She answers to the ‘Call of Duty’
First posted in PositivelyFilipino.com
Hollywood likes to promote movies with behind-the-scenes footage of actors in dark Spandex with markers attached at every joint for multiple cameras to record their movements on a naked stage. The markers resemble electrodes for a fun vibe, oftentimes so fun the work that goes into processing the images into 3-D animation is easily obscured. Motion capture can’t be made interesting in a two-minute clip.
Further down the page, it’ll become obvious that Marla de Castro-Rausch, age 42, likes to talk shop about the intricate work of motion capture. She is CEO of Animation Vertigo, which for 10 years has been at the forefront of the production process with a list of billion-dollar video games, including Activision’s “Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1–3,” “Call of Duty Black Ops 1 and 2,” Warner Bros. “Injustice: The Gods Among Us,” and Quantic Dream’s “Heavy Rain, and Beyond: Two Souls” and the movie “A Christmas Carol.”
Animation Vertigo employs 45 artists doing motion capture in Mandaluyong City in the Philippines. Marla manages them from her headquarters in Irvine, California. Last fall, Joseph Pimentel writing about Marla in the Asian Journal called motion capture “tedious.” Despite this misperception, her Filipino workforce perseveres in refining the tracking and scrubbing out blemishes to populate games and movies with stunning graphics. Few expect animated characters to ever compete with real actors for a dramatic Oscar; if that day ever comes, the high standards of Animation Vertigo artists will likely have played a role.
Judging by Marla’s description of her first foray into animation while assisting her husband, House of Moves CEO Brian Rausch, then an executive with Spectrum Studios in Los Angeles, detail-oriented motion capture work will never draw attention from producers of entertainment newsmagazines.
“I was pregnant with my first child in 2000 and waiting for my husband to be done with work. It so happened he was doing cleanup work on motion capture data and I got hooked,” she says.
“To me,” Marla continues, “it looked like a puzzle to be solved and I learned how to track data. Those days if you captured two to three people in a volume, you would take a long time trying to fix occluded data and make sure the actors are clean. These days capturing three to four people is the norm and wouldn’t be a problem. Ten-man dog piles or six men for full performance capture—bodies and faces are marked and captured—are the current challenges. Technology has just improved so much, and more pixels in cameras allow you to process more markers. ”
Motion capture is a welcome sector in the increasingly diverse portfolio of the Philippines, whose call centers are a more familiar form of business process outsourcing (BPO). “It was Animation Vertigo that brought high-level training to the country,” Marla reveals.
“Over the years, we’ve developed modules to be able to train each animator who joins our team. Training trainers is also very important so that at each stage of the process, we are able to have trainers teach newbies. It was definitely a challenge at the start as you have newbies on the floor with only one specialist to answer questions. As they grew in experience and have undergone the production fire, the veterans have become necessary for the growth, learning and confidence-building for the new employees.”
Her employees’ compensation is a trade secret, but she assures Positively Filipino that they’re well rewarded for their expertise. “Our team members are paid more than the minimum wage and in line with the wage for entry-level BPO companies in the Philippines. We provide for their training and after six months of being in probationary status, depending on their performance, growth and input, they are offered regular and permanent positions.”
As wages climb, Marla doesn’t envision her company’s motion capture business to gravitate from the Philippines to less developed countries, such as Bangladesh and the Dominican Republic.
Client and vendors
“To remain in business, a company needs to continually work at its relationship with clients and adjust to their needs,” she explains. “At the end of the day, I believe that it is the relationship between client and vendors that sustains the business.”
She also believes that replacing the artistry within the Filipino culture is one tall order.
Intangibles aside, Marla also keeps track of trends and the direction of the market, learns about new technologies, software and new pipelines to be able to continue providing clients exactly what they need, when they need it. She emphasizes, “By partnering with my clients and working closely with hardware and software suppliers, we ensure we are all successful and continue to produce excellent motion capture work.”
Last year, the Orange County Register named Marla one of the Hottest 25 People in Orange County. And though she is middle aged in an industry that skews in the low and mid-twenties, Marla connects with the hipster-geek generation that, as the New York Times Magazine pointed out, often values “cool” over functionality.
“Age is rarely a factor with clients especially in our industry,” she explains. The budget takes precedence over aesthetics at the motion capture stage of production. “While my clients will always want ‘cool’ graphics, it is always a balance between creativity and funding. Since I’m not pitching a concept to them by the time the clients and I work together, they would have finished their preproduction so we can talk about the amount of work and the cost of that work.”
Girls can beat ‘em
There’s some truth to the claim that the violence on the flat-screen battlefields can help develop strategic thinking, but the demeaning behavior of female characters with 3-D cups Barbie would envy is indefensible if not unconscionable.
“To be honest, I find it hilarious to see female characters in video games because they are so unrealistic and impossible, and I don’t take them seriously enough to think that it represents who I am,” Marla explains. “I know that the audience market is males 18 to 35, and the best way to sell to this demographic is with unrealistic images of women.”
Marla does, however, see larger than a sliver of hope for women who represent a large yet untapped market. The key may be to cater to their tastes while not ignoring the possibility that some women might be superior to their male counterparts with a rifle and mace.
“Most of the women’s gaming tends to be in the mobile and Facebook market; for example, Farmville, Candy Crush, Café Wars and the like. Although to be fair, more and more women are playing Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.”
Discouraged gamers can take heart that one of the principal contributors to the onscreen bloodshed is Marla Rausch, a fellow woman warrior. She is tackling a gender challenge that affects more girls than the genres of video games.
As a woman and mother of a daughter, Marla has concerns about the shortage of girls in STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math), which is corroborated by a 2011 Department of Education report that women comprise only 24 percent of the STEM workforce.
It’s no surprise that girls tend to shy away from an industry famous for sexist subplots, bullets and profanity. She admits, “Women remain a small percentage at Animation Vertigo, although it is a respectable 28 percent of our team. I don’t believe it’s any sort of gender discrimination. Unfortunately, more men than women apply for the positions due to the perception that gaming or animation is more of a male industry.”
Entrepreneurial prerogatives can also be dissuasive especially for women with maternal plans. Marla knows the conflicts of interest between owning a company and taking care of children.
“I had to accept early on that I can’t do anything one hundred percent anymore unlike the time when I was single and working. I eventually learned that prioritizing is essential and to trust others and delegate work. I have two amazing people helping me, my producer, Nick Kambic, and my assistant, Josie Salazar.”
In a way, Marla, Nick and Josie’s work is helping people whose world can seem even darker and gloomier than most war and crime games. For this special group, video games fill a gap in their lives, and once they meet rock bottom can become an impetus toward loving relationships like those Marla has with her family. She reminds us by her complete life that outside the living room, there is daylight.
What Marla Likes
- Quantic Dream’sBeyond: Two Souls
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