The Creative Process

Meet the Motion Capture Star Who Brings Hollywood's Creatures to Life

Terry Notary in a movement capture suit during the filming of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Photo by Sigtor Kildal, Courtesy Notary

When Hollywood needs to build a fantasy world populated with extraordinary creatures, they call Terry Notary.

The former gymnast and circus performer got his start in film in 2000 when Ron Howard asked him to teach the actors how to move like Whos for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Notary has since served as a movement choreographer, stunt coordinator and performer via motion capture technology for everything from the Planet of the Apes series to The Hobbit trilogy, Avatar, Avengers: Endgame and this summer's The Lion King.

Since opening the Industry Dance Academy with his wife, Rhonda, and partners Maia and Richard Suckle, Notary also offers movement workshops for actors in Los Angeles.


He recently spoke with Dance Magazine about his process of bringing all kinds of creatures to life on screen.

How He Shapes Each Character's Movement

"I've played apes, birds, dogs, the Hulk, goblins, aliens and all types of abominations, but the process for every role is kind of alike. I try not to picture what I'm going to do—I start from a place of freedom and just play, like a child.

"Finding the details of the movement is kind of like writing—you take a road and explore it. I usually start moving, thinking about the character's past, what shapes them, and how it would affect how they behave and move. I think, If the character were an object, what would it be? Maybe it's crumpled tinfoil or a feather.

"I eventually find a cadence for the character's walk. A really solid, heroic character might be in a four-count, but something evil or off-kilter is in a one-, three- or five-count. What drives the character might also drive their movement. What's it like to be propelled by their guts, their back or their head? Are they pulled and resisting, or being pushed?

"A lot of creature performers will put on an outside tension, like 'Grrr,' to become a monster, so anger is right on the surface. I prefer to start from something internal, like how this monster thinks it is right in the bad thing it's doing. Maybe there's a sickness that created that idea. It's more than one-dimensional."

What His Research Process is Like

"For the Planet of the Apes films, I discovered that I had to watch real apes as if they were humans in ape suits. Viewing them through that lens helped me find what would work for these sentient apes.

"For Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, I studied wolves—not just their movement but the social structure of the pack. Their constant awareness of where they stand in the group informed the movement. The alpha is the only one who is semi-relaxed, but he's always watching his back a little bit, too."

Why He's Always Studying Movement

"People go to their phones like pacifiers now, but I use those moments to study others. You can see a person's history in the way that they walk. You notice the difference between someone who owns every step and someone who is apologetic in their movement. It's our job to let people live through our performance, so we have to be vehicles—and students—of expression."

In Memoriam
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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News
Rauf "RubberlLegz" Yasit and Parvaneh Scharafali. Photo by Mohamed Sadek, courtesy The Shed

William Forsythe is bringing his multi-faceted genius to New York City in stripped down form. His "Quiet Evening of Dance," a mix of new and recycled work now at The Shed until October 25, is co-commissioned with Sadler's Wells in London (and a slew of European presenters).

As always, Forsythe's choreography is a layered experience, both kinetic and intellectual. This North American premiere prompted many thoughts, which I whittled down to seven.

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Courtesy NBC

"Law & Order: SVU" has dominated the crime show genre for 21 seasons with its famous "ripped from the headlines" strategy of taking plot inspiration from real-life crimes.

So viewers would be forgiven for assuming that the new storyline following the son of Mariska Hargitay's character into dance class originated in the news cycle. After all, the mainstream media widely covered the reaction to Lara Spencer's faux pas on "Good Morning America" in August, when she made fun of Prince George for taking ballet class.

But it turns out, the storyline was actually the idea of the 9-year-old actor, Ryan Buggle, who plays Hargitay's son. And he came up with it before Spencer ever giggled at the word ballet.

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