On Sunday 28th October, MCM Expo London held host to a quintet of voice acting talent- Liam O’Brien (Gaarra in Naruto, Jushiro Ukitake in Bleach), Adam Howden (Dragon Age II, Fable III, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn game), Courtenay Taylor (Resident Evil, Mass Effect 3, Saints Row: The Third, Gears of War 3, Halo: Reach, Dragon Age: Origins), Ali Hillis (Final Fantasy XIII-2, Mass Effect 3, Resident Evil: Revelations, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Alex Wilton Regan (Mass Effect 3, Risen 2: Dark Waters, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries, Hustle).
After brief introductions and displays of some of their most famous voices, the floor was quickly opened to questions from the moderator and audience.
The first question was presented to Liam- what are the differences between being a voice actor and a voice director? He felt the former was easier, as you are given an explanation of what’s happening and then record your lines. As a director you have to be the one to provide that information and keep several different actors consistent, making sure that they can do their job and in turn deliver the required performance. This can be difficult as often voice actors will record independent of one another.
Courtenay was asked if she felt typecast as strong, no-nonsense women and would prefer to be allowed softer roles. She replied that the stronger female roles are easier for her, stating that playing Ada Wong in Resident Evil was trickier as she had to portray the character as more emotionally reserved. She feels one of the great things about voice acting is it allows actors to be cast for a wider range of roles, whereas on-camera acting means actors only get cast for roles they look right for.
Following on from this Ali discussed the difference between the two different types of acting, having done both. Although voice acting was felt to be more relaxed as it doesn’t require the costumes and make up of a filmed production, she feels solo booth recording between just an actor and the director can get lonely and also that a poor voice recording performance (influenced by everything from a late night to just feeling down) is more noticeable then a poor performance in on-camera acting.
In turn Alex was asked how it feels transition from on-camera acting to voice acting. She commented she was surprised to discover just how large the voice work industry is and echoed the earlier comments that it was very liberating to perform in.
Adam was asked for the reaction of fangirls when they get to meet him, with the rest of the panel jokingly asking if they were disappointed. He replied that it feels great that so many people have respect for his work and he’s always impressed when he sees the detailed cosplay efforts people produce of his characters. Most of the attention he receives comes from his work in Dragon Age, where he was a recast for an existing role because the producers wanted to take the character in a new direction.
At this point Q&A was paused so that the panel could perform a script reading of a sequence from Disney’s Aladdin (the sequence where the Sultan reminds Jasmine tradition demands she must marry). Each of the panel read their roles in a pre-existing character voice. Sadly, the chances of reading a second scene were quashed by the closing point of the convention on the horizon.
When asked about getting into voice acting, the response was that it was best to start with general acting first. Although the panel agreed LA is the ‘voice acting mecca’, they did encourage there were other areas hiring.
The actors said they did not put more focus on the options they would choose when recording in game dialogue trees. As actors they feel they are being hired to make all possible choices steps in an engrossing path for players, so they act all their lines with 100% honesty.
Two audience members asked if the panel felt under-appreciated/get recognised for the work they do. The panel replied that they’re rarely recognised due to the audio nature of their work, relating tales of attending press launches where they’ve played 2-3 characters splashed all over the room yet barely anyone attending knows who they are. They also feel not being recognised is a blessing as it allows them to go about their daily lives with less harassment then on-camera actors receive. At the same time, they feel the modern generation of voice acting fans by means such as cons and the internet do more to recognise their favourite actors and make things rewarding for them.
Along similar lines they were asked if it’s weird to play a game and interact with one of your own characters. They find it slightly surreal to hear themselves and fellow actors speaking out from fantasy characters when they know how the actors really look but overall find the experience to be cool.
Ali was asked for her opinion on the developmental journey of her character Liara in the Mass Effect games. Although she loved the character, especially her analytical side, she felt frustrated with the direction she was asked to take in later games and argued with the producers that she felt it wasn’t natural development for the character.
Liam discussed that not only was he involved with voice acting but also worked on scripting. He explained that usually in dubbing actors receive very literal, bland translations and it’s his job to rewrite this dialogue so that it stays true but also sounds more natural. He’s also been involved with doing this for certain computer games as well.
The final question concerned the auditioning process. Actors can receive a script, with as much time as a few days to rehearse, and as little as a cold reading on the spot. Usually voice actors will audition for 2-3 different characters in a production, so they stressed that practicing improv and different voices was key to standing out in this process. At the same time hopefuls should be prepared to receive limited info on exactly what they’re auditioning for and be expected to sign NDAs to stop secret production details going public.