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Fluorescent Intergalactic Star Troupers on Skates

At the Electronic Entertainment Expo convention, local show-biz folk found work bringing a constellation of game characters to life.

May 15, 2000|SUSAN CARPENTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If their candy-colored vinyl dresses, go-go boots and fluorescent wigs made Ulala and her friends resemble cartoons, it's because they are. Like a number of other characters at the E3 gaming festival at the Los Angeles Convention Center over the weekend, the stars of Sega's soon-to-be-released Space Channel 5 video game were present in both two and three dimensions.

The two-dimensional versions were found on video monitors, while their real-life counterparts appeared in person, attracting the attention and adoration of video game players.

For the thousands of fanatics who flocked to E3, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo--and who no doubt contribute to the $13-billion annual sales in video and electronic games--this was as close as they would ever get to the fantasy worlds depicted in the electronic games they love.

"Wouldn't it be nice if this was for real. If all you had to do was look good and be a part of the game?" said Krista Miller, a professional dancer working the convention as "Bis," a roller skater with aqua-blue hair who stars in Jet Grind Radio, another new Sega game.

Miller, 30, has danced at the Academy Awards and in various television shows and films, including "The Mask," starring Jim Carrey. She is like many Angelenos in show business who pick up extra work at "industrials," or conventions like E3.

Duke Cullen is a special effects artist at Jim Henson's Creature Shop in Burbank. Over the weekend, he put on one of his company's costumes and became Cornelius, the lovable primate from "Planet of the Apes." Dr. Zira, the honorary Dr. Zaius, Ursus and several members of the gorilla army were also on hand to help promote the new "Planet of the Apes" video game and to pose with conference attendees.

"They ask if they can capture us in some sort of photo memory for some reason," Cullen said, completely in character. He cast a sideways glance at Dr. Zira and dropped his voice. "My wife, she gets very jealous when women come up to me. She doesn't want any humans touching me."

At Hasbro Interactive's booth, humans couldn't keep their hands off the space trooper and his two silver-suited alien sidekicks, even though the X-Com game characters stood with their weapons drawn and pointing at the crowd.

Jeff Statzer, 36, was one of the silver "sectoids." He got the job through his agent. Statzer had acted in Home Depot commercials and in a Johnny Depp movie, but never as an alien with cloven hands and feet. Nor had Dana Woods, who was in a recent Woody Allen film.

"I hope to get more of this type of work," said Woods, 36. "Because [my] face isn't shown, I get into the character more. I'm reacting how an alien would react, like, 'Oh, no! Bright light! Leave me alone!' "

In the game, the "sectoids" are at war with the trooper, but here on Earth they hugged each other and their fans in a never-ending photo op. Hasbro Interactive product manager Peter Matiss explained the discrepancy: "There's a lot of love going around at E3."

It was more like lust at the Eidos booth when the live embodiment of the impossibly dimensioned Tomb Raider star, Lara Croft, came on stage. Plastic pistols at the ready, wearing her trademark tight blue tank top and hot pants with hiking boots and bobby socks, Lara posed for the crowd before straddling the Harley-Davidson motorcycle parked on stage.

Rich Greene, 28, was at E3 to play games. He came to Eidos to see Lara Croft because "I'm a male." He was not alone. A couple hundred 20-something guys were also there, pressing up against the guardrail and documenting Lara's flesh-and-blood presence on their digital video cameras.

Other humanized characters at the convention weren't attracting nearly as much attention. Ms. PacMan, an enormous yellow sphere with red gloves and booties, danced and danced but had little luck in drawing the crowd to check out her new 3-D game. Ditto for a pair of dueling, larger-than-life stuffed dogs. But things were worst for Sparty, the Michigan State University mascot. He stood alone in the ESPN booth.

Ruthy Inchaustegui, 28, didn't have that problem. A professional dancer who has performed with Madonna and Prince, as well as at the Reebok and L.A. gift shows, she was in costume as a tough "skater girl." As one of the characters in Sega's Jet Grind Radio, she was wearing goggles, a skull-and-crossbones belt buckle and a midriff-baring black shirt with flames on the front and a silver dragon on the back.

Success, she said, is just a matter of "entering into the character." With that, she skated off toward the stage.

*

Susan Carpenter can be reached at susan.carpenter@latimes.com.

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