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21st February 2012
Exclusive Interview with Ilkka Villi
(Motion Capture and Live Action Actor for Alan Wake and Mr Scratch)

Ilkka Villi is an actor living in Finland. He has starred in numerous shows including The House of Branching Love and Runaway Beer and will feature in Nightwish's upcoming film Imaginaerum. Visitors to this site will most likely be most familiar with Ilkka's work on Alan Wake, where he provides both the live action and motion capture for our eponymous protagonist and, to give credit where it's due, gives an incredible performance. Ilkka was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his work on Alan Wake and American Nightmare.

How did you get the job, were you involved with the game from the start?

I got involved with Alan Wake pretty early on, in the beginning of 2005. I got the job through quite a normal casting process.

Most of my work for the game I did, however, during the last year of production. That’s when we did all the motion capture acting for Alan and all the other characters in the game.

What was the most difficult part of portraying the character?

There was a lot of technical stuff that had to be taken into consideration, a lot of little things I had never done before. So it was very much a learning process at the same time. It was hard work but I loved it all the way.

How long did the entire process take you to do, including the mo-cap, facial animation and to-camera pieces?

It’s hard to say, we did it all in bits and pieces – a week here, a couple of days there. Maybe all together something like seven-eight weeks, plus preparation of course.

Since the motion capture for the face and body were recorded separately, which of the two did you find the easiest and why?

I found both of them to be pretty challenging, but I’d say that the face part was the hardest. It’s tough to act with just your head (we had to stand very still while doing it) and to get it to match as best you can with stuff that has been done a couple of months before, and is playing on a little screen in front of you. And then there was also the fact that another actor did the voice acting for the same scenes. But all that taught me a lot. We had a small, but a great group of actors doing the job. And a couple of excellent directors, who I loved working with.

How is acting for video games different from the acting you have done for other projects?

Acting for both games and movies can be very technical at times, but it is that especially for games. The actor needs to be very precise and disciplined when working for a game. In movies as well as in games a big part of the actor’s work never sees daylight. In that way theater really is more than anything the actor’s medium of the three. But I still enjoy doing all of them.

Did the final product match up to your expectations and have you played the game yourself?

In many ways it topped my expectations. I really do think it’s a great game and an ambitious project all in all. I’m incredibly proud of being part of it. Sure there was some stuff that didn’t turn out quite as well as we all had hoped it would, but hey, that’s the way it goes.

What was it like working with Remedy Entertainment?

It’s been great! I truly love working with those guys.

What have you been working on since Alan Wake, and do you have any future plans?

Normal acting stuff – some movies, a little TV and Alan Wake’s American Nightmare of course. I have a lot of future plans, but in my field of work nothing’s really sure until it actually happens.

Are you a gamer, and if so what games have you played?

I’m not much of a gamer, to be honest. I only have a couple of Xbox-games. But I do play an awful lot of Death Rally with my iPad.

Live action cutscene from Alan Wake's American Nightmare

As American Nightmare's cutscenes focus more on live action than the CGI of the original game, were the scenes more challenging to record and how did they require you to adapt?

In many ways these live action scenes were a lot easier and faster to do than all that motion capture stuff for AW. It was more of the traditional kind of acting for film. But, as always, we had a very tight schedule. So again, it was enjoyable but not easy.

Playing both Alan Wake and his doppelganger, Mr Scratch, for the live action segments must have let you explore different aspects of the characters; which did you prefer playing and what were the challenges in portraying both lead roles?

Alan has been with me as a character for many years now, so he has a very special meaning for me. But let’s face it, the guy can be a bit uptight and serious. Mr. Scratch on the other hand... That dude knows how to let loose and have some fun. Okay, people do get killed in the process, but for Mr. Scratch that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I must say I had a lot of fun playing Mr. Scratch. We were aiming for something that would be funny and disturbing at the same time. I hope we succeeded.

Thank you for the interview, Ilkka. You're awesome! :) 

Top Photo by Mikko Aaltonen
Middle Photo from XBOX360 Digest
Bottom Photo from EDGE


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