In part 2 of our interview the Wes Johnson, we got a chance to ask him a little about the Imperial Guard, how video games are becoming serious rivals to big budget movie productions, games that he would have loved to be part of and if he ever uses the Mr. Burke voice. Oh and we also just happened to talk about a game named Skyim. Here’s how get got on…
TGL: Moving back to the characters you play Wes. How would you view the Imperial Guard? I mean, would he, in your eyes, simply be the “generic guard” or something maybe a little more?
Wes: Every time I voiced a line for the Imperial Guard I took it to heart, as to what that person would be saying at that time. I think if you bumped into him maybe once or twice during the game, you’d be like “awesome!”…well maybe you wouldn’t say awesome but you’d be pretty cool with it. I think one problem with it was that people kept coming across him and they all sounded the same. We could blame that on me doing all the voices, but we could also blame inbreeding in Tamriel! But that won’t happen in Skyrim. You’re not going to have that feeling of sameness from the people. Bethesda always bring the lessons they have learned from the previous games forward, and what the fans base tell them to each additional game. I really think that fans will be blown away with Skyrim.
You know what I can’t wait for? To see what happens five years from now in the sequel. It’s amazing really, the technology keeps growing better. It’s advancing so much that it allows us to just do more and more.
TGL: Well this is it. The advancements the industry has made within, even say the last 5 year, is astronomical. Think back to when gamers were seen as ogres and the gollums of society; were simply basement dwellers. It’s a tremendous shift in power if you think about it. Now though, it has become a force to be reckoned with; especially thanks to games like Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. They are really leading the charge.
Wes: Well it’s very much like film in a way, and creating films. People are going out to spend their entertainment dollars. But the crucial difference here is that gamers can choose how they want the game to play out; especially with a role playing game like Oblivion. It offers an experience that films can’t. Voice over wise, we’re seeing big name actors like Partick Stewart, Sean Bean and this time around, in Skyrim, you’re going to have people like Max Von Sydow! I mean, for god sake, I’d listen to Max read the phonebook…
You have movie stars suddenly not only just in the game but fans of them. You don’t think hollywood is looking at video games and thinking “how do we get to be part of that?”
TGL: Ah for definite. Sure look at the recent establishment of Warner Brothers games you know? The game and film industry is becoming increasingly entwined.
Wes: It really is. Basically you’re just telling a story. I think that some of the best story tellers in the world are part of the games industry these days. I’d like to think that a lot of the voice actors that devoted themselves to voice acting, not that I wouldn’t do films – I have, but I think the voice actors out there do a wonderful job at telling the story that’s part of each video game. That being said, look at Matthew Perry for example. He plays a character in New Vegas right? Well he played Fallout 3 so much, he became so obsessed with it he got Carpel Tunnel syndrome. Bethesda heard so much about it that they asked him to come on board!
TGL: In comparison to the film industry, do you think that voice actors get the recognition they deserve? Or is there still lessons to learn?
Wes: It’s intersting. Well I think that things are getting better – all the time. Sure look at some of the older games, back like 10 years ago, the technology wasn’t there. As the games start to progress and get better, you have to pay attention to the voices in the game. The more immersive the game becomes, the more you don’t want to break that immersion. It then becomes so much more important for people that have the following - one; a talent for this kinda of thing and two; a passion for it. They need to know the games and know what they can bring to it. I think if you have these things into it, you’re going to be winning a lot more often in the future. Just look at Bethesda, they were a forerunner with the sound you know? Look at Morrowind for example; listen to the old voice Dunmer voice work done by Jeff Baker. Just listen to the voice work done by Craig Sechler – thanks to his work on…I mean…how many people just loved throwing the Adoring fan off a cliff? These characters are memorable and the industry has paid attention to that.
A game I did not voice but I have to say I really enjoyed the work in it was Red Dead: Redemption. Which was, to me, a terrific game. It was amazing, it really was. Rob Wiethoff, which did the lead voice in it, was amazing!
TGL: Yeah we spoke to Rob a while back. He’s a really great guy!
Wes: You see I’m a huge fan of his. I never met the guy but I love his work. I think that the more that happens, the more people will pay attention. Now, will the trend go towards hiring celebrities for everything? Possibly? But I always hope there’s room for the passionate, skilled character actor to come in and create something that can be timeless. I’m proud to say that I think some of the characters in Oblivion have stood the test of time. I’m very proud of Lucien Lachance, Sheogorath and even the Gray Fox! I’m very proud of those and I know that the people I’ve worked with are very proud too.
I hope that I get a chance to sit down with other games in the future and create characters from scratch that fans will equally be as passionate about. I look back to voice actors in the past and I have to say, the one to me, that I’ve modelled myself after would have to be, and I would have loved to have met him, was Mel Blanc. You know, he voiced all the Warner Bros cartoons. If you read his book “That’s not all folks”, you’ll see he did very particular things when voicing a character. He used to look at what they were, who they were, the drawings and more. He used do a little “homework” when stepping into a new role.
So I’ve always tried to be as meticulous as Mel when working on characters. And it’s funny, it’s only I guess since working on Oblivion that I’ve had a chance to really look and see the characters I’ve played. You see sometimes, once you voice a character, the devlopers would go back and slightly change a character to suit the voice actor. It happens sometimes you know? It happens naturally over time when developing a game; you smooth it out. I remember when I went into voice Lucien lachance, the first drawings I saw of him looked a little different. The image in my head and the final design were totally different; he was far better looking!
And I have to say this; to those wonderful people that have commented about how good looking the characters are, but not the voice actor….that hurts. My wife thinks I look ok…<laughs>
TGL: Well, from what we saw online Wes, you sport a fine beard – so we think you’re beautiful. We love beards here.
Wes: Well I only grow that during play-off season. You see it’s a good luck thing; a superstition. Once we managed to go so far in the playoff season that I managed to look like Jeremiah Johnson you know? I looked like I had been living out in the woods for 7 months! People were finding bits of food and small children in my beard. <laughs>
Wes: That’s the thing though, even when I’m doing characters on film, I always want to transform myself. I always try to transform myself and become something different. You know when I did Mr. Burke in Fallout 3, people were like “Oh he just sounds like Lucian Lachance”. Well yeah, he does and that was on purpose. Bethesda said “we created a character that we think of as Fallout 3′s Lucien character and we want you to reprise your voice”. If you listen to it, there’s a very slight accent with Lucien. I stripped the accent down but kept the same meter and tone for Mr. Burke. Some people even say “We don’t want to hear Wes Johnson again”. <laughs> “Wes Johnson always does the same voice” some say! <laughs>
I disagree though. I did the same voice twice really; with Lucien and Mr.Burke. However, the Imperials all did sound the same but I pride myself on trying to be someone different and a different character for each and every thing we do. Maybe there’s a little bit of me there…
TGL: Well there will ALWAYS be a little of you in each character Wes. That’s the nature of it and it’s unavoidable really wouldn’t you think?
Wes: Exactly, there’ll be a slight bit there always. But I want them to be different enough so that sometimes you might think “wow, I didn’t realise the same guy that did Lucien did Fawkes and even Sheogorath”.
TGL: Funny you should say that actually, when we heard Fawkes first Wes…we had no idea it was you…
Wes: Sweet! <laughs>
TGL: So we hope that’s a compliment…
(video contains spoilers)
TGL: Yeah seriously. Same goes with Craig Sechler sometimes you know?
Wes: Craig is a great guy isn’t he?
TGL: Craig is awesome. He’s like you actually, just so enthusiastic about the interview and talking to someone that shares your passion. You really give off that pride for what you do.
Wes: Lemme’ tell you something. If I could voice video games every day of my life I’d be a happy man. I’ve three teenage boys, and they’ve grown up loving video games and yes, they have spent many hours killing dad! <laughs> Sometimes I hear “halt criminal scum” in the background and then that’s followed by the sounds of whacks of swords. To be honest, I much prefer that if they’re going to kill dad…that it’s in a game! It’s good that it allows them to vent.
Wes: Never give up. Never stop trying to get better, by learning or educating yourself in the process, and never lose the joy that brought you into the field in the first place. I mean this applies to everything really; you have to love what you do if you want it to work. Whether it’s just a video game or the game of life, you have to bring passion to it. You have to have passion I think, a bit of a thick skin to keep…you know, to keep trying even if at first you fail, and an undying urge to continue learning and better yourself – then there’s nothing that will hold you back.
TGL: Wow – that’s powerful. One thing we wanted voice actor’s week to do was to empower readers with words of advice from people like yourself and well, that was very well said.
Wes: There will always be times when you think “wow, this doesn’t seem to be going anywhere”, but take for example when they were recording for Fallout: New Vegas. They used mostly folks that live in L.A. you know? I didn’t get a chance to reprise any of my characters for that. Well that could be seen as a down moment, but the fact of the matter is that I have Skyrim ahead…just around the corner.
So just have patience, believe in yourself and things will come around.
TGL: How does it feel to be back working on a new Elder Scrolls title? Would you have anxiety leading up to a recording? From what you tell us, it reminds us of the cast of the Lord of the Rings you know? They once described themselves as a family more than colleagues…
Wes: Well I think Emil said it best when he said; “It’s like getting the band back together”. I’m still great friends with a lot of these guys – they’re all pals. Knowing that I was going to possibly come back, to me, meant the world to me. Leading up to getting into the studio and working meant that I hardly slept the nights before.
Until I crack the microphone and I’m able to slide back into that whole mode of being there in Tamriel, until I’m actually there, you worry that it might not be the same. I was terrified that I would catch a cold leading up to it, so I just drank water and nursed my throat. When I was in there, in the middle of it, I felt literally on top of the world.
There’s something to be said about getting together with talented friends and doing something you feel, could be rewarding to other people. I really felt good about the Skyrim sessions, and I have to say, I’m really looking forward to getting back into it as a gamer.
Wes: Well from what I’ve seen, it looks incredible. I’m one of these people that likes to sometimes play in third-person, so the changes to the third-person perspective, between this game and the last, are stunning! I had a chance, early on last year, to see some of the changes in the mechanics, to see dragons, to see armour and such; it’s such a thrill. You know, when this comes out, what everyone will see on 11.11.11, is years and years of work and passion. The team at Bethesda are gamers themselves, trust me, they’re fans of the genre. They go back even to the old days of pencil, paper and dice.
You spoke earlier about guys in the basements you know? We all got together for Dungeons and Dragons those days. Nobody that hasn’t played something like that can never understand how immersive it can be. If you can sit there, with a controller in your hand, or in front of your keyboard, and imagination wraps around you like a multi-coloured coat, and even when you go to bed at night you’re still dreaming about Tamriel – then they have succeeded. That’s the passion they have.
TGL: Is there a franchise that made you think “Wow, I wish I was part of that”.
Wes: Two games that made me think that were Red Dead: Redemption and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Red Dead: Redemption, I feel, that if you ever loved a Clint Eastwood movie, or even liked Deadwood – you can’t help but feel that you want to be part of it. As for Batman, it was a teriffic game in that regard but to be honest, I’m a huge fan of the voice work by Mark Hamill. You know, I personally think that mark Hamill has done tremendously well. Look at what the guys can do with his voice - you never once think Luke Skywalker do you?
TGL: That’s what a lot of people think alright. Sure just look at his work on the animated series.
Wes: Exactly. He did a wonderful job brining Joker to life. I have to say, I’d love to work with him. I also love the Bioshock games you know? I love that period feel. One day, I hope to walk the wastelands once more… <laughs> It’s a dream.
Wes: One other thing, I’d love to be the PA announcer for an NHL game.
TGL: Well you do work with the Washington Capitals don’t you?
TGL: Would you ever be tempted to throw in a little Mr. Burke for anyone that’s acting up?
Wes: Haha! I once used it in the cinema…
TGL: Well if you heard that voice in a dark room you’d shut up!
Wes: <laughs> The person would be thinking “there’s chance he’s just kidding, but there’s also a chance that he’s a psycho killer!”
TGL: <laughs> Finally Wes, do you have a message for your fans? The fans of your characters in Tamriel and the survivors of the wasteland?
Wes: Well for anyone who has played the games and had enjoyed them I’d just like to say thank you; I’ve enjoyed it as well. For those poeople out there, like the folks that created the website thedarkbrotherhood, and for those that are passionate about Fallout – I appreciate their passion. I only hope to enhance their passion for the game, not to interfere, but only to help keep it immersive. If anyone enjoyed my work, well then I’m very sumpremely grateful and I thank them.
TGL: Thanks for your time Wes.
Wes: Thank you guys.