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Elisabeth Harnois: Martian Tagger in Mars Needs Moms

Mar 09, 2011

By: Lynn Barker

In the new Disney 3-D movie Mars Needs Moms, Elisabeth Harnois, who has had parts on “One Tree Hill” and “90210”, plays Ki, a cute Martian girl who is caught in a very strict, military-style society with all color, love and individuality removed.

Ki secretly watches old TV show broadcasts from earth in the 1960’s and becomes a “flower child” fond of love and peace. She becomes a stealth graffiti artist, tagging all the dull, grey surfaces she can with brightly-colored neon flowers.

Elisabeth Harnois: Martian “Tagger” in Mars Needs MomsCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

We wanted to know more about the complicated motion capture process that allows actors to use their bodies as well as their voices to guide the computer animators in creating characters’ movements on screen.

What advice did Elisabeth’s mom give her and how did she help create the fun Martian language spoken in the movie? Check it out:

Kidzworld: We heard you spoke alien when you came in for your audition.

  • Elisabeth Harnois: Oh yeah; a whole lot of it. I’m a big goofball. This role has allowed me to flex my goofball muscles. We created our own little language. It was really fun.

Kidzworld: How difficult was creating that?

  • Elisabeth: When we auditioned, we each (actors who played Martians in the movie) had our own idea of what these Martians sounded like. Then, the four of us got together in a room and really worked together to create something that was a hybrid of all of our sounds, important words. We’d all agree on what each one was and so we have a dictionary.

Kidzworld: How does it feel to see yourself as a cute Martian after doing motion capture [in which real actors’ performances and movements are tracked by computers. This then guides the animators to create the character.

  • Elisabeth: I thought it was awesome. There’s no vanity involved in doing something like this. I’m not gonna look up there and go ‘Oh my God, I don’t like the way they lit me there’. It’s really and truly about what I did as an actor. It really took away any sort of self-conscious feelings when I was doing it. Then, the fun part it watching it now that it’s done; getting to actually see myself through this character even though it’s not an exact match to myself, I see little quirks which really made me have an appreciation for the technology because I remember these little eye twitches and choices that I made and they made it in there in Ki. It really felt like me up there even though I’m a Martian.

Kidzworld: What was the actual motion capture and harness work like for you? How do the animators get your expressions?

  • Elisabeth: It’s really fun. Hopping around like Gymboree. It’s theater in the round except the cameras are the people [in the audience]. They see everything. [The animators] form a fiberglass type mask of your face that has holes in it so every day, there’s a template for our faces and they draw the dots on [through the tiny holes]. It’s really not that long of a process and they’ve come up with the right products that don’t irritate the skin too much.

Kidzworld: Can you go into more detail on that?

  • Elisabeth: There are two stages; an ink stage then a black paint stage. We get touched up throughout the day. It’s not too hard. It’s the taking it off that’s hard. Those dot guys have such steady hands. Getting through the creation of that mask was the more time-consuming and complicated part because you have to sit in front of cameras and literally isolate a muscle movement so that they can read where best to put the dots [to see what] your emotion is for the computers. That process is more tedious but it’s only one or two days of pre-production and then the template is made and it’s just routine.

Elisabeth HarnoisCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Kidzworld: Are you kind of “techie” in real life?

  • Elisabeth: I went to film school so I’m always looking into those sorts of things.

Kidzworld: This film is a fun adventure but it’s also about mother love. What is the best advice you ever got from your mom?

  • Elisabeth: My mom has always supported me in anything I wanted to do but she’s also reminded me where I come from. I have four younger brothers and helped to raise them so I think her advice was to just always have humility despite all the gifts that I’ve, according to my mother, been given. My mom is my greatest fan. And to always have a real sense of self in a business where a lot of other people are telling you who you are.

Elisabeth HarnoisCourtesy of WENN

Kidzworld: Who do you feel Mars Needs Moms is for? Adults, kids?

  • Elisabeth: It’s a really fun, smart family film. It’s got so much sophistication and adult humor. It’s also really great emotionally.

Kidzworld: A lot of young people will see this movie and might want to become actors. What advice would you give them?

  • Elisabeth: Try to lose self-consciousness of any kind and take risks. Figure out who you are and then be it. That’s sometimes the hard part.

Kidzworld: Ki has a whole 1960’s, early ’70’s kind of Earth mentality. What is the TV video from Earth she keeps watching?

  • Elisabeth: I’m not quite sure but it’s your typical ‘60’s cop show with people getting busted for doin’ things they’re not supposed to do. Basically, the inspiration for her was that everybody’s got this free spirit and it’s love and happy and everything is okay. Look at all the bright beauty. The clip itself is just silly and funny but she draws so much beauty out of it. I think it’s a sweet, ironic thing that she gets all this inspiration from it.