Acting and Its Double

A Practice-Led Investigation of the Nature of Acting Within Performance Capture

In his PhD thesis Acting and Its Double, Dr Jason Kennedy deepens our understanding of how animators, actors, audiences, and academics see the practice of acting in performance capture (PeCap).

While exploring the intersections between acting and animation, a central question emerges: what does acting become when the product of acting starts as data and finishes as computer-generated images that preserve the source-actor’s “original” performance to varying degrees?

Kennedy interrogates this primary question through a practice-led inquiry in the form of 3D animation experiments. These seek to clarify the following sub-questions:

  • What is the nature of acting within the contexts of animation and performance capture?
  • What is the potential for a knowledge of acting to have on the practice of animating, and for a knowledge of animation to have on the practice of acting?
  • What is the role of the animator in interpreting an actor’s performance data and how does this affect our understanding of the authorship of a given performance?

This interdisciplinary thesis sits at the intersection between theories of acting, animation, film, and psychology. It engages with phenomenology and auto-ethnography to explore acting in performance capture from the perspective of a single individual as the actor, PeCap artist, and animator.

This type of first-person experience-based insight is often missing from purely theoretical discussions about acting in performance capture and animation, and helps to provide a clearer understanding of the contributions of each creative role to the final PeCap result. This research provides a strong basis for the necessity of a paradigm revision for how acting is produced within a PeCap context.

For Dr Kennedy, the project needed to move beyond the purely theoretical understanding of performance capture: 

“I engaged with practical experiments in which I inhabited the combined role of an actor-animator. A digital counterpart involves a highly mediated form of acting that often blurs the distinction between the roles of actors and animators in the authoring of a final performance. By fulfilling all of the roles normally executed by specialists in the production of performance capture, I was able to create a one-to-one correspondence between a single animator and a single 3D character’s performance, while serving as the sole creative actor.”


Kennedy’s research is unique in that it establishes a unified language of experience across the various creative roles responsible for the final screen performance of a digital counterpart. This is important because, while academic animation literature provides a meaningful contextualisation of ideas, it is less well-informed by the pragmatic and creative experiences from animators themselves.

This research helps to fill this gap by contributing Kennedy’s process as both an actor and an animator to the literature. In turn, it articulates the strengths and weaknesses of various PeCap workflows and provides a voice to both actors, animators, and below-the-line film workers in terms of making sense of authorship in performance capture.

Kennedy’s perspective as an independent practitioner also provides an alternative narrative to the promotional rhetoric of popular film directors and actors, whose opinions some may see as tarnished by self-serving propaganda.

Centre for Design Research
Te Kura Toi a Hoahoa
School of Art and Design

Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau,
Auckland University of Technology


Susan Hedges
Mandy Smith

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© Centre for Design Research, AUT University 2021