District 9 Alien Actor Didn't Know What He Was Filming Until He Saw The Movie's Trailer

When I was a senior in high school, I saw "District 9" for the first time in my English class. It definitely wasn't something I foresaw us doing at the beginning of the school year, but I remember my teacher being so happy about its inclusion in the Best Picture race that she felt it was her duty to show the insightful film to the class. "District 9" is an incredible film for a multitude of reasons, but one that stands out — alongside its story of acceptance — is the movie's motion capture work.

Motion capture artists carry a different skill set than typical actors, and their work is often what makes films really shine. /Film's Andrew Housman recently spoke with actor Donovan Stinson, who did the motion capture work for one of the alien characters in "District 9," and it turns out that the actor didn't even know what he was filming while shooting it. Stinson told Housman:

"We didn't even know what we were working on when we shot that. We had no idea. And that was a time when there was a lot of motion capture happening, so we were just taking the jobs and just working. So a lot of the time, like I said, I'd go in and be like, 'I don't know what I'm doing.' We had no idea that it was going to be 'District 9.' They were just like, 'You're these aliens.' We [took] a little class where we were kind of twitching, almost like an insectoid bird, kind of moving their heads, and just finding the way to walk as these things. Obviously we saw the models and then we just did it. We had no idea what we were doing ... "

How Stinson found out about District 9

Stinson didn't realize he had worked on "District 9" until he put the pieces together during an outing during the film's promotional period. "I think I was sitting in the movie theater and the trailer came up," he explained. "And I was like, 'I think I f—king worked on that.' I had no idea. I swear."

It's an interesting perspective Stinson gives us into the life of a motion capture artist. Unlike regular actors who are completely immersed in the worlds of the films they're working on, motion capture folks are given a more narrow view of their projects, which sometimes stops at the general gist of their characters. It seems to be both a pro and a con; On the one hand, it allows the actor to immerse themselves even further into the foundations of their character, but on the other, having a more full picture of who they're supposed to be can work to an actor's advantage depending on the story. Ultimately, the physicality of these characters was one of the most important elements, and stripping the aliens down to their foundations was definitely the right move here. Their strange gestures and motions are wholly unique to their specific type of alien, and help the world-building of the film shine. 

"'District 9' was cool, man," Stinson told Housman. "I'm glad that it ended up being what it was and not just something that was some weird Doritos commercial or something." Aren't we all, sir. Aren't we all.