Times Educational Supplement Partner badge

Film Education - Resources, Training, Events

Skip to main content

Follow us on: Twitter, Facebook RSS
Email this page to a friend


Filming Beowulf
Performance Capture Techniques

The Robert Zemeckis film of Beowulf is animated using special motion capture techniques, known as 'performance capture'.  Actors wear a specially-made lycra suit with digital sensors on their face and body. When they move, act and interact with each other their movements are recorded by computer.

Many cameras are used to record the actors' movements giving the director lots of options as they put the footage together in the editing stages. In this case, it also meant that the director could use two actors in the same role: one for voice, movement and gesture, and one for appearance.

  • What difference does the use of motion capture make to the look and feel of the film, compared to live action?
  • Why do you think the filmmakers decided to use this technique for this film?

You may find the details from production notes section below helpful in answering this question.

Details from Production Notes

Producer Jack Rapke talks about the decision to use motion capture:"Because it is a mythological fable, the demand for photo reality was not as paramount as it might be. Using this process gave us the opportunity to cast whoever we felt was the perfect actor for each part.   So, for us, it was the best way to get over certain hurdles and do a lot of things which would have been impossible in a traditional live action format."

Still image from the film, of Unferth, who has long black hair and a goatee beardJohn Malkovich, who plays Unferth, talks about filming using motion capture:

“You come in the morning and they put a transparent mask on your face. They draw on a grid-like pattern and put on the sensors, paying attention to the eye and mouth area.  Then you have a kind of bicycle helmet with all sorts of electrodes and gizmos attached. You put on a sort of wetsuit and gloves, which are also covered with sensors.  The whole thing wouldn't take much more time than a slightly involved make-up procedure.   You get used to it quickly. To tell the truth, I never even thought about it after the first day”

Still image from the film, of King Hrothgar, who wears a norse-style crown and has a long beardAnthony Hopkins, who plays King Hrothgar, on acting for a motion capture film:

"What's interesting about this way of acting - with no sets, no costumes, just these silly suits with dots all over your face, is that you can do the whole scene and it goes very quickly because you don't have to break it up the way you do on a conventional film"

Close-up photograph of Director Robert ZemeckisRobert Zemeckis, the film's director, talks about the 'look' of Beowulf: It's kind of an interesting hybrid.  It's very photo-real, but it's not completely real. And I think what that does is allow us to be able to tell stories that are kind of real but not completely real, and it gives them ultimately the correct palette to tell stories that are bigger than life, stories that are mythic.