By Stephanie Ciccarelli
April 13, 2007
Want to be a video game voice actor?
Learn the biz of video game voice acting and secrets on how to keep Gamers happy with your performance by reading this wonderful article about DB Cooper's VOICE 2007 lecture "Infinite Ammo".
Get ready to rock!
On Friday afternoon, the delightful DB Cooper presented on video game voice overs. Her lecture was entitled "Infinite Ammo".
I'm happy to share some excerpts from this highly entertaining and illuminating presentation.
DB revealed that the place of voice acting in video games is evolving because the entire process of audio in video games is evolving.
As game design advanced, so did the place of audio. It became more sophisticated. For example, the music in Final Fantasy 7 was phenomenal.
In the infancy of video game voice overs, some of the voice acting was absolutely atrocious. Don't believe me?
Infinite Ammo means...
That the importance of audio in gaming and voice over needs to be taken seriously.
Games begin their lives under a great deal of negotiation: disk space, bandwidth, budget and so forth. At present, only 20% of an entire budget is allotted for audio (this includes music and VO).
At this time, DB cued a cut scene for us to watch on the projector.
A Cut Scene is a brief movie that plays within the game that moves the plot ahead.
Everything sounds the same. Voice acting gets squeezed as the game is produced. Since the majority of video games are produced in Asia, the English versions need to be dubbed (or localized), including all of the dialog, street signs, and so on.
Fact: Everything in audio is rushed regarding the implementation of the creative into video games.
Question: "Is music a rush job too?" (sent in an email from DB to a composer friend)
Answer from pro composer: "No time to write, really, I have to do all the music for kids games ASAP with a tight deadline."
The gaming industry needs to realize that audio is important, and to the North American market, is almost more so than the visuals that the creators take such pride in at their studios in Asia.
Another Fact: All too often, the script is not even heard aloud until the day of the professional recording.
Imagine not having anyone read a script aloud after it has been localized from another language. Scary territory!
Video game dialog management is not fun. Video game voice acting "communications" is about how to save the most paper or make file naming consistent, not focusing on proper sentence structure and the seamless flow of dialog.
Oftentimes, the only requirement of the audio directors is to â€œjust make it workâ€. Quite the task if you ask me!
Ideally, the audio director should be familiar with the script, understand the flow of the scenes he or she is directing, and will have a distinct idea of the best way lines will work in a scene. Unfortunately, there are times where the audio director doesnâ€™t see the script much earlier than the actors do.
Audio directors are always brought into the game very late. After all, it would be absolutely senseless to make the audio director a part of the development team, would it not?
So, we've briefly covered the development of video games and where audio fits into the equation.
Now, let's talk about the art form of video game voice acting itself.
Less is More
When performing VO for video games, less is more.
Vocal acting for interactives (simulation-style teaching programs, video games, and Interactive tutorials) requires being LESS larger-than-life than most VO work. You need very little to convey a lot.
Cartoon voice acting is to video game voice acting as stage acting is to film acting.
Gamers really care about the critical quality of voice overs. If they donâ€™t like the voice overs, they chat about it all over the web. There are websites and forums dedicated to ripping apart voice actors in video games - I mentioned one of them earlier in this post.
Here's a quote from DB Cooper on the subject:
"Gamers spend a great deal of time in the intimate company of the characters in a game, and can get very wrapped up in their charactersâ€™ lives, and the emotional bonds can be terrific. I enjoyed over 200 hours with Final Fantasy X, a game whose story had me in tears several times. Final Fantasy XII took nearly 160 hours to go through ONCE . In fact, I just finished the game a couple of weeks ago-- and it came out November. Believe me, if a game is well written, a gamer has a great deal invested in the protagonists. And Gamers really care about the critical quality of the acting. If itâ€™s not up to snuff, trust me--the VO gets skewered across the globe via game message boards and chat groups."
How do we avoid this scenario?
Firstly, you should avoid â€œindicatingâ€.
Indicating is a term used to describe the presentation of an emotion. In many cases, it's what you think it "looks like", especially when demonstrating the emotion on-camera or in person.
In the case of voice actors, what we think is what it "sounds like". It's playing the symptoms, not the cause.
â€œBreathing as actingâ€ doesnâ€™t sit well with anyone. If your character has been exerting himself, then coming into a conversation with authentic panting is fine for the first line or two, but no one wants to hear huffing and puffing throughout dialog, whether from physical exertion or emotion. . . itâ€™s just too transparent an attempt.
Do you have a favorite television character or character from comic book or piece of literature? If you do, you are most likely attached to the main characters, or protagonists.
To give you an idea of how this concept translates to video game characters, the people who play the games, or Gamers as they are called, are very attached to their protagonists.
Gamers can smell bad voice acting techniques a mile away. As DB said, breathing as acting doesnâ€™t work under any circumstances. Nobody wants to hear fake voices. People, particularly Gamers, prefer authenticity.
Exertion Sounds (Directly from DB's notes)
Exertion vocalizations are the HARDEST PART according to the voice directors.
Does your character handle weapons?
Practice with weights that match your weapon. Swing a 20 pound dumbbell to see what kind of effort a broadsword would require. Learn, if you can, when it is like to shoot a gun. Have you taken a martial arts class? What does it feel like to throw a punch, or to be hit? You need to be able to honestly â€œfightâ€ because so many games include battles of one kind or another.
I know during the filming of Marathon man, Sir Lawrence Olivier supposedly chided Dustin Hoffman for staying up all night so that his character would look exhausted, saying â€œWHY NOT TRY ACTINGâ€?
I say, why not try authenticity? Do some physical preparation.
Now, some thoughts on Microphone technique
â€¢ Film actors are better at video game microphone technique and Additional Dialogue Replacement (ADR)
â€¢ To be a voice actor for video games, you have to be able to scream.
â€¢ Use the most imagination for the tiniest of lines. This will determine if your voice is loved or annoying.
â€¢ Exertion audio is the hardest to do but the most important and numerous of voice over lines in video games
â€¢ If you are familiar with martial arts, gun shooting or fighting, it will help you to prepare for a role.
â€¢ If youâ€™re going for a role in an ongoing game series, research the games that came before your game.
Circling back to screaming, keep these facts in mind:
This is not an easy feat, or pleasant for that matter. Screaming uses the same muscles that you use when you throw up. You should back away from the microphone when called to do this.
Hot tip: Learn about the characters and the recurring roles if you're auditioning for a series. Gamers expect you to respect the characters and plot as well as the history of the series.
DB related, "You may wonder why there arenâ€™t rehearsals for such a complex dramatic form."
When she began her research, she asked audio directors about rehearsals and the consistent answer was â€œThere are none.â€ Itâ€™s all about cost constraint.
This is why being familiar with games is such a valuable asset.
This is also why you need to be ready to "act on a dimeâ€.
When making a video game voice acting demo, Include instructions for how to play the game. This will show that you understand the game as well as researched it thoroughly.
Quick vocab lesson: A side is a script that only has one character in it.
To wrap up, Audio directors need VAs (voice actors) to do two things:
1. Give them a line reading
2. Improvise / ad lib
Don't know what line reading is?
A "line reading" is where you repeat a line exactly the way the director reads it TO YOU. It's like being a parrot.
Sometimes, the directors have a very specific way they want a line said, and they just need it in the character's voice. It's the opposite of improv.
Pat Fraleyâ€™s "series of three" combos are valuable because sometimes youâ€™re unsure of whatâ€™s going on in a scene or if you donâ€™t know your proximity to the other characters.
â€¢ Best, Contrast, Best
â€¢ Goldilocks (too hot, too cold, just right)
â€¢ Like the person youâ€™re speaking to, donâ€™t like, are very close to.
Itâ€™s a great way to give the director a bouquet of line choices and hone your skills as a video game voice actor.
Wow! We've finished covering all of the lectures from VOICE 2007.
What do you think of DB Cooper's lecture? Has it helped you in any way?
Leave a comment for DB here on the blog :)
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