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Doing motion capture for 'God of War Ragnarök'

Last month, Sony PlayStation released "God of War Ragnarök," an action-adventure game developed by Santa Monica Studio. If you have played the game then you have probably killed stuntman Fernando Jay Huerto more than once.

What is mocap?

"God of War Ragnarok" was released on Nov. 9 and became PlayStation's fastest selling game. One of the first in line to pick up a copy was Huerto who is both an avid gamer and one of the stunt people who did mocap or motion capture work on the video game.

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Mocap is one of the state-of-the-art-tools visual effects (VFX) artists can readily access for movies, TV and video games. It has allowed VFX artists to work with actor Andy Serkis to create Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" and Hobbit movies.

"For motion capture, they put this suit on you that has reflective markers or LED lights, depending on the system, and it records the performers movements for the programmers and the animators and directors, so they can put it into the scene in the game using Unreal Engine or a similar type of software or program that they use to create their project," Huerto explained.

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Fernando Jay Huerto
Fernando Jay Huerto playing "God of War Ragarök" and killing himself during his live Twitch stream of gameplay.

In the case of "God of War," Huerto got to die in a multitude of ways at the hands of the game's main character Kratos.

"I'm taking hits and I'm just doing eight hours of different reactions, like getting slashed, getting my head lopped off, getting my body split in half," Huerto said. "So it's just me just trying to figure out: how am I going to express this? It's problem solving. How do I sell this hit that's over the top or it's not realistic. No physics. You just have to use your imagination and then let the animators take it from there."

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But there is a distinct advantage to doing mocap work.

"It's heaven because you don't have to hide pads," Huerto said with a big smile. "They could be right there and the software is not going to capture that. It's only going to capture what's reflected on the markers that are on your suit. So I could hit the ground all day for eight hours a day and I'm still fine and I'm not banged up for the next day of work."

Who Is Eric Jacobus? (The answer will shock you!)

Huerto got the job through his friend and fellow stunt performer Eric Jacobus, who did the mocap stunts for Kratos. The two also did the mocap work for Midnight Fight Express.

As an avid gamer, Huerto loved doing the mocap work and then playing the game.

"I get to play Kratos, and I get to kill me in a way, because I'm doing the reactions to all the hits," Huerto said. "I'm killing myself here. This is so weird to think about."

Modern stunt work

Nowadays, stunt performers do a lot more than just take punches. In addition to mocap work, Huerto has done pre-vis or pre-visualization (which is visualizing scenes in a movie prior to filming), fight choreography, and live stunts at theme parks like Universal Studios.

He has worked on action films such as Liam Neeson's "The Commuter," but also films such as Jordan Peele's "Get Out" and "Us" that are outside the action genre.

"Those two films had a lot of violent moments," Huerto said. "So that's where our stunt team came in, so we would choreograph and shoot the pre-vis of the violent sections of those films. So we work closely with Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke on those struggling scenes or the fight scenes with the scissors and stuff. They were great films. 'Get Out' won an Oscar. So being a part of the creative process is such a thrill."

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Fernando Jay Huerto
Fernando Jay Huerto with some of his co-stars at the Universal Beijing theme park show of "Untrainable." Undated photo.

His stunt work also took him to Beijing. He had been working at Universal Studios' theme park but COVID-19 shut it down, so he did some pre-vis work for its Universal Studios Beijing that was opening and staging a show inspired by the "How to Train Your Dragon" movie.

"A lot of stunt performers do overseas contracts," Huerto stated. "There are a lot of stunt arena shows all over the world, and it was really fun. It was a thrill getting to open a park and be part of a franchise. I just had a good time hanging out and seeing what China and Beijing is all about. And it was just such a good time. Really. I'm glad I did it."

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Fernando Jay Huerto
Fernando Jay Huerto in his Viking costume for the Universal Beijing theme park show. Undated photo.

Inspired by Jackie Chan

Jumping off buildings and being beat up is not a typical career path someone might dream of, but Huerto knew what he wanted to do ever since he saw Hong Kong stuntman extraordinaire Jackie Chan in "Rumble in the Bronx." One viewing and Huerto knew that's what he wanted to do and has been pursuing it ever since.

Chan not only did stunts but also acted, directed, did fight choreography and even sang — all of which Huerto has also done. In addition to the work he does for hire, Huerto also makes his own films, which gives him the most personal satisfaction because he has complete control of what gets on screen.

Four Points Film Project: Making A Film In A Single Weekend

It was for his Four Points Film Project in 2017, that I got to follow him through the process of making a film in 72 hours. It was so much fun that I have volunteered on his projects ever since and has even offered up my son for him to beat up.

One of his most popular and successful projects was a Harley Quinn fan film.

Harley Quinn - Fan Film

Huerto has been a huge fan of the DC character Harley Quinn and when he saw the "Suicide Squad" trailer he realized that his friend Jacqui Verdura looked and sounded like Harley, and he had been training her since college so they could easily make a fan film.

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Victor Marks
Fernando Jay Huerto directing Jacqui Verdura on the set of his "Harley Quinn" fan film.

"I have seen a lot of different Harley Quinn fan films, but they don't focus on the action," Huerto said. "They focus on the psychology of Harley Quinn, which is great but I'm an action filmmaker. I know Harley's ability: she has super strength from Poison Ivy; she does gymnastics; and she has a bag of tricks. So she could totally fight and we could do a martial arts style Harley Quinn fight in the vein of 'Batman V, Superman.'"
 
And he did. In the five years it has been up on YouTube it has garnered 14 million views. And with "God of War Ragnarök," Huerto has likely been killed at least 14 million times and that should make any stunt person happy.

I cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.
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