5 Tips for Actors Working With CGI

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Photo Source: Photo by Ryan Garry on Unsplash

As actors, we’re always so challenged to use our imaginations! This is especially true when we work on films that incorporate CGI. For those of you who are unfamiliar, CGI stands for computer-generated imagery

Basically, every single science fiction movie you’ve seen probably makes use of CGI! When you see an actor on screen interacting with a dinosaur, an alien, a fairy, or a stuffed animal that comes to life, that’s usually CGI. It’s so much fun to watch onscreen. This type of imagery also poses a fun challenge for actors on set. As you might imagine, there’s no dinosaur on set with you in a scene. It’s up to the actor to react believably, while standing in front of a green screen, next to either a tiny hanging ball or perhaps a creature performer. Creature performers are performers and actors that specialize in non-human movement. On the set, they’ll typically wear full green bodysuits (to match the green screen) with their heads fully covered as well. Sometimes they do wear full prosthetics that replicate the appearance of the actual creature in the scene.

For the fun challenge of CGI acting, I have some specific tips.

1. Imagine the scene

Of course, it’s always essential for actors to use their imaginations. When you’re working on sci-fi and fantasy films, in particular, it’s your job as the actor to bring to life—on set, with little visual input—the vivid graphics that are going to be added in postproduction. This requires a clear and vivid use of your imagination so practice it whenever you can.

2. Get great at eyelines

You can do this while you work on self-tapes! When you’re on set doing CGI work, the crew will often hang an item, such as a ball, for you to look at and pretend with. You can place colorful sticky notes on your wall while practicing your material, and get great at focusing.

3. Hang balls or photos of your non-human scene partner

To take this a step further, if you’re safely able to do so, you could hang a ball from a ceiling fixture (emphasis on safety!). You could also print images from the internet and hang those. For example, if you’re doing a scene with a very cute talking puppy, it might help you to print the cutest photo of a puppy that you can find. This will help to stimulate a genuine reaction. 

4. Rehearse with imaginary scene partners

This exercise is fun! Choose a scene from your favorite fantasy or sci-fi film (or really any scene that involves one human and one CGI non-human). Really visualize the animal or creature that’s in the scene with you and get very clear on the details of your environment. After you’ve done your prep work, invite a friend over (or meet with them on Zoom) to help! Your friend doesn’t actually need to be there in person. They could even be on the phone. Have them read the lines of your non-human scene partner from the side as an audio cue, just as someone would be reading the lines off-camera on set. Stay focused on your imaginary scene partner and let your vision come to life.

5. Imagine your own character’s physical appearance

Sometimes, you’ll be the one whose image will be altered in post-production. That means that your costume or appearance could be digitally altered and that you may not have a costume to help make you feel more “in character” on set. For this reason, it’s great to imagine your own appearance and to practice moving around in a way that, for example, a centaur might, if you’re lucky enough to play a centaur! 

Ultimately, have fun! Enjoy the process of expanding your imagination and range. 

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Mae Ross
Mae Ross is the Owner/ Director of L.A.’s highly acclaimed actor training center, 3-2-1 Acting Studios. Her leadership has garnered 3-2-1 consistent recognition as Hollywood's premier on-camera acting school for kids, teens, and adults. She has launched hundreds of successful acting careers with her expert on-camera coaching and professional guidance.
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