THE MOST called-upon player in Madden 08 isn't LaDainian Tomlinson or Reggie Bush. It's a wide receiver who went undrafted out of Hofstra in 2002 and now coaches at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif. His name is Kenny Bell, though gamers know him by the leaps, catches and cuts he makes for the Madden series. Bell, 27, is a "motion-capture actor" for EA Sports: When Bush spins or Tomlinson leaps, the animation is based on Bell's moves in a studio.
Bell got into motion capture in 2003, when, tired of jobs in sewage cleanup and concert security, he accepted an offer from one of his high school coaches, Jon Nielsen. Nielsen had started a casting agency for motion-capture roles. "I got paid $600," Bell says of his first job for EA Sports, which lasted two days in '05. "I thought that was pretty cool."
Bell flies to Vancouver for sessions four times a year; he gets a list of players and stage directions, often as mundane as "walking to the huddle." The sessions are long (three or four days) and monotonous (a head can turn in many ways while walking to the huddle.) Bell, who is 5'9" and 181 pounds, specializes in small backs and receivers. "Kenny is dynamic and agile," says Madden lead producer David Ortiz. "You would compare him to a Barry Sanders type."
Virtual football is not Bell's ultimate goal. "I don't want people saying, 'He's just in a video game,'" he says. "My goal is to get on a real team." Bell had a Bills tryout in 2005 and last summer Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia, an off-season workout partner, wrote him a letter of recommendation. To stay in shape for an NFL call, Madden comes in handy. "[Tomlinson] does so much stuff where he stops on a dime and defies gravity," Bell says. "I ask, How the heck did he do that? Then I figure out how to do it. He's helping me prepare for the real game."
October 7, 2007
In High Def
THE NBA season doesn't tip off till Oct. 30, but two of its brightest young stars were all over TV last weekend. LeBron James followed Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning in hosting Saturday Night Live. One highlight was a sketch in which he played a Solid Gold dancer (left), but LeBron tended to look stiff and seemed to stare holes through the teleprompter. A more relaxed Carmelo Anthony went live the night before, shilling for mStation, an iPod speaker company he invests in, on QVC (right). His big thrill? Meeting Joan Rivers backstage.
IT WAS a sweet off-season for NBC's much-praised Friday Night Lights. The football drama that never cracked Nielsen's Top 50 won an Emmy (Outstanding Casting) and was renewed and given a 9 p.m. Friday slot. So, Lights is back (it premieres this week), but will fans recognize it? To boost ratings, it appears that teen drama will be played up this season, with football action cut back—turning FNL into The O.C. in shoulder pads. The first episode introduces a cute Swedish student and hints at promiscuity. Pigskin lovers must make do with a few scenes of practice and a ring ceremony.