Meet Miguel Valdes, the first motion capture actor in the Philippines

Meet Miguel Valdes, the first motion capture actor in the Philippines

Catch him in the Cinemalaya sci-fi film ‘ANi: The Harvest.’

Rocket Raccoon. Hulk. Caesar. Some of the most memorable figures in cinematic history are filmed with a special, magical technique —  motion capture! The procedure, and the actors who play these special roles, isn’t very common in the realm of Philippine cinema, where more grounded dramas and comedies are prevalent, reducing the number of opportunities to use cutting-edge technology for more fantastical and wacky characters. The only Filipino sci-fi films that have come out in the past few years are Jason Paul Laxamana’s Instalado and Keith Sicat’s Alinuom,  both of which are limited release indie films. Filipino film festivals, such as this year’s Cinemalaya, tend to be filled with hard-nosed dramas (Pandanggo sa Hukay), thrillers (Tabon), and stylish neo-noirs (F#*@BOIS).

However, filmmakers Kim Zuñiga and Sandro Del Rosario are attempting to change the narrative with their Cinemalaya entry ANi: The Harvest, a coming-of-age sci-fi movie set in 2050 Bicol (a future Philippines!), where a young boy moves from the city to a rural community. Also, there are robots.  

24-year-old Miguel Valdes plays the robot ANi, a silent, cheerful robot reminiscent of Chappie. We talked to him a few days before ANi: The Harvest’s premiere, and asked about his thoughts on being a landmark Filipino motion capture actor, how he handled the role of ANi, and his thoughts on the future of both the Filipino sci-fi industry, and the Filipino motion capture acting industry.

 

Young STAR: How’d you get into acting?

Miguel Valdes: My family background — majority are in that business, especially my mom (actress Eula Valdez). So I grew up watching them do that. But (during) that time, from a kid’s perspective noon, stress — stress siya. So for the longest time ayoko. Pero I took up film (in college), where I met Direk Sandro (Del Rosario) and Kim (Zuñiga). From there, mga small projects for school — you guys borrow each other to work as crew or as an actor. I got a small taste of it there, and thought “this seems fun.”

Later on, after graduation, mas drawn ako doon (to acting), to the point where I had an image in my head (of who I wanted to be).

 

How’d you get your role as ANi in this film? It’s a unique opportunity to be able to act via motion capture, especially in the Philippines.

Miguel: I was at  a screening of Paki (Miguel’s debut film). During that time, I ran into Sandro and Kim. A month later, ‘yun nga, there were casting calls for Cinemalaya films. My friends and I from our acting workshop thought: “Let’s try this — give it a go.” On Facebook, I saw them (Del Rosario and Zuñiga), then I saw that the opportunity was for a motion capture actor, which is unheard of here. Sobrang intrigued ako doon, and at the same time, I knew that if I got the part, I’d work well with them, because we’ve worked together before.

How was the experience of motion capture acting, compared to traditional acting?

 

Miguel: I came in, did my research as an actor. I have to prepare and listen to the directors also. At the same time, I just came in and believed what I had imagined. I played with it (the role).

My background in dancing is what got me there — it’s what helped me when it comes to the part. In dance, you’d learn how to express in different movements. How aggressive, how soft, how intense you move — that can tell an emotion.

In Hollywood, where the technology is more advanced, you could act with your whole body, as they have trackers for your facial expressions. Here, they used my expressions as reference lang, pero the movement basically is how I had to find a way to express (myself). It’s really just action-based.

 

What’s the exact process of motion capture acting here in the Philippines?

Miguel: The technical term for what we’re doing here is “motion referencing.” I wore compression shirts and workout pants. The other actors wore trackers (stickers) on their clothes. Since natatanggal yung ibang mga sticker, we constantly had to put tape (on the stickers), to get as many reference shots as possible.

 

What do you think of the opportunities sci-fi films (and motion capture acting!) have here in the Philippines? Do you think ANi is a stepping stone towards having more technology-focused media?

Miguel: Definitely. That’s  why I went for the role. I’m a very big fan of sci-fi and fantasy — I grew up reading comics with my dad before bedtime. Marvel, DC and Star Wars! It would be really nice to be part of a new movement towards Sci-fi in Philippine cinema. Kailangan talaga na there’s someone to take some steps. Who knows — maybe after this, (big studios) would attempt and refine the motion capture technique, and make it look better, since they have lots of resources to do so.

 

What can we expect from the movie and from your character?

Miguel: I’m just here to see and enjoy my final creation, as a viewer. The character of ANi, I think (audiences) will fall in love with him (laughs).

 

ANi: The Harvest is now showing at the CCP and select Ayala Cinemas until Aug. 13. For screening schedules and updates, visit their Facebook page.  

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