Meet the Motion Capture Star Who Brings Hollywood's Creatures to Life
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."
Just hearing the word "improvisation" is enough to make some ballet dancers shake in their pointe shoes. But for Chantelle Pianetta, it's a practice she relishes. Depending on the weekend, you might find her gracing Bay Area stages as a principal with Menlowe Ballet or sweeping in awards at West Coast swing competitions.
She specializes in Jack and Jill events, which involve improvised swing dancing with an unexpected partner in front of a panel of judges. (Check her out in action below.) While sustaining her ballet career, over the past four years Pianetta has quickly risen from novice to champion level on the WCS international competition circuit.
Sean Dorsey was always going to be an activist. Growing up in a politically engaged, progressive family in Vancouver, British Columbia, "it was my heart's desire to create change in the world," he says. Far less certain was his future as a dancer.
Like many dancers, Dorsey fell in love with movement as a toddler. However, he didn't identify strongly with any particular gender growing up. Dorsey, who now identifies as trans, says, "I didn't see a single person like me anywhere in the modern dance world." The lack of trans role models and teachers, let alone all-gender studio facilities where he could feel safe and welcome, "meant that even in my wildest dreams, there was no room for that possibility."
It's hour three of an intense rehearsal, you're feeling mentally foggy and exhausted, and your stomach hurts. Did you know the culprit could be something as simple as dehydration?
Proper hydration helps maintain physical and mental function while you're dancing, and keeps your energy levels high. But with so many products on the market promising to help you rehydrate more effectively, how do you know when it's time to reach for more than water?