Interview: Jamie Bell Captures the Spirit of ‘Tintin’
Jamie Bell and Tintin (Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage, Paramount Pictures)
Jamie Bell is only 25 years old, but he's been a leading actor in films for over a decade. Starting with the title role in the sleeper hit "Billy Elliot," he's balanced his career between big-budget blockbusters and well-regarded indies. He's worked with acclaimed directors like Clint Eastwood and Edward Zwick, and shared the screen with giant stars (the biggest, naturally, being King Kong).
This week brings the release of Bell's highest-profile role to date, even though you won't actually see his face. In the animated "The Adventures of Tintin," Bell plays the intrepid young reporter from the classic comic books via motion capture technology. Bell acted his scenes in a special suit that allowed infrared cameras to track his every move, and that information was transferred onto a digital character. Like the aliens in "Avatar," every expression Tintin makes in the film originated with Bell's performance.
I spoke to Bell about working with director Steven Spielberg on his first animated feature, along with reuniting with his "King Kong" director Peter Jackson and costar Andy Serkis. Plus, he told me just how much of himself he is able to see in the Tintin that is on screen.
Matt McDaniel: When you are watching this motion capture version of your performance, do you see yourself in the character of Tintin? Does the work you remember doing come through on the screen?
Jamie Bell: Yes, and I think that's what it is about. It's about remembering the choices that you made for the character, that's what it is. I think it's less about looking and seeing -- even in a face, or maybe in an expression, you can kind of just catch a quick glance. A moment where you are like, "Oh, I see, I see myself in the way his brow is ruffled, definitely reminds me of me." Or the way he like frowns is definitely reminiscent of a frown that I would pull, but more than anything, I recognize the acting decisions that I made for the character, emotionally and physically and everything else.
So it's not as much that you recognize who you are as a person, the way you look, even the way you imagine you are acting at the time or the facial expressions you feel like you are pulling. It's more of the actual choices that you make for the character that you acknowledge as your own, and then it becomes about -- I recognize the authorship, I know that that's my performance.
MM: So when you are starting to work in the performance capture space with the suit and the dots and everything, how long does it take that process to start to feel natural -- or does it ever?
JB: I think a few hours. A few hours of learning the rhythms and the patterns of capturing. The structure of the way the day works is a little different to live action.
There's a thing called a "T-Pose." Sometimes the computer will misalign and your digital puppet in the computer will start basically freaking out, and doing a very strange dance when something is wrong with the tracking.
And then there's a thing called a T-Pose, where you stand with your hands out, so all your dots are visible to the infrared cameras, and then it re-tracks you and then you can continue.