Directing actors is one thing. But how do you direct a character that isn’t actually there? In Avarice, one of the main characters was the Light, a fairy type light that befriends the Girl in the beginning of the film. I had never directed a film when I started this project, and I certainly had never dealt with directing something that wasn’t even there, so there were a lot of things I wish I had known before going into it.
These are some little tidbits that I learned along the way that might help someone who is filming something similar:
Make sure everyone on set understands what that character is supposed to be doing in each scene.
On my film, everyone had read the script, so they had a decent idea of what the Light was actually doing. Organization is key when you’re directing a fantasy, in my opinion. If I hadn’t sat down with my DP and drawn out storyboards of everything the Light was doing in each shot, we might have ended up with an entirely different film. And of course, the actors have to all be very aware of what is going on around them.
Always have something for your actor to look at for eye lines.
If the shot was on a green screen, we could have a little light on a stick that Haley could look at and pretend to react to. This helped her more than anything. Of course, if the shot is not on a green screen, you can’t have an object in the shot that isn’t going to end up there in the final film because it’s too much work to take it out. So it’s a good idea to practice with the object a couple of times so the actor knows where to look, and then remove it for the actual shot.
Remember that although that character is not actually there, it’s still a character.
I made directorial notes for that character just like I did for all of my actors. I used those notes to help my other actors know what the CG character was thinking and feeling. It really helped Haley for me to bring to life the Light as much as possible for her on set. Plus, you can use those directorial notes later in post production. I’m pulling them out now for the visual effects superviser to use to know how to properly animate the character.
Bottom line: Do whatever you have to in order to get the best performance from your actors. Something to try that I wish I had thought of earlier is having an actor stand in for the CG character. I think it was really hard for Haley to be constantly imagining this character that wasn’t there, so it might have been interesting to see if it would have been different with someone she could play off of.
Questions: What are some other ideas for ways for an actor to connect with a CG character?