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Tintin’s Jamie Bell talks motion capture

The digital technology behind "Avatar," "The Lord of the Rings" and now "The Adventures of Tintin" takes the movements of real actors and transfers them to computer-animated realms.Or something like that.

Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin is being marketed as an animated film, and true enough, all of its Hergé-inspired landscapes and backdrops, furnishings and props, vintage cars and buzzing biplanes, were rendered by artists and technicians working on CG systems. But there's a real, human cast here, too, including Jamie Bell in the title role, Daniel Craig as the sinister Sakharine, Andy Serkis as the boozed-up salty dog Captain Haddock,  and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the blundering doppelganger sleuths, Thomson and Thompson.

Here are excerpts from my interview with Bell, the British actor who made his screen debut as the dancing kid in the hit 2000 release, Billy Elliot, in which he talks about the challenges, and rewards of doing  "motion capture" –  a format in which an actor, suited up like a frogman, with sensors that send information to a computer system, is photographed, and recorded, going through the screenplay on a bare soundstage. All the rest is rendered long after the actor has gone on to his next job.

"I don't think people really understand how it works," Bell says. "They have some version in their heads … but the thing with it is that it's good for the actor, because it's all about the actor. You know, it's called `performance capture' because they're capturing the performance.

"That really puts you at the heart of the creativity, and everyone's really looking to you to really bring these characters to life. Without the actor, these virtual puppets don't move, they don't speak, they don't feel — without the actor they are lifeless.

"Actors generally feel empowered with this technology. It's not really about how it works, because I don't really understand how it works, you know. All I know is that the role of the actor is you do what you usually do in a movie. Which is you perform. The approach is the same."