“Your species needs to learn its place, Shepard”- Saren Arterius
Hey all, it’s time for part two of our definitive Mass Effect cast interview. One quick note though as I’m happy to announce that Fred Tatasciore, who voiced Saren, is on board for the interviews! I’ve updated part one with his first two answers and he’ll be a part of the interviews from now on. It’s an absolute pleasure and honour to have him on board and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy his answers. Also, I’d like to wish our readers and all the voice actors who took part in this a very happy and safe holiday. Anyway, enough of me! Enjoy!
Mark Meer (Commander Shepard)- We knew that no matter what might change about Shepard, he was military, so that had to be taken into consideration. We also had to find a voice that could fit both a noble, selfless Paragon or a bloodthirsty, ruthless Renegade. I’d done a couple of variations on the voice in the audition process, and Bioware helped steer me in the direction they wanted the character to go. Like anything involved in making a game, it was a collaborative process.
Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard)- Bioware had a pretty clear sense of Shepard from the beginning, which was great.
Kym Hoy (Kasumi)- Bioware did have an idea, they wanted a bit of wry humour, a bit of mystery, and just a slight accent. We worked at different levels of the accent, and different age sounds until we all settled on the Kasumi you hear now.
D.C Douglas (Legion)- Most audition come with a spec (vocal specifications). Here’s what I got for Legion from Bioware:
“Speech Pattern: As part of a collectively intelligent race, it always refers to self as a plural – “we” or “us.”Uses smooth, complete sentences with very subtle emotion, no accent. As an artificial intelligence, it has no emotions per se, but will feign them to ease interaction with its organic ship-mates. In combat situations, dialogue become clipped – almost brusque. Legion is used to communicating in battle at the speed of light, and relying on low-bandwidth human speech wastes valuable time.
Demeanor: Detached, almost philosophical. Seems to hold everyday life at arm’s length, observing thoughtfully while thinking of deeper things. A “missionary among the savages.”
Michael Beattie (Mordin)- Yes, they had very specific ideas about what they wanted to do with the character. They wanted a quirky character who could be comedic but could also be dramatic. They referenced Marshall Flinkman, a character from the TV show Alias, as an archetype so that was the start off. My audition was fast, somewhat comedic and not over the top.
Maggie Baird (Samara)- Yes, they had very strong ideas about the character. I do remember the director Ginny McSwain saying that they had liked my audition because I didn’t sound to “ethereal” which is I guess how other people had interpreted the character description we had been given.
Steve Blum (Grunt)- They absolutely had some well- defined ideas going in, but ultimately they allowed me to help fine-tune him as part of a group effort. I loved how the folks at Bioware wanted a sense of innocence and discovery underlining the performance of such a powerful and intimidating looking character. Our voice director, Ginny McSwain is brilliant at anticipating the big picture, so her direction factored in in a huge way. My instinct with warrior characters is to go tough and pull back. I think we built Grunt the other way round and Ginny was great at hearing all of the details and dialling me back in when necessary. Grunt can certainly be a single-minded killing machine at times, but his pathos and inexperience in his new world gave him some interesting layers for us to chew on. He was also one of the few characters I’ve done where my voice was pitched deeper in post. So much fun to hear the final result. Extremely happy with how he came out in the end.
Kimberly Brooks (Ashley)- Yes. They wanted Ashley to have an edge to her voice, because of her military background. She needed to sound like the tough, no non-sense, take charge, bad-ass that she is. It was also important to try to convey the complexity of her character as a female in the military, in a war-torn world, fighting so hard for what she believes in. Ashley is carrying a lot of baggage as a result of losing her family, so vocally at times, I tried to show a softer, more vulnerable side to Ashley as well.
Robin Sachs (Zaeed)- I had worked for Bioware previously on Dragon Age, so they had a good idea of my vocal range. Consequently, I and my director/producer for the vocal side of the game, Chris Borders, then played with a few vocal ideas until we came up with a sound that felt right.
Keythe Farley (Thane) I’m sure they did, and I’m lucky that the voice they had in their mind sounded like me.
Fred Tatasciore (Saren)- Well it’s usually a partnership in trying to arrive at a character, but most certainly Bioware, the writers, director Casey Hudson, and VO director Ginny McSwain had a strong concept in mind. I just try to match their concept, and bring whatever personal take I may have. We know Saren is a Turian, which gives him a reptile (raptor like), sometimes cat-like vibe. I live with cats and a giant iguana (named Twitchy), so I felt very much at home with it. Using this cat and lizard idea, there’s a stillness, intensity, and intelligence inherent to him, which only makes him a stealthy and wise warrior. As a man, he has tremendous honour, no matter how Machiavellian. He is efficient, genius, and strongly directed. I then try to find his tone (both spirit and voice), and attempt to create, borrow, and steal from my life and characters/actors that I know (like a spice rack, or effect pedals for an instrument). Not that you want to “copy” something, but use it as an inspiration. As a social critic, supremely intelligent, efficient killer, who gets what he wants, reminded me of Doctor Lektor (a lizard like one). His pitch and tone felt like rhythm of Ian McShane’s Swearington on Deadwood (kinda), in that he knows where he’s going, way before he gets there. Saren’s spirit reminded of Vader in that there was inner conflict of serving an overlord of seductive power and a good, yet betrayed heart, who wants what is right, and ultimately, be set free. Then, I try to inject myself into it, specific to the character with “Who am I?”, “Where am I?”, “Where did I come from?”, “What do I want?”, “What’s controlling me?” “How would I feel about…etc.”, ya know, actor-ry stuff.
Retroplayer- Kym, Kasumi is a very mysterious character. Did Bioware flesh out her history for you prior to recording or did they keep her past shrouded in mystery even to you?
Kym Hoy (Kasumi)- Bioware was great about helping me flesh out the character with pictures and back story. The director was very clear on her history and that definitely helped me create the character.
Retroplayer- Legion is an artificial intelligence and its voice is rather unique and striking. How did you prepare for the role which is essentially a non-human character and did you approach it differently compared to most other voice over work?
D.C Douglas (Legion)- I hate to say this, but it’s pretty darn close to my natural voice when I’m talking to a crazy ex-girlfriend who is threatening my pet rabbit over a boiling pot of water! I just had to make sure my morning phlegm had cleared out (sorry, you asked) and that my tongue was limber. Some diction exercises while driving to the studio did the trick. The SFX they put my voice through essentially squelched my resonance and bottom end and added a more ethereal quality. The character aspect was fun as he’s a cross between HAL, Spock and a snippy Borg-lite. The director, the awesome Ginny McSwain, and I chose moments where a more human reaction would be good.
Retroplayer- Samara lives by the strict code of a Justicar. Maggie, did you do any research prior to the role that helped to form Samara’s powerful yet cold voice?
Maggie Baird (Samara)- I took the notes that were given to me by the Director and the creators of the game and found the voice that seemed to be appropriate. If I strayed from it, Ginny was very good about helping me keep on track. It can be hard when you are doing long sessions to make sure that the voice you are doing in the 4th hour matches the 1st hour. Sometimes, the 4th hour is better and you go back and redo what you did first.
Retroplayer- Fred, while your character is the main villain of Mass Effect there is method in his madness. Did you play him solely as a villain or did you try and inject some form humanity into the character?
Fred Tatasciore (Saren)- That’s a great question. In most all cases, you rarely play a “villain” (meaning, “I’m a bad guy”). Most people are protagonists who want or need something, and if they hurt you, it’s because they feel wronged in some way (unless they are just complete sociopaths, and those are fun to play, too). There is for me, certain villain “tones” that I like to play in some characters to portray something that would scare or creep me out if I were facing those characters. In Saren’s character, there is a method in his madness- he needs to serve The Council, and eventually, The Sovereign effectively. He has brutally efficient methods that get the job done. He is a soldier to the end. He lost his brother in the First Contact War, and sees humans trying to dominate. It is for these reasons and more why he dislikes and distrusts humanity (and even has little regard for life). So in his sadness and unbroken and calculating resolve, there is tremendous humanity, and I tried to play that by keeping this hidden under his cold austerity, not tipping the hat too much (hopefully). We find out he is a cold beast with a heart of gold. He has hidden empathy, and justifiable reasoning.
Michael Beattie (Mordin)- It was challenging at times- very challenging with that rapid fire dialogue then throw in all the alien race names and techno speak that the science character- the Spock character- always gets. Basically, what’s the point of what I’m saying? Who am I talking too? What do I want? Then you see the character drawing or the CGI character model and you start to get a sense of who this guy is and, it sounds a little cliché but you start to inhabit the character. Bioware gave me direction and I tried things. Actually, the best part of the experience was working with Ginny McSwain. It’s interesting, videogames are different from the cartoons I’ve done because one of the bigger challenges is that the other actors aren’t there with you. You’re basically alone in a booth with the voice director and two engineers. Also, with the amount of dialogue for my part I had to rely on Ginny to help me with the pronunciation of names- the Varren, they’re wolf-like and they’re bad guys *laughs*- so I knew what the hell I was talking about. But Ginny was a blast. I heard of her before but It was the first time I worked with her- she’s such a pro. She knew what to say to actors and what not to, what kind of information, as an actor, you need and don’t need and she really worked with me on the creation of the voice.
With the voice we tried higher, we tried lower but we ended up pretty much with my natural vocal pitch because all Salarians are pitched up generically. So that was a challenge for me when it’s closer to my own voice to find that hook for the character is difficult. The two hooks that I found were nasal breath and the writing which was great, wonderful writing- I gotta say that, the writing is by far the best of any videogame I’ve done before and frankly great on any level. It was just some wonderful storytelling- So, in the writing was that Mordin never uses a subject to his writing, like, he doesn’t say, “I don’t like you”, he says, “Don’t like you. Will have to kill you you. This time will try farming equipment”. So the great writing was the start, the two hooks were the nasal breathing and the repeating of phrases, “not an option, not an option”. Bioware were very specific about what they wanted but as Ginny and I worked together those two hooks were things that they let us keep in. They helped me find the character of Mordin and what a great find he was! I really enjoyed playing Mordin, what a wonderful character.
Retroplayer- Steve, unlike the main Krogan character in Mass Effect 1, Wrex, Grunt knows nothing about his culture due to the fact that he was created in a lab. With this in mind did you perhaps avoid hearing other Krogan performances prior to recording to start off on a blank slate much like Grunt himself?
Steve Blum (Grunt)- Not intentionally. But especially in the gaming world, I’m “Captain Blank Slate.” Not knowing anything about a project before recording is actually one of my super powers. If ignorance is bliss, I’m the happiest man alive. I rarely pay attention to what has been done before, unless specifically requested or required to do so. My “method” of acting is no method at all. I prefer to let it happen organically whenever possible.
Retroplayer- Ashley had a strict military upbringing which often makes her come across as a cold person. However, as the player can see if they enter into a romantic relationship with Ashley she does have a soft and loving side to her personality. How did you portray this duality of Ashley?
Kimberly Brooks (Ashley)- I think of Ashley as a diamond. . .in the rough. Admittedly, she is a bit rough around the edges, but when you get to the essence of who she really is, you will find that she is strong, beautiful and multi-faceted.
Retroplayer- Robin, Zaeed is an extremely battle hardened character who, because of his involvement with mercenary group the Blue Suns, no doubt has a chequered past. How did you approach his character- did you play him as the bad guy atoning for his sins or perhaps the merc with an allegiance merely to the highest bidder?
Robin Sachs (Zaeed)- A bit of both, really, with a decided leaning towards gallows humour and a feeling that he’s seen and done more than his fair share of questionable deeds!!
Retroplayer- Keythe, Thane has, like most of the Mass Effect 2 cast, an intriguing duality about him. On one side we see a cold ruthless assassin while on the flip side we can see a lonely, gentle and deeply spiritual character. How did you go about portraying both sides of Thane?
Keythe Farley (Thane)-The script is so good. The character is so beautifully fleshed out. It was my job to simply get out of the way and let the story tell itself. I love the speeches where Thane explains that he is merely a weapon in someone else’s hand. He’s so detached. But then there is the loyalty mission where he wants to stop his son from following in his footsteps. He’s a deep thinker and a deep feeler, but not overtly. It’s hard to play that duality vocally– to maintain a stiff upper lip despite the fact that you are scared to death or madly in love or furiously angry. Normally, you play that all in the eyes, and fortunately the animators did an amazing job of bringing a soul to Thane.
Retroplayer- Take us through a typical day during the recording process.
Ginny McSwain (Voice Director)- For ME 1&2, a typical day has included two four-hour sessions. Actors are briefed on their roles (I’m generally briefed by the client in a session that may or may not include the actors), ideally getting character breakdowns and scripts before we start (but sometimes not). The beauty of the actors that get hired for these things is that they can instantly process and deliver their characters. Obviously, cold reading is a critical skill – it keeps the sessions moving along and helps me deliver the line count that the director expects by the end of that four hours. Most of the time, we can hit the target, but if a talent is stumbling, we can only do what we can do. I hate to sacrifice a performance for the sake of speed. Obviously, we need to take breaks in there, but it’s amazing how efficient this process can be.
Mark Meer (Commander Shepard)- Bioware usually books recording sessions of no longer than 4 hours, so as not to tire out one’s voice. I’ll arrive at the studio having done a vocal warm-up, put on a pot of lemon ginger tea (good for the voice), and hit the booth after a quick chat about the day’s session with my director Caroline Livingstone. As the player character, I generally have the advantage of having the other character’s recorded dialogue in a given scene to play off of. That’s usually fun to anticipate – who will I be in the booth with today? Martin Sheen? Seth Green? Tricia Helfer?
Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard)- We worked in four hour blocks and worked a very focused session for each block. The director would describe to me the scene, the environment, who i was speaking with, any history with them and then we would lay down several options and move on to the next scene.
Kym Hoy (Kasumi)- A typical day recording, you show up, have a chat with the director(and sometimes that chat is via telephone as it was in this case),sometimes they show you rough cuts of the scene, especially if its a heavy action sequence, and then you go into the booth and go through the script line by line, usually with a few takes per line.
D.C Douglas (Legion)- They send the limo around 8 am. I awake from my dream of said limo. Off to Coffee Bean or Starbucks. Arrive at 9 am, say “hi” to Ginny and the engineer and any producers who happen to be in the control room that day. Spend 5 minutes kibitzing about the world, then I’d pop into the booth and we jammed for 3 or 4 hours, depending on the session. Ginny has an internal clock that is awe-inspiring. She drives the session at the perfect pace to where we can record all the copy needed that day, while still having fun. She’s a joy to work with.
Michael Beattie (Mordin)- Ginny McSwain, two engineers and myself, a stack two inches thick of dialogue and we’d do an hour and fifty minutes, take a ten minute break, and then two more hours. It’d start off slower at the beginning when we’re trying to find the voice but once we got into the middle we hit a pace were we’d do ten 10 pages each in one take… I probably shouldn’t say that. But when you hit the zone you hit the zone. It was great! It was really fun when I knew it and Ginny knew it so she directed me when I needed it and when I didn’t she just stayed out of the way which is, again, a mark of a great director. Oh ok, enough of the Ginny McSwain fanclub! Sheeesh! Get your own agent!
Maggie Baird (Samara)- I believe I did 8 sessions of about 4 hours (a few were shorter). When you arrive at the studio they have a large script for you (the dialogue for these is immense because of all of the options in a video game). I would step into the booth with my script and we would start. Doing lines in groups, waiting for feedback before going on. Sometimes doing them over. On some occasions I was matching to a primitive picture of the actual scene.
Steve Blum (Grunt)- Hmm… Scream into the parking lot, literally…arrive out of breath, (‘cuz I’m always running late), Suck up to Ginny a little… we’d talk about what Grunt would be doing for the day. Spend some time in hair and make-up… no, wait, that’s the other job… go into the booth and kind of work it out as we go. Actually Ginny would give me some background and pertinent details I needed to know about the universe we were working in, my fellow characters and how things were playing out so far, and a general idea of what we’d be doing. Then it was go time. We’d record for about 4 hours at a pretty good clip. Take breaks when needed, and drink a lot of water. Oh yeah, and pee at least twice. Usually not in the booth. Y’know…peeing is underrated.
Kimberly Brooks (Ashley)- All of the actors are recorded individually. Which basically means we are acting in all of our scenes, including the action, battle and love scenes alone. . . Challenging, but really fun! Generally dialogue recording is done out of sequence and with many alternative scenarios, which can make it difficult to keep track of where your character might be emotionally or physically in a scene. Sometimes sound bites from other actors in the scene are played prior to recording our own dialogue, which really helps me as an actor to get “into” the scene. Most of the time, we are given information as we are recording about the situations in which we find ourselves in a particular scene. For example, Ashley might be in the heat of battle or in Shepard’s quarters. She may be shouting over gunfire or whispering into a walkie-talkie. We also see the dialog of the other character, locations for each scene and with whom we are interacting. There is a lot coming at you all at once. Plus most of the action scenes require a great deal of impact sounds, painful injury and death screams, which can be vocally stressful when recording for hours at a time. It’s a bit of a workout actually.
Robin Sachs (Zaeed)- t’s pretty basic, really, once you’ve got the feel of the character. The tendency is to work the actors only half days, as the vocal strain is quite high. Having said which, we did do a couple of full days – ideally you’ll only do a full day on a Friday, so your tubes have a chance to recover! You arrive at the studio, throw your jacket over the back of a chair, check that you’ve got water, throat lozenges and other vocal helpers at hand, get a sound level on the mike, make any adjustments – mike height, distance, etc., and dive straight in !
Then you go through the various scenarios a phrase or two at a time, eventually doing anything between three and ten takes on each, until the director and engineer have at least one take and a back up for each segment. I tend to take a ten minute break every ninety minutes – y’know, grab a coffee, take a leak, maybe a couple of puffs on a cigarette. End of the day, everyone’s too weak to do anything but croak “g’night” and bugger off home.
Keythe Farley (Thane)- I wish it were more glamorous. I get the scenes I’m recording the night before, and I read them over a couple of times to get familiar with them. Ginny McSwain was the VO director on this game. She and I have very similar backgrounds in the theatre, and because we’re both VO directors, we have a lot to gossip about, but we eventually get down to work. I recorded all of my dialogue alone, so all I see on the page were my lines and sometimes a lead in line from another character. If there is a crazy word or name (Kolyat springs to mind) Bioware had provided a pronunciation glossary to make sure all pronunciations were consistent. I play my part in the scenes and four hours later, I go home or off to the next job. I had five or six four-hour sessions on MASS EFFECT 2.
Fred Tatasciore (Saren)- Each project has it’s own specifics on the process. Generally, it’s drive to the session, get warmed up vocally (in the car, usually), arrive at the studio, look over the script (hopefully you can do this the night before), read it with the writers and the director, look at pictures, hear references, see video, ask questions, make sure we’re all on the same page (so to speak), sign off on the voice (meaning, agree to how this guy sounds and acts), and try to see the arc of the character (what’s going on with him in the scenes). Then the engineer hooks you up by microphones (setting levels), headphones (if you need them), sometimes a video camera, and we’re off to record. For television, we often record in groups a la radio drama, and they’ll animate to our sound track, and later we’ll see the scenes and record over parts (for pickup reads). But for many videogames, unless giant mocap scenes, we are alone in the booth, often hearing the other previously recorded part that we’re playing off of. This is because in videogames, there are about five different endings or results each character goes through (it’s like making five alternate ending movies). We’ll record straight through the script, breaking for adjustments, direction, and explanation. The writers, producers, director, engineer, and actor (and animators/gamers) function as a team to create the character and paint the scenes. As for Saren, it was me imagining myself as him in the situation I see in the script, play and vocalize it out, make sure the recordist got what he or she needed, receive direction from the VO Director (Ginny), and hear explanations, and see if we got it right from Bioware’s perspective (The Director, Writers, Gamers, etc.). Then we move on scene-to-scene, in and out of order. Sometimes we are creating a new scene, re-doing an old one, or I get to see the fantastic animation and add voice to it. Then, after a few hours, we wrap, depending on what we need. Some sessions are just a few hours, a day, or weeks depending. We worked a lot on Mass Effect, because a lot needed to get done. Then we say our goodbyes, sign whatever needs to be signed, and then back into traffic (it is Los Angeles, after all!).
Peter Jessop (Sovereign)- You show up at the studio. It’s usually just the actor, the director and the engineer for RPGs sometimes a creative director from the game company will sit in too. Video games are almost always recorded line by line by yourself since they need to be matched and fitted very specifically into the game. On a game like Mass Effect many of the characters have multiple reactions so you have to do several versions of each response to match the players question.
Typically it takes about four hours per session and you end up doing multiple roles during that time. Depending on the complexity of the game there can be several sessions over the course of a year as they tweak the story and script or if the situation or environment in the game change and the lines need re-recording.
Neil Ross (Codex Narrator)- I arrive at the studio (in this case in Burbank, CA) check in with the producer, director and engineer. We chat for a bit to make sure that we’re all on the same page as far as what we’re doing. If I’m doing a character they’ll play me a bit of my original audition to make sure we have the voice matched. Since I’m using my natural voice in this project, that step isn’t necessary. Then I pop into the vocal booth, we set levels and begin. The material is divided into paragraphs. I usually do two takes of each graph for protection and to give the sound editors some choices. If the director wants to make an adjustment he or she will let me know and I’ll do a third and possibly fourth take. We just power on through. There is enough material to keep me busy for just about the entire four hours we have scheduled. The interesting thing for me is that I’m concentrating so intensely that time seems to compress. If you asked me at the end how long I thought I’d been working I’d probably say about ninety minutes. In actuality it’s four hours. Time literally flies for me under those conditions. I have a tough time believing it’s actually taken that long. So then I follow Clark Gable’s advice to actors rules four and five: I thank everybody and I go home (or on to the next job if I’m lucky enough to have one).
Kim Mai Guest (Hana Murakami/Captain Maeko Matsuo)- (If it’s a game, I try to get to the studio at least a half hour early. I’ll meet the people from the game company. They’ll explain the game, maybe show me a picture of my character and in-game movies. I’ll get my script and go into the booth. The engineer adjusts the mic and gets a volume level. Then we’ll set the character that they want. We, then, start recording, usually doing about 2 takes per line. They’ll give me direction if they want it done differently and we move on down the page. We usually save the effort and death screams for last since that tends to tire your voice. A session will usually last from about an hour to four hours depending on the length of the script and the number of characters. Then we sign contracts and say adieu. Of course, all throughout that we’re having a great time.
Yuri Lowenthal (Daniel/Prisoner 780)- I only worked on ME2 for a day, and by that I mean 4 hours or so. Generally we show up at the studio, I talk to the director (in this case, the lovely and talented Ginny McSwain), and we start recording.
Gideon Emery (Chellick/ Kenn)- The voice director initially shows you a picture of the character, which really helps with creating a voice. Sometimes there’s animation, which is even better of course. Plus a good director will give you backstory and set the scene. Then it’s into the booth for a 4 hr stretch. (with my coffee!)
Marianne Copithorne (Calantha Blake/Dr. Ross)- I was shown on screen, the visual image of who I would be playing, and what the emotional stakes were for my character; and then I went into the sound booth and began the recording process. Caroline Livingstone would talk to me on headset, giving direction as to what I needed in motivation, just walking me through. She’s great. I can’t praise her enough. She is an actor too, and she knows how to talk to actors in bringing out relaxed and focused and passionate performance.
John Wright (Barla Von/Expat/Fist/Gavin Hossle)- As I did multiple voices each session ( 4 ½ hours each) was intense in trying to find the diversity in each character. Many many takes and lots of experimentation.
Chris Edgerly (Captain Ventralis/Cole/Powell)- Most recording sessions for video games will appear, to the onlooker, to be quite tedious. you often have hundreds of lines to record and many of them are simply idle chit-chat to fill time, background noise to make the atmosphere more realistic, and of course, effort noises, which involve everything from “pick up moderately heavy object” to “death by being burned alive.” but in between those lines you often get to speak some very cool dialogue, reveal important plot elements of the game, and create – if you’re lucky – a memorable character. this can take anywhere from one to four hours, depending on what you’ve got in front of you. and then you go and drink plenty of water and hot tea.
Simon Templeman (Admiral Han’Gerrel vas Neema/Dr. Gavin Archer)- Most of Mass Effect was recorded as far as I know in Burbank, at Technicolor. My stuff was, which means for me a drive over the hill to the Valley and a latte to go at my local Peet’s Coffee. Most of my sessions were done in the morning, usually about 4 hours each. You get the script when you show up typically about 9.00 am. Then you get in the booth, emote, chuckle and scream with an English accent until they say “go home,” get paid and leave. What could be better?
Josh Dean (Horftin/Jonn Whitson/Corporal Richard L. Jenkins/Schells)- Depending on the size and type of the part, recording is generally done in 2 to 4 four sessions. Since I’ve been here in LA I’ll arrive at the studio in burbank and get talked through the day by the director. They’ll bring in the producers from Edmonton online or through speaker phone. They’ll show me any cutscenes or new video they have (because I beg them). Then I head in the booth and do anything from 1 to 8 takes for every line of dialogue for all options of the dialogue tree. If there are “soundsets” or “effort” recordings, like punching, getting lit on fire, dying, we’ll do that at the end. Often also, there will be a few additional characters with only a few lines that we’ll throw in once the principal role is recorded.
Richard Green (Vido Santiago)- Arrive at studio (in this case a place in Burbank. CA). Check in at the desk, grab some water and coffee and then meet the engineers and the director. We discuss the role and then begin recording. In these kinds of situations an actor must be very careful not to scream or shout in a way that stresses or ruins the voice. It doesn’t take much to get so hoarse that the next days work and auditions are compromised. Some engineers turn down the headphone mix to trick the actor into shouting because they think it sounds more realistic in the mix. I try to be diligent about protecting my instrument in part because I have so many regular clients that I can’t afford to let down and in part because I am a singer and want to stay in healthy voice.
It is not always easy. As performers I think we want to please our directors and producers. There is sometimes a fine line between giving it your all and giving it too much with the result that damage gets done.
Vanessa Marshall (Saphyria)- We usually work alone in the recording booth for about 4 hours. We take direction and try to create a magical world for the listener. This game was a lot of fun to work on, as there are so many intricate possibilities.
Patricia Zentilli (Shadow Broker DLC character)- My sessions were never more than three hours. I am given notes about the characters I am reading.. I have to admit I am not a huge video game person, so I often need to be educated in the story lines and characters. It’s a lot of fun to play around with the characters and try different things vocally. My last session I brought my son Leo. He was a good boy for a while but eventually had to be brought out of the studio by his daddy.
Steve Staley (Dr. Palon/Officer Eddie Lang)- Truth be told, unless you have thousands of lines (which is sometimes the case) the recording session is rather uneventful and so totally NOT focused on the actor. We’re going in blind trusting the director and the rest of the team to ask for what they want, and help us create a character that they feel works best for their game. You are also working remarkably fast. One line after another, pretty much only stopping for a redirect or if you mess up. All told I think I was there for about 3 1/2 hours.
Shanelle Gray (Dr. Alestia Iallis)- Well you go into the studio, sit in the booth and watch the video if they have one of the cartoon you are voicing and voice it! Sometimes, they voice the character after you record and match your mouth movements!
Dave Fennoy (Warlord Okeer/Ronald Taylor)- My typical day is anything but typical… I have a studio in my home so I do a lot of work from there, including my daily work for HULU.COM. I’m the voice that says ” the following program is brought to you….” before every show. For games however I usually go to another studio and work with a director. With cartoons we usually work as an ensemble but with games more often than not it’s just you, the director and perhaps the games writer. You record line by line only knowing your lines and motivation, but not the story.
Wendy Bruan (Gianna Parasini/Arcelia Silva Martinez)- We are usually booked for a 4-8 hour block of time, depending on how much material there is. I come in, meet the engineers, producers and directors and we have a quick talk about the character and how and where she fits in the project. Sometimes I get a sneak peek at a rough cut or two to see the look and feel of what we are working on, which always helps. Then I get set up in the booth. The script is broken down very specifically, and each line has notes next to it to give the actor an idea of what has gone on before and what the suggested emotion might be. It’s very helpful to know this, since we never see a full script. These producer’s notes help us to understand exactly what is happening to the character at that exact time. I go through each line or a set of lines and usually do 3 takes in a row.
The director will provide immediate feedback if there’s something else they’d like to hear. Then the director chooses the favorite take and we move on. It’s a very intense process that requires a lot of focus on everyone’s part. Even though I am reading a script, I have to imagine that I am this character in these set of circumstances and bring it all to life with my emotion, my body and my voice. I have to feel it for the audience to feel it. They usually wait until the end of the session to record all the death, dying or battle scenes. Those can be tough on an actor’s vocal chords and energy, so it’s best to do it last. It’s was a great experience working on Mass Effect. An actor always enjoys “playing”, and that’s exactly what I got to do, they just happen to call it “working”. It’s really a lot of fun!
Andii McAfee (Emily Wong)- For the first Mass Effect game, I showed up and was shown a drawing of Emily Wong, and a brief description of her character. I created a voice and feel for her that we all felt would work. I was given the script with just Emily’s scenes and lines. Nowadays you rarely even get a script. they are so secretive with these video games, they don’t want any leaks. I believe the session was about 2 hours. Then they called more of the mass effect team to make sure they were happy with my character, and that was it! The second game was even faster. Since Emily’s character was established, and she had more of a “formal” sound this time as an established TV news anchor, we blew through the material pretty fast. I recorded some incidental roles as well, and that was the end of my Mass Effect 2 session. Both incredibly fun experiences!
Retroplayer- Rana, you’re currently working alongside artist and costume designer Holly Conrad to bring Samaras costume to life in time for Comic Con 2011. What is your motivation behind creating the costume?
Rana McAnear (Samara’s face model)- I really wanted to be able to bring Samara to life. I’ve always loved to dress up, admired costume design and special effects. I just saw the opportunity to make it happen and jumped at the chance!