NYFA Spotlight: Gina Theresa on Women in Games and Motion Capture Acting

October 2, 2017

Gina Theresa Williamson (aka Gina Theresa) was once considered a rarity; she is a woman in the video game industry. She is also a host on New York Film Academy’s Twitch Channel where she highlights her professional experiences. Most recently, Williamson interviewed other women who work within the game industry for a month-long series entitled “Women in Games.”

NYFA Correspondent Joelle Smith interviewed Williamson via email to discuss her career in a traditionally male-dominated industry and what she wants women to know about gaming. This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Gina T Williamson | NYFA Games Host

NYFA: Was motion capture the first job you had in the industry? If motion capture wasn’t your first job what were you doing to earn money? How was your first day on the job?

Gina: God no. My first job in LA… I worked as a dog groomer. It was awful. I was average at best. I hate being average. Plus, the two-legged clients were insane.

I spent a couple years fine-tuning my creative work before I found motion capture. I was painting in broad strokes before I moved to L.A. As a kid and through my late teens, all I wanted to do was entertain people. Then I went to a conservatory for acting in New York, and it became, “I want to be an actor!”

Once I moved to Los Angeles, I realized that refining my goal would be necessary to pursue a career in this industry. So many people come to LA expecting to become an actor overnight. There are millions of actors in this city. The more I dialed into what excited me about the craft, the closer I got to my current career path in motion capture.

Motion capture blends so many of the things I love most; including entertainment, acting, technology, and of course, video games. Simultaneously, I was being exposed to fields of study I had not previously explored. Voiceover work, for example, was a totally foreign concept to me, but it played to my strong suits. I like to joke that my mutant-power is memorization. You certainly need it in performance capture where a 300-page script is average.

I also have an absurdly strong imagination. I live in my own world 90% of the time. Make-believe is a big part of my inner life. On top of that, I’ve always wanted to pursue action-based work, but I was not interested in full-fledged stunts. The combination of these traits drove me towards motion capture. It allows me to explore many avenues of acting and provides a freedom to play that cannot be found anywhere else in the gaming industry.

NYFA: When did you fall in love with gaming?

Gina: I mean… my first console was an Atari.

NYFA: What were some of your expectations as you entered the world of motion capture? Which proved to be true? Which proved false? How?

Gina: Motion capture was so new to me and is still considered to be the relative wild-west of the entertainment industry. I didn’t have any expectations. I did, however, make some cringe-worthy faux pas when I first began. In fact, I still make mistakes. I’m still a baby to all of this. I just do my best not to criticize myself too harshly if I do something totally dumb. The only way to figure out what works is through the process of elimination, you know?

NYFA: There are a lot of conversations surrounding the reality of being a woman in the gaming industry, especially since the controversy of 2014’s GamerGate. What is something you would like young women who are looking to enter this industry to know?

Gina: I want them to know that the industry landscape is changing. It isn’t the boys club it used to be. Women are heavy hitters in every aspect of the gaming industry from production to consumption. However, there is still a ways to go.

I was one of thirty women at a “Women in Games International Mixer” at E3 this year. The room was packed with men. Some of these men would actually cut in front of me in line at the “Women in Games Mixer. “

However, things are changing. Many companies have active inclusivity departments where women aren’t just relegated to the animation sectors. There are women techs, women game designers, women producers, directors, senior marketing analysts, coders, and QA leads. There are many more opportunities for women in this industry than there were even ten years ago. I only see it getting better. Any woman interested in entering this industry should be willing to fight a little, get your foot in the door, and be persistent.

NYFA: How does someone prepare for a career in motion capture?

Gina: Become a conscious observer of life around you. Watch, not just how different people move, but how they move when they’re angry, or happy, or hungry, or distracted. Pay attention to animals and try to bring their physicality to your movements. Practice while doing housework or exercising.

Seriously, if you want a full body workout, pretend you’re a bear for ten minutes. Don’t pick just any bear, make it specific. Go be a mama grizzly facing off against the big alpha male who just moved into the territory and is hell-bent on killing her cubs. (If this seems oddly specific, it’s actually from source video I used for a mocap project.) Quadrupedal movement is brutal, especially while maintaining as much fidelity to the animal as possible.

NYFA: What projects have you worked on? What was your most challenging world?

Gina: In general, I’ve found the most challenging projects to be the ones where I’m working with non-humanoid movement. Anytime I have to slither, crawl, glide, fly, or wriggle it is a challenge. You feel like you’re grounded, but then you see the data or the playback on the reference cameras and you’re like, “Oh, I could have done that differently,” or “I could have been more specific.” But that’s the beauty of it as well, right? Just like every creative endeavor, you are always working, always growing, always failing. I’ve learned to love my failures.

Gina Williamson | NYFA Games Motion Capture

NYFA: Have you ever played a game where your motion capture work was featured? What was that experience like?

Gina: I have played my friends’ characters in different games. That experience is always awesome. The more games you play, the easier it is to spot your colleagues. Everyone has a specific way of moving.

It happened recently. I was playing a demo and I thought to myself, “Dang, that person looks so familiar.” I looked it up and sure enough, it was a buddy of mine. One time, I learned a friend of mine was the boss in a game that took me hours to beat. It put a strain on our relationship.

NYFA: You recently teamed up with NYFA’s Twitch channel to produce a month-long mini-series about Women in Games. What made you want to do this partnership and what are you hoping to bring to viewers?

Gina: Actually, we just wrapped this week. It’s been an incredible experience. I’m thankful that I had the ability to go to NYFA and say, “Hey, I have this idea!” They were 100% behind me from the beginning.

NYFA had approached me earlier in the spring and asked me to start producing more after a live motion capture panel I had put together, but I declined, thinking “What on earth do I know about that kind of thing? I wouldn’t know where to start!” Well, you start at home. Meaning, you start with the things you love, the things that hold a big significance for you. It makes the long hours and challenges and time crunches way less daunting. It’s why I worked seven days a week for the past month, making sure deadlines were met and scrambling to put out fires when they’d spark up.

The feedback I’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. I had such a huge response, including tip-top industry pros, thanking me for putting together something like this. In my pitch email, I stated clearly: “The purpose of this series is not to shout feminism from the rooftops, but rather to promote visibility; I want to show that there are women- successful, powerful, influential women- in every single aspect of our industry.”

The series has done that, and more. It has offered true master classes by some of the top people in the field. Infinity Ward, Freeform Labs, and Riot rounded out the month, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

So great was the response, from all corners of the industry, that I plan to have a regular “Professional Spotlight” show once a month. Not just for women, but for any number of the gaming professionals who wanted to be a part of the show. Folks from Sony, EA, Naughty Dog, Riot, and Blizzard have been so supportive and enthusiastic about the inclusiveness that I can’t wait to see where things go from here.

Gina T Williamson | Women in Gaming

NYFA: Which women were you most excited to talk about?

Gina: All of them. I mean it. I definitely freaked out when Infinity Ward opened their freaking motion capture studio to me. I got to stand on their stage and do a range of motion tests. That was the highlight of my career. On a personal level, that was the winner for me.

On a professional level, though, I really couldn’t choose a favorite moment. The fact that we have archived video of these women giving master classes is mind-blowing. Every now and then, I feel like we are graced with the presence of mind to be aware of a milestone moment in our lives as it’s happening. That’s how I felt throughout this series. It marked a lot of firsts for me and was challenging on many levels, and I can’t say it was anything but a success. For that, I am truly humbled and grateful.

NYFA: What’s up next for you?

Gina: DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS! I wrote an e-mail to my boss, Chris Swain, Chair of the Game Design Program here at NYFA, while in the midst of producing the Women in Gaming series, with an idea for an awesome program for October and he OK’d it!

We’ll have celebrity players, full-out roleplaying, gratuitously bad jokes, and hopefully some genuine creepiness. It’s a great cast and a great story, so I think folks tuning in will have a ton of fun with it. Considering Dungeons and Dragons is the basis for the majority of the most popular games we have today, I felt like it was a fitting honor to dedicate the Halloween month to Dungeons and Dragons and some of its scariest campaign settings like the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dragonlance, and of course Ravenloft.

The New York Film Academy would like to thank Gina Theresa Williams for bringing her unique taste and style to our Twitch channel. Be sure to check out NYFA’s Twitch every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 PM PST.