The Last of Us: One Night Live

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How different forms of media are more alike than we realizeā€¦

Almost an entire year ago on 29th July 2014, I wrote this blog after seeing something rather special online. I simply had to speak about it and now I finally have a forum that I can present my thoughts and feelings and so here it is!
The Last of Us: One Night Live’ is a piece of theatre I’ve been waiting to see for a long time and it finally came out last night. (28th July 2014) For fans of the video game ‘The Last of Us’ and those who want see experimental theatre in action, then you should definitely give this a look.
‘The Last of Us’ has won over 230 Game of the Year awards, making it the current most awarded game of all time and has also just been re-released for the PlayStation 4. To celebrate this re-launch, Naughty Dog, decided to place some of the game itself live on-stage. Something that I personally don’t believe has ever been done before.
10 cut-scenes have been transferred onto stage along with 3 songs performed by the composer. It’s all live and published straight to Youtube. Mistakes are made, and they are wonderful alive mistakes and that is one of the few things that makes this event so interesting.

Follow this link if you wish to see the event for yourself.
The Last of Us: One Night Live

The majority of the game is created through motion capture. This means the actors movements are recorded through a camera and entered into a computer to apply onto character models. The actor must wear a wonderful skin tight suit, covered in grey balls to be picked up on the camera. Their voices are similarly recorded and matched to the character models. Therefore, the characters created have movements that match the intention of their lines.
In other words, the in-game cutscenes are like watching theatre on stage, as it captures, in-part, the essence of theatre. We get to see the actor as a whole. We hear them and see them. The motion-capture replicates real life. The performance of actor is not lost through Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and voice augmentation and we are left with a raw and full performance.
If you haven’t already guessed, this interests me deeply.
By performing these scenes live, we get a further unaltered vision of the characters coming to life. Technology is improving so much year after year to create realistic detailed character models through motion capture, voice-overs and CGI. However sometimes it is inevitable that the ‘essence of theatre’ is partially lost. There is nothing quite like seeing an actor perform live on stage and although the process of motion capture brings us closes to brings these characters to life, we are still fingernail breadth away from reality. With this event, you get a chance to see a translation of a video-game onto a live stage.
Is this event a success?
Yes and no.
Yes, it advertises (and spoils) the game very well. The acting and music is simply superb and is very powerful and moving as it always has been. However, this is not ‘The Last of Us’ the play and should not be perceived as such. Instead, the event presents the game in an episodic fashion, where we get glimpses of the art behind the creation of the game. Because that is what this game is! It’s art in action.
On the other hand, there was a part of me that wanted to see a full-blown stage production of game, where we have action that moves us between the delicate cut-scenes and the whole piece is accompanied by music. I wanted to see more acted scenes and less narration of the plot points that take place between each of the scenes shown.
The acting shown transists smoothly onto stage. This is because the process of motion-capture is very similar, perhaps even harder than acting in theatre. In motion capture, an actor must completely visualize their world. They are placed in a blank empty room in a confining suit and told to pretend they are in a city, a sewer or even a hospital. Meanwhile on stage, the actors are provided with props, scenery and a backdrop. All the motion capture artists would have to do to transist into theatre would be to lose their skin-tight suits, be given a costume, be provided with an audience and they are ready to go! It is really not very physically different. However theatre can be seen as much more nerve-wracking as the actors only get one-shot to get the scene right, whilst in motion-capture or film, the actor can do the same scene 20 times until it is correct for the Director!
This event captures something that hasn’t been seen before. Technology is improving so much that the performance live on-stage and the performance captured in-game are truly not that different. I personally feel the scenes shown at the event are more effective live. There is something more powerful in the air. There’s an invisible thread connecting the actors to the audience as we recognise that they are real live people that could make a mistake or say a line completely differently every time they perform. Meanwhile on film or in video-games these lines and actions are set and can never change after the final edit.
‘Last of Us’ and other motion capture games such as ‘Beyond Two Souls’ by Quantic Dream, create alarmingly real worlds that easily immerse the player. The characters feel alive, because they are. Their movements and voice are not solely programmed by a computer, they are based off real human beings. Actors who are acting their socks off in a blank room surrounded by cameras to provide as real a character as possible for animation.
Motion capture has become increasingly infamous by the work of Andy Serkis over the last decade with such work as ‘Gollum’ in ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Caesar’ in ‘Dawn of Planet of The Apes’ and soon it will become increasingly recognized in the entertainment industry. Perhaps has it’s own award section at the Oscars! This event shows that motion-capture is another way of performing that is much closer to live performance than many actually realise. It is a new and viable route for theatre actors to explore in a saturated market where it is increasingly difficult for new graduate actors to find work in theatre. There will be a growing need for motion capture actors throughout the coming years, as films and games seek the most realistic character models possible with the most versatile and distinct performers available.
The success represented by ‘The Last of Us’ through Naughty Dog shows that this is what the gaming audience now enjoy. They want to become part of another reality that is as realistic and tangible as possible. Motion Capture is the way forward and we should all be ready to welcome it with open arms when it walks across our glowing screens.