Develop diary 1 : Working with Hollywood stars
After whittling down 100s of actors to a shortlist of six; after holding auditions whilst patched-in by transatlantic phone call; after having MP3s of their voices sent over to Cambridge; after making our final decisions; after notifying the actors; after arranging the studio in LA; after arranging our own flights and hotels … after all of this, we STILL had one actress who was astonished by the whole set-up: “Oh my God! It’s a GAME! I thought it was the extras for the DVD,” she cried on day one. Games clearly still have some way to go before they’re accepted as part and parcel of the process. Either that, or she’s not been listening to her agent.
The A list the stars from 24, people like Kiefer Sutherland, Elisha Cuthbert and Carlos Bernard - tend not to have much experience of the interactive market either (and not too surprisingly they’re rarely videogames players), but their talent more than makes up for that. Kiefer in particular, is quite extraordinary. He’s a very intense man, and once he gets into the mode, he’s there – bang, bang, bang. With most people, we tried to do at least three takes of all their speech, and to do each utterance three different ways. With Kiefer it was almost always right the first time.
It’s interesting to see how actors perceive voice-acting for videogames, as there’s already a hierarchy within the Hollywood community. For example, on GhostHunter, which starred Joe Morton, who is a big stage and screen actor, we also had Rob Paulsen, who has a vast number of voice-acting roles behind him. On day one, Joe Morton and Rob Paulsen were working together and Rob was noticeably deferential to this guy who’d been in theatre most of his working life. Then on day two, Rob was in doing takes with a group of ancillary actors who were all saying “Wow! I can’t believe you got Rob Paulsen on this! He’s great. Have you heard him in Ninja Turtles/Animaniacs/Pinky and the Brain/etc?”
Aside from the stars, you expect voice actors to be able to double up in their roles and take on a number of parts – this happens a lot in animated movies as well, not just games. Sometimes getting an actor to play multiple characters can be problematic - you can ask the guys to do several different voices and they obviously have to modify their voice tones to make it notably different for each character. Sometimes however they can exaggerate these differences and start to sound too cartoonish. Sometimes it’s easier for the actors to differentiate the characters they are tackling by producing very strong accents rather than more subtle variations; whilst you want a range of accents in something like 24, you don’t want to go from Surfer Dude, to Texan to Brooklyn all in one scene!
One of the things we were most concerned about was getting the best from the actors, as quickly as possible – I mean, they’re rarely cheap! We decided that there were a couple of things that would help. First, we got Paul Gadd a Producer from the TV show to come and act as our Voice Director and secondly we also got in a ‘line bouncer’ that the actors were used to working with. The idea was that we would make everything seem as close to a normal working day on the show for them as possible – even down to hiring the same recording studio that they use for ADR. It worked.
The less game-experienced actors tended to be quite surprised when they saw the sheer size and quality of the script, and then more than surprised, in fact, I’d go so far as to say shocked, when we showed them the game, especially how good the cut-scenes are. The game graphics themselves are excellent, of course, but because we can play with the camera more, the cut-scenes are – we hope – virtually indistinguishable from watching the show.
In some ways directing the 24 actors has been easier than with a game that’s an original property, in that they already know their characters, they know how they behave; they know how the show turns out. Having 24’s scriptwriter Duppy Demetrius as our story coordinator and writer has ensured absolute continuity from a character development point of view.
Given that we had one of the show’s scriptwriters on board to write the cutscene script it’s probably not surprising that the actors were very happy with it and recorded it pretty much word for word. Unfortunately we can’t say the same for the in-game action dialogue (consisting of isolated utterances) which had to go through several revisions before it was good enough. It really is very tricky to write believable, easy to deliver lines that are solely designed to provide quick snippets of information to the player! In fact we did have one instance when Kiefer looked at an in-game line, then looked at us and said “There’s no way those words are coming out of my mouth!” – needless to say we soon rewrote that particular line.
We have some dedicated motion capture days set aside but I’m not sure if we’ll use them, as the character animation is progressing very well at present. We do have motion capture actors that we’re very happy with so we’ve not yet used specific actors like Kiefer or Elisha Cuthbert. Perhaps having the show’s actors motion capture their own moves will be the next big thing, but the skills required are subtly different from the acting they’re used to, and so time consuming, that perhaps this will remain a separate issue for some while yet.
Written By Mark Green
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