Gears of War: Behind the Scenes with Chad Willett

By Brett Inesen

We caught up with the talented Gears of War producer and actor, Chad Willet, to hear about his journey from acting to producing and into the world of mo-cap through his company StoryLab Productions. Discover Chad’s full journey below.

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

I have been working as a professional actor throughout North America and Europe for more than 20 years. I’ve been fascinated with all elements of the industry and found that my years of experience offered me a natural transition into producing. I have always focused on how to tell the best story possible and discovered that it doesn’t matter what medium I am working in – if the story isn’t there, then the project doesn’t have legs. This was how StoryLab Productions was born.

Can you tell me a bit about how Storylab productions began?

I had been developing ideas for both TV and film for sometime and came across an inspiring true story about the beginnings of Greenpeace and it’s co-founder Jim Bohlen. In order to retain the rights and start developing this bio-pic, I needed to form a company, thus StoryLab was born.

During the initial story meetings, development of a full draft and search for international partners to help produce the picture, another more boutique project came to my attention called, Becoming Redwood. Knowing the size and scope of Jim Bohlen’s story might take many years to come about, getting a locally based film into production helped StoryLab grow its relationships and collect more full production experience. StoryLab took Redwood through all aspects of production, film festivals and then ultimately selling and distributing the film throughout Canada, with the support of Michael Kennedy at Cineplex.

How did you first get involved with Microsoft?

I received a call from the Director of Production of the newly formed Black Tusk Studios, which was Microsoft’s production arm in Vancouver. They were looking for help with the physical side of production and asked if I could come in for a meeting. At the time Black Tusk was developing a brand new IP and needed help with the performance capture and motion capture shoots. With StoryLab’s priority of telling great stories and Black Tusk’s venture into a strong narrative based IP, the partnership was a natural fit. After almost two years of work on the new production, the Black Tusk team was honoured to get the nod from Microsoft head office, to take the helm of their new ‘Gears of War’ franchise acquisition. The original IP was put on hold, ‘The Coalition’ studio was formed and we all got to work on making sure that the next installment of the ‘Gears of War’ franchise, exceeded the loyal, fan base expectations.

Can you tell us about your day-to-day activities producing Gears of War?

As I am mostly involved in the physical side of the production, my day-to-day comprises mostly of meetings regarding the cinematic characters in the game and selecting the best actors for those roles along with finding the right fit in terms of stunt coordinators and stunt performers for the gameplay side. Making sure all the ducks are in a row in order to keep production moving forward without delays and into the stage at Animatrik, is StoryLab’s main priority.

What are the similarities and difference when working with mocap sets compared to traditional acting sets?

The most obvious one is the lack of physical visual sets. On a mocap stage, we work mostly with simple wood framed boxes in the volume to represent actual digital assets in the final game. So for the performers, it’s a fun challenge to keep their imaginations in top form in order to help convince the audience that their characters are in epic cinematic game setting.

The other most notable difference is the pace of shooting. With film or TV, there are so many more aspects that need to be perfect before the cameras are rolling – this means the time between takes can be quite long. With mocap, the pace is much quicker, allowing for a better creative energy, keeping the performers engaged and not eating all the food at craft service…that last part was a joke.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

Good question! The most challenging aspect that I take to heart, is making sure the team I put together is always servicing the story in the way The Coalition team envisioned it. With the Gears of War fan base being so loyal, they deserve to see their game to be brought to life in the best possible way, so that when we are searching for a new performer to play an important role in the story, finding the perfect fit is what I pride myself on. It’s a great feeling to see the whole team come together on the stage, ultimately enjoying their experience in this unique mocap world.

What do you like about working with Animatrik?

Animatrik is such a treat to work with. Not only do they deliver the best data for Microsoft, but they also enjoy their working environment, never forgetting to have fun in the process! Working with Animatrik has been seamless. The respect and support they have for the talented folks who pass through their doors is unmatched, and I’ve been around a while to know.

What do you think the future holds for mo-cap and gaming?

I look forward to seeing how far we can push the narrative of games, so they play out even more like a film would. To witness these two mediums meld together, to tell a great story and to play game at the same time, is something I feel excited to be a part of.

What advice would you give for a budding producer?

Find what you are good at and focus on that, as all producers have their strengths and weaknesses. Making sure that I am always servicing the story is how I believe I can attain both longevity and personal fulfilment in this fun world of entertainment.


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