked at until I was much older. I just really liked red socks. Who knows, maybe I found it a reassuring color!

EA: Red works for this time of year, too.  How about your first memories of television and film roles?
KK: I think the first screen role I had was as a secretary in a tv movie, a few years after I graduated from theatre school. In my early career I was completely focused on theatre work. I remember finding the filming process a very strange and different experience from theatre, doing repeated takes of the same short pieces of script, having to consciously repeat actions with props in exact continuity, finding my "T mark" on the floor without looking down to see it. It took several years before I became at ease with the technicalities of filming, and it wasn't until I had the chance to play a lead role in the film "Cable Beach" in 2006 that I finally felt truly at home on set, and in fact fell in love with being part of the storytelling process of a film. That's when it became as interesting to me as working in the theatre had always been.

EA: How did the opportunity to play "Maurice" come about for, "Rise of The Planet of the Apes"?
KK: I was called to an audition for a chimpanzee in an untitled feature film. I thought it was a bit silly, but prepared overnight as best I could and went anyway, and expected that to be the end of it. Then I got a callback to a group ape work session under Terry Notary's guidance. It was incredibly challenging, and very interesting. A part of it was just getting the basics of quadrupedal walking, which is immediately (and exhaustingly!) humbling. Then I got a callback to come as an orangutan. As I dove into research and prep for the audition, that's where the journey truly began. I remember the moment I first pulled a book from the children's section at the library in our neighborhood, and looked at the orangutan on the cover. All I could think was, who are these creatures? I have to know more.

EA: Motion capture is such a physically demanding job for actors. How did you prepare for the physicality?
KK: Motion capture - or more accurately in the case of the POTAS, performance capture - is a technology that captures our performances as actors. There's no challenge in putting on the suit, the helmet and face cam, the wires, the dots. Well it's not necessarily the most flattering outfit when you look in the mirror, but other than that! The challenge in playing Maurice is to play the orangutan character with full psychological, physical and vocal integrity. In other words, it's the character that is the challenge. Not the technology.

EA: Oh, I see.  Thank you for the correction.  How about the preparation for the playing an orangutan. What research went into your role prior to filming?
KK: Comprehensive and ceaseless throughout the filming of all three movies. I began by reading every book about orangutans I could get my hands on, watching every video, listening to every sound recording of orangutan voicings and "long calls" in particular, which are only given by mature males. The physical training and practice with arm stilts in quadrupedal walking, and specifically as an orangutan (rather than as a chimpanzee or gorilla), was intense. I worked hours a day on my own, and in the gym, also training flexibility, upper body strength, etc etc etc. I did daily vocal work trying to increase the resonance of my sound, to get the long call as specific as possible. Eventually I went to observe orangutan Towan who lived in Seattle, and in a magical moment when he came to observe me and remained to study me closely for 20 minutes or so, I felt that I finally and truly found the soul of Maurice. I've continued to visit with and study Towan and the rest of his family on a regular basis for the past six years, spending two or three full days with them every two months or so. Largely this has been a personal choice for me, having nothing to do with the films, because the moment I met Towan, and the more I got to know about orangutans, they've compelled me to want to know more and more and more, and of course to learn about the challenges facing their conservation and how I could best support. So that's an ongoing personal journey for me, but certainly the constancy of getting to know orangutans, learning more and more all the time, has contributed hugely to my portrayal of Maurice. The physical training I undertook for "Dawn" and "War" was even more extensive than for "Rise," as the role of Maurice has grown and the demands with that. I could probably write a book about the process of learning and training myself through the three films, a paragraph barely touches it!

EA: After making the first film, were you contracted for two more films?
KK: No. I was approached and contracted for each of the subsequent films about four weeks before each of them began filming.

EA: Did you feel that the first film would be the success that it was before it was released?
KK: All I knew was that playing Maurice was one of the most interesting, challenging and rewarding roles I'd ever done, and I was grateful for it. Also, having the opportunity to work with Andy Serkis, and watch his work (and I did watch every take of his that I could in the monitors, if I was on set but not in a scene with him) was extraordinary. He's one of the finest actors I've ever had the privilege of working with. Working with him, and watching his work, I felt I was watching an Oscar winning performance. That's one thing I did feel for sure.

EA: When the second and third films came out, they had a noticeably darker tone. They also had a different creative team (such as the director). Now that all three have been released, what do you think the first film would have been like had the same director directed "Rise …"?
KK: Rupert Wyatt who directed "Rise" was an absolutely wonderful man to work with, and I adore what he did with the film. Matt Reeves has brilliantly crafted and directed "Dawn" and "War" and I have adored working with him. I honestly can't imagine anything being done differently than it has been done.

EA: I'm sure there are numerous memories from each film but what are one or two that stand out right now?
KK: So many from each one, impossible to narrow down to a couple of standouts. The filming journey of each of these movies has been huge and unforgettable. A couple from the recent filming of "War": the whole month before filming began training on Navarone, the dutch fresian stallion I rode in the film, with the brilliant Danny Virtue. I learned so much from Danny and Navarone, not just through that first month but throughout filming. The filming of the final scene with Andy. An unforgettable day, pretty heart breaking and also my mind kept flashing back six years to when we first met, and filming that scene on the rock in the atrium in "Rise" between Caesar and Maurice. I even sat down with a "whumpf!" of a landing in this final scene, same as I sat down in that scene on the rock in "Rise." There's a little secret I've not shared before.

EA: Thank you for sharing that little secret!  You've had a long successful career in the entertainment world through dance, acting, writing, etc. What do you attribute your lengthy career to? What are some of the milestones in your career?
KK: I'm a hard worker, I think that's really all it is. I love my work as an actor, I'm willing and happy to explore deep and wide, find the necessary stamina and endurance for tough shoots, I treasure working with other hard working people. I love getting to the heart of a story, being at the heart of a good story telling -- whether it's as an actor, a dancer, a singer, a painter, a writer. It's a joy and a blessing I never stop being grateful for, the opportunity to do these things.

EA: For your fans out there, what would they be surprised you enjoy?
KK: I don't know that this would be surprising, more perhaps just not very exciting, but I really love to cook and clean. I love being in my kitchen chopping and dicing vegetables for a stew or something, calms and grounds me.

EA: What is coming up in the future for you?
KK: This season I've had recurring roles on the series The Exorcist and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, really neat parts to play, and in the new year I'll appear in a very special and oh so cool guest starring role on The X-Files, as well as a briefly recurring role on the series Beyond.

EA: Awesome!  I saw online that there is the possibility of the franchise continuing with a fourth film. Any insight into this that you can share?
KK: I honestly know nothing about nothing! If there is a future to the franchise, I'll likely be one of the last to know.

EA: As we're winding down 2017 in a matter of weeks (where'd the time go?) - what events or moments stand out for you?
KK: Lots of cool moments in the year, but here's three that come to mind: filming the X Files episode "Plus One" was truly the most joyous work experience of the year for me -- probably one of the most joyous work experiences I've ever had. And in July, when I was in New York for the premiere of "War for the Planet of the Apes", I stayed for a couple days exploring the city with a dear friend, and I'll never forget walking into the Museum of Modern Art for the first time in my life. I was overwhelmed seeing the work of all these great artists in one place. And then there's tap dancing. I finally had time this year to begin studying tap dance on a regular basis, and while I'm still barely a beginner it's a total kick every time my feet "get" something. Kind of fulfilling a childhood dream.... despite all the other forms of dance that I studied extensively and have performed professionally, tap was something I always wanted to learn as a kid but never did til now. So I've now got a new skill to work on and develop for the rest of my life.

EA: Thank you so much for taking the time, Karin. I really, really appreciate it! Happy Holidays!
KK: Thanks Mark, same to you!

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