Thanks to the rise of motion capture technology, we’ve got actors delivering killer performances, but essentially getting zero face time in major movies. There were quite a few notable elements in that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles footage we caught in New York the other week, but the standout was absolutely Michelangelo. Part of what made the material so much fun to watch was the humor, and a good deal of that falls on Mikey. Noel Fisher may have had a lot to learn jumping into this one, but based on what we’ve seen thus far, he nailed it.
With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles heading towards an August 8th debut, we got the chance to hop on the phone with Fisher to talk about bringing Mikey to life via motion capture, the many components of his motion capture suit, how much turtle lore makes it into the movie, the film’s very different take on familiar villains and loads more. Catch the full interview after the jump.
NOEL FISHER: Yeah, that’s one of the interesting things about motion capture technology is kind of how it’s all put together. The idea is to make it as much a “normal” acting experience as possible and then being able to do all these amazing technical things with it afterwards. That’s another really cool thing about shooting the actual scenes is that it’s all very much, in some ways, especially when you’re interacting with the other actors, it’s exactly the same.
Did you get to audition with them? Was there any mixing and matching during that process?
FISHER: For the test there was some mixing and matching. Funny enough, the four of us who ended up being turtles, we were all in one group that went in. We just kind of got lucky and were all paired up together to being with.
How’d you guys celebrate went you got the roles?
FISHER: Oh, wow. For me, I was a big Turtles fan growing up. I had all the toys and everything, so for me, it was really just kind of that unreal moment where you’re not quite sure you’re not dreaming. [Laughs]
Was Michelangelo your favorite as a kid?
FISHER: I really loved Michelangelo. I’ve always been a little partial to Donatello to be honest, especially with the animated series. There’s just something about Donnie that I really like. But, you know, Mikey’s also Mikey. It’s kind of just a given he’s the most fun one.
Was this a good excuse for you to go out and buy the toys again?
FISHER: [Laughs] I will definitely be doing a lot of that. I did kind of use it as an excuse to start watching the Nick show, the animated show that’s on Nick right now. It’s great. It’s super fun. I love it! It very much has that same kind of fun vibe that the show that I watched growing up had.
FISHER: Yes, I mean, when I say that the acting is sort of like a normal acting experience, I’m just talking about the interacting in actual scenes, like doing dialogue. That whole experience and being able to trust the other actors to get into the scenes, that part’s the same. The technical aspects of doing motion capture and actually, you know, capturing the motion, is very different. It’s an interesting learning curve to be part of because you have so much gear on you. You have this very strange outfit, you have this big, massive foam shell on your back that has all of these straps, almost like a parachute. It’s really hooked on to you. [There’s] a bunch of battery packs, there’s the dots on your face, the helmet with the cameras on it that make you kind of look like a giant ant.
And how does all of that work? When you’re in the suits on set, are they getting both your body movements and facial expressions at the same time?
FISHER: Yeah, it’s all of it. It’s really cool. It’s a really cool way of making movies because what they do is, the dots on our faces are basically tracking muscle movements on our actual faces and they can take those and kind of just put them into the turtle face that they have and the muscles kind of correlate to each other, so that’s how they get the face part of it. There are two different cameras on the helmets that we have and they capture different sides of the face. They get really, really, really up close. The people at ILM know exactly how many nostril hairs I have right now, I’m sure. [Laughs] It’s a really up close look at everything that’s happening on the face. That’s how they can be that specific with getting those performances on the turtles. And then as far as the body movement goes, they have these trackers on certain parts of the body like our elbows, our shoulders, you know, along the joint stuff. They’re actually called fiducials. I have no idea how to spell that. It’s a very funny word.
FISHER: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s kind of funny. So those trackers, those kind of help them really track the body movements and what exactly – you know, where are my shoulders exactly at? They get really specific with all that. It’s funny because some of those trackers had “Mikey” on them, so it’d be like, “Left Hand – Mikey.” Sometimes it’d be like, ‘Oh, wait. No. I’ve got Leo’s!’ Or one of Raph’s would somehow Velcro itself onto my shell. ‘Why is Raph’s shin on your shell?’
What takes longer, going through regular hair and makeup or putting all of that stuff on?
FISHER: It really depends. We got really fast at it because we were doing it every day. The longest part was probably getting the dots on your face. You have this mask that’s exact to your face and it has all these holes in it where the dots are supposed to go. Getting those, we started in the chair for a little over half an hour probably, but by the end of it we were banging it out in about 15, 20 minutes per face.
How about audio? Are they recording that at the same time as well?
FISHER: Yeah, and that’s one of those things. You have a battery for the cameras on your face. You have a separate battery for your mic. They put the battery actually into the shell or they’ll put it on the back of the shell sometimes. It’s sort of intertwined with the backpack/shell idea. You have a lot of equipment on you, which is a new experience, but when you see it all put together, it really comes together beautifully.
What happens when you add the nunchucks to the equation? I image you could do some damage when you’re swinging those things with all that stuff on you.
FISHER: [Laughs] Yeah, we had to be aware of what was going on. Fortunately, my nunchucks had a foam covering. I’m not gonna lie; there were some battery packs that got hit. I did smack the camera on my face a couple of times. They’re a funny weapon because there’s a whole lot of movement you’ve gotta be aware of. They can sneak up behind your head really quickly.
FISHER: There are a couple of different ways we integrated those shots. The interesting thing is, you’ve got to put all of these different pieces together in order to make that happen. That scene, that is obviously all green screen and then they had a shot with a big moving rig that jostled us around a little bit to kind of get that motion and get that semi-controlled movement that we have while we were sort of doing the turtles surf in the sewers, so to speak.
How about just nailing his demeanor and timing? When you’re on set, do you know you’re getting it or do you not even know until all of these layers finally come together and they put the turtle’s face in?
FISHER: It’s always hard as an actor I think to be just on the set and have the kind of confidence to be like, ‘Yeah, I did that. That went perfectly. That’s great.’ That’s more confidence than I have. Something that did help me a lot was just the kind of fun and very family, brotherly feeling that all the turtles had – and have. It really did help because that’s something that we wanted to bring with the turtles. These are brothers. That’s the heart of this whole thing, and that really helped a lot with being able to kind of feel good because we definitely had that. That I really feel is gonna come through in the movie and in all the scenes. I think that’s what makes it work.
I haven’t seen much pizza eating and no one’s saying things like cowabunga. How much of those iconic sayings and things made it into this movie?
FISHER: [Laughs] Well, I’m not even gonna spoil this, but Mikey does enjoy pizza. Mikey does enjoy the odd slice.
FISHER: I can’t give you too many spoilers, but it’s kind of a new dynamic for the Foot Clan and Shredder and that whole world. The bad guys in this movie are done in a little bit of a surprising way that I don’t think has been done before in the Turtle world yet.
And then what happens after this? I assume when you sign on for something like this, it’s got to be a multi-picture contract, right?
FISHER: Yeah, I don’t know – I’m not part of the conversations about what they’re thinking for sequels or what have you, but I really hope we get to do more because it was so much fun. Hanging out in New York with my three other turtle brothers and everybody on set, it was a blast. Plus, I just really want to go back to New York so I can eat pizza, honestly.
I don’t blame you! It’s just not the same anywhere else.
FISHER: You know what I’m talking about! That was actually pretty funny, we had for late nights on set or some of the night shoots we did, they brought out pizza. It’s like, how could you not? It’s Ninja Turtles, you’re shooting in New York, what else does anyone really want to eat?
In the end, is there anything in particular that really blew your mind about your finished character?
FISHER: Oh, I mean, everything! [Laughs] It’s a pretty trippy experience because we had seen the models, but that’s really it. If you’re shooting a movie or you’re shooting a TV show, you have your costume, you have your makeup. You can see yourself in the mirror and that kind of becomes – Twilight is a pretty good example of that where putting that outfit on and that makeup on helped so much with that character. But this one, we had a general idea of what it was going to look like, but we’re walking around in a grey leotard the whole time. Getting to actually see that all put together, the whole thing, was just kind of remarkable.