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Baldur's Gate 3's performance director Greg Lidstone explained how they built trust with their actors, including having an intimacy coordinator on the team.

Alessandro Fillari, Contributor

March 20, 2024

5 Min Read
A huge armor-clad skeleton clad from Baldur's Gate 3.
Image via Larian Studios.

Larian Studios' Baldur's Gate 3 is one of the most critically acclaimed role-playing games in recent years. Much of its popularity is credited to the solid performances and writing of the core cast of characters. For the developers, it took a lot of creative thinking and collaboration to hone its signature style and tone—much of which came together during the performance capture process.

During a GDC 2024 animation summit panel, Larian Studios performance director Greg Lidstone spoke about directing actors through motion capture and how they had to blend old and new ideas of performance craft to make the acting in Baldur's Gate 3 into the gold standard for game narrative performances that it is today. To start his talk, Lidstone broke down what happened on a day of shooting that went wrong within the Volume — the motion capture acting stage.

"On the first day, we had a new actor inside the Volume," said Lidstone. "We started in from confidence. I mean, this is a trained actor; he's been doing this for like 50-plus years. But in the suit, on that day in the Volume, he just turned flat, had lazy deliveries, and even had difficulty remembering the lines even though there was like an autocue right in front of him."

"He seemed to be taken by his character and by the way it looked, and he focused entirely on his body and its movements, which was not in any kind of a good way," Lidstone continued. "We tried another line in other ways and incorporated his gestures. To be clear, this gentleman is an incredibly good actor – he's knows more about theater craft than I will ever know. So we did manage to get a few good takes out of him, and he went on a tea break. We only have a few hours; we're already behind schedule. We then saw his mic was still live, and he took this long sip of tea, sighed, and said the last thing you want to hear from an actor when things are not going very well."

Lidstone then showed a slide during his presentation that says, "I think this is going quite well." As he describes it, this was a day where everything went wrong in the motion capture process, a method of capturing live performance that is still fairly nascent. It was a reminder of how to make the process for everyone involved more intuitive and open to collaboration. Despite not attending film school or being an actor, Lidstone's career transitioned to him becoming a performance director for Larian Studios following his work on animation for BioWare's Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, along with his years of experience working on film sets and shadowing directors.

Throughout the panel, the BG3 performance director explained how "in-the-moment" moments enhanced the game and highlighted some key points about making the motion-capture process fulfilling and intuitive for the actors and, above all, safe for all those involved. In addition to key points such as keeping control of the set and understanding the boundaries that the developers worked, Lidstone explained another rule: "protect your people."

In Lidstone's experience directing the performances for BG3, he made an effort to have experienced people working on elements of scenes that were outside of his boundaries instead of just "hoping for the best." Along with hiring different choreographers for fight and dance scenes, Larian also brought in an intimacy coordinator for the game's romance scenes.

"Games have developed to have adult content, and the intimacy shoots were born from that. Now, everyone has their relationship with sex and sexuality, and what you may think is completely normal may not conform to what I think is normal and vice versa. With that in mind, we ensured that our actors felt safe while performing and hired an intimacy coordinator for those specific shoots. Their job is to understand the actor's boundaries and advocate for them."

"We established working rules with the IC and talked about my expectations, and then I gave him space to establish trust and a rapport with the actors, which seems necessary as we have a scene where you can have sex with a guy who turns into a bear," he continued. "It shows the actors that we value them and that they are important to us and the project we are making together. Freedom and safety will always result in more creativity and better performances."

What made players respond so well to Baldur's Gate 3 was the sophisticated level of characterization for the main party of adventurers, and according to Lidstone, many of the mannerisms and little details for the characters came from the actors during their performances. In some examples, Orin the Red's actress Maggie Robertson introduced slight details of her clutching her weapons with her fingers, which the developers loved and included in the game. Neil Newbon, the actor behind the fan-favorite Astarion, introduced a take on the character that the developers didn't expect, elevating him to the famous vampire that captured the audience's attention.

"In one scene, we had Astarion looking out of a cave at the sun, and then he turned darkly and walked back to kill the guy in the cave. We recorded it that way, and then Neil said, 'It just didn't feel right; it was too bleak,'" Lidstone recounted. "Neil said, 'Asterion, at some level, would take joy from this. He survived--let's let him have a dance instead.' So we tried different ways, but we split the difference and made a kind of dance saunter for about two steps, and then he transitioned into a full predator stalking his prey. It's one of my favorite scenes, and we never would have gotten it if Neil didn't feel like he could work with me at that moment."

Closing out the panel, Lidstone stated that performance capture is a learning process in itself, where mistakes are made and characters can be elevated. In his own way, Lidstone also came into his own during the making of Baldur's Gate 3, improving his work as a performance director and as someone that the team learned to trust fully during the game's development.

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About the Author(s)

Alessandro Fillari

Contributor

Alessandro Fillari is a writer/editor who has covered the games, tech, and entertainment industries for more than 12 years. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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