We at Girls on Games are always intrigued to learn about different occupations in and around the video game industry, especially when it’s done by a kick-ass lady like Sharlene Royer.
With an IMDB page filled with blockbuster movies, Montreal’s Sharlene Royer knows her way around a movie set. Her work as an actress and stuntwoman landed her roles on X-Men: Days of Future Past, Death Race, Star Trek Beyond, The X-FIles, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow and more. But it’s the film adaptation of Warcraft: The Beginning that brought her to Girls on Games’ attention.
I got to the chance to sit with Sharlene on a rainy day in Montreal at the Ritz Carlton Hotel and chat about her start into the industry, her work on Warcraft, motion capture in games and the knowledge she would pass on to others who want to follow in her footsteps.
Leah: Welcome home Sharlene! Can you give us a little background on how you started in the world of acting, stuntwork and motion capture?
Sharlene: Acting was a long time ago, I was like 9 years old and I started via dancing. [Scouts] came to my dance school because they were looking for kids to be in a commercial, a cookie commercial. And then from there my acting career started because one commercial would lead to another, and I got an agent, and then roles and then eventually one day in 1999, the first american big budget movie, The Adventure of Pluto Nash, came to town. They were looking for a stunt double for Rosario Dawson and the stunt coordinator couldn’t find anyone. He saw my picture in the [Assistant Director’s] office and saw on my resume that I was a dancer. He called me up and said “Do you want to try and be a stunt person? I am going to train you.” I said yes! For six months he trained me and I worked on that movie and my career as a stunt person started.
Leah: Doing stunt work, how do you prepare yourself, your physical self and your mental self, to get into a role? Because it can be painful.
Sharlene: Well we have a sunt bag with all our pads. We also have rehearsal depending on what we are doing, like fights, high falls and stunt driving. Every single thing is being prepped, every single thing is being rehearsed so we have a game plan. There is a lot of training, cardio, eating well, continuously having fight training. You cannot stop, you have to be in shape all the time. You have to be in better shape than your actor! (laughs)
Leah: Bruises are part of the business.
Sharlene: Yes, bruises are part of the business definitely. Broken bones are part of the game. It’s not supposed to happen but it can happen. So it’s part of the game.
In the World of Warcraft…
Leah: You recently worked on the Warcraft movie where you were the stunt double for Paula Patton. How was that experience?
Sharlene: It was amazing! Being on the set of Warcraft, it was like being in the game actually because we had real… we had green screen but we had a real set with horses you know… with motion capture… with us all the time. It was a mix of virtual world and the actors. It was amazing.
Leah: Do you find it difficult to put your head into the space when you don’t have the realistic and you have to work with the green screen?
Sharlene: No because we have a screen that you can watch what’s going on and you have a reference all the time so know what you are doing, what your character looks like. So yeah, we are not just like, in the emptiness, dans le vide (laughs). You have a reference.
Leah: In preparation, did you have to go back and look at some of the characters from Warcraft to see their movements,how they fought and have special training for weapons?
Sharlene: Yes. We have a fight coordinator with us, with the stunt coordinator, and depending on the style they want, we are going to rehearse. So before the shooting, we have like maybe one or two months every day, eight hours a day, of training, fighting, putting fights together and do some pre-viz; meaning we are going to give video examples of how the fight is going to look like. We show that to the director and the director gives us his input and feedback. So yes, we do have to train for it.
Leah: Was there anything special about the Warcraft movie because of the video game relationship that was different from doing other roles like in X-Men: Days of Future Past or Star Trek Beyond?
Sharlene: Hummm… I cannot say different because there was a lot of control because you were not allowed to … how can I say… the information had to stay in. We had to sign forms… confidentiality forms…
Leah: Oh yes! NDAs and things!
Sharlene: Yes! So… yeah… what was different… humm. I think it was pretty much the same because they all have the same approach [to filmmaking]. But I think the difference is the director had a lot of pressure because he had all the gamers waiting for it. So we had to be faithful to the game le plus possible [as much as possible].
Walk Like an Assassin…
Leah: Now along with all the all the stunt work for films and tv and the stunt driving you do for car commercials, you have also done work for motion capture in video games! Especially with having Ubisoft right here in Montreal, you have worked on the Assassin’s Creed series and the Far Cry series. Is it a big difference when you have to go into a video game studio to do motion capture versus stunt work in that scenario versus a film set?
Sharlene: Yes it’s more relaxed! Not physically, but it’s a stress free environment and you don’t have the pressure of, you know, having a perfect take and having all the actors. We can always do it again and because we don’t have costumes, makeup and all that.. Its just the suit with the reference points, it’s more relaxed and more fun I would say. We can experiment more. So yeah, it’s a totally different environment, but physically it’s the same.
Leah: So which characters were you in the Assassin’s Creed series?
Sharlene: Basically every woman! (laughs) In motion capture they are capturing your movement so you can spend a day running… running back and forth… running with a gun… running slow paced… fast paced… jumping off [things]… basically register any kind of movement that a person can do in a game or a character can do in the games. They need to see our body and a woman doesn’t walk the same way as a man. She doesn’t run the same way as a man… hold a gun… even if there is a technique, but the movement… it’s the soul of the character they are grabbing through us.
Leah: In the Assassin’s Creed series, because of the historical time period, dealing with different types of footwear and things like that… did you have to take that into account? Like maybe having to run in heels versus flat shoes?
Sharlene: For what I had to do I didn’t have any heels on, but for sure if you are 200 pounds you have to play it heavy, you know. You cannot be (mimes dainty walking) (laughs). You have to have a base of acting, because everything was coming through the body movement, that’s where dancing served me a lot.
Leah: And in Far Cry, were you doing a range of characters or was there anyone in particular you played?
Sharlene: No it was a range of characters. I cannot say exactly that I was this character because I was a lot. Later on what happened was a lot of CG. So what we did for a week or two we registered all kinds of gags of superheroes, like flying and falling… a bunch of stunts and they use it in games and movies… basically they have a bank now.
Leah: Oh wow so it becomes an asset bank of moves and then they can use that performance capture at any time. Oh so you don’t know… you could be in a bunch of other Ubisoft games!
Shalene: Oh no! They have to say it! (laughs) They have to call you! (laughs)
Passing on the Knowledge…
Leah: Lastly, what recommendations would you give someone looking to get into the stunt work, acting and motion capture industry?
Sharlene: Always work as a team player. Competition has nothing to do with that business. It’s all about friendship, having fun and working together. The more you are like that between women, the easier it is going to get, because it’s male oriented, we are not going to lie about it. That’s what I would pass on, and keep training.