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After five days of rehearsal, blocking and line readings, principal photography commenced on Monster House. The 20' x 20' "volume” — the area in which the motion-capture equipment was set up and in which the actors performed — was constructed on Stage 6 at Culver Studios. For the most part, the film was shot in sequence over a relatively short production schedule. "A 42-day shoot is pretty quick,” says executive producer Clark, "especially compared to most live-action shoots, which often go more than a hundred days. And we had kids who had shortened working hours, so our days were very short.”

As refined for Monster House, Imageworks motion-capture process provided the filmmakers a creative instrument with which they could record the live-action performances in richly detailed data upon which the animation is then based.

The preparation for shooting a film in motion-capture was a lengthy daily ritual for the actors. At dawn every day, they had to don a special suit and shoes. In the makeup room, their hair was pulled back, a plastic cap was glued to their heads and plastic reflective dots were glued to their faces.

"In makeup, Sam Lerner, who plays Chowder, and Mitchel Musso, who plays DJ, were just bouncing everywhere,” recalls Jon Heder. "They'd be singing into the microphones. I think they were just really excited to be part of such a big production.”

Since all of the acting took place inside the "volume,” careful consideration was given to the props that would eventually appear on screen. "We had to design the sets and props in software programs like Maya and Rhino with the design team, as if they were really going to be built on a stage,” explains production designer Ed Verreaux. "We did construction drawings to build the wire-frame pieces that the actors could actually interact with. For instance, when the actors are sitting at a table, they need something to be leaning their elbows on and something to sit on — only it couldn't be solid. A real table would prevent the digital cameras from seeing all the points of reference on the actors' bodies. So it all had to be wireframed. What they were doing essentially was living in a wire frame world, and then all that was transposed into computer geometry, which then became solid in the computer during postproduction.”

For the actors, working in the "volume” was more like acting on stage than performing in front of a movie camera. As Starkey points out, "You didn't have the presence of a camera, or lights, or marks to hit. Your rhythm wasn't broken when it came time to change the film in the camera. Once the actors hit the floor in motion-capture, they got to do their scenes without worrying about any of the numerous technicalities that are usually a part of the filmmaking process. I think that's why they really enjoyed it.”

In addition, there was another aspect to working in this format that appealed to the actors. "To do it, you really had to use your imagination full time,” says Buscemi.

According to Clark, "Shooting an entire movie in one 20' x 20' square was challenging for all of us. But I can only image what it must have been for a director to imagine sets he has never seen fully rendered and explain the scene to his actors. But Gil was very quick to adapt. He had a way of letting the fantasy take over and was able to put them at ease immediately. At one point, our three heroes are exploring Nebbercracker's basement and they were having some difficulty getting into the adventure and spookiness of it since they were walking around the well-lit stage, trying to act like they're exploring a spooky basement. So Gil had us dim the lights and suddenly, the stage got spooky and the kids totally got into the adventure.”

As it turned out, that very element of imagination - on the part of the actors and the a

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