Friday, 22 February 2013

Industry insights into Voice Acting for Video Games

It's official. Video Games are here to stay. This relatively new entertainment industry is set to get bigger and better, and with more and more people enjoying the likes of Playstations, X-boxes and Nintendos, games are no longer the sole domain of the stereotypical Gamer. They belong also to the family, to young children, to groups of teens, to Granny and Grandpa wanting to exercise, or stretch their brain cells, and it belongs to 92 year old Great-grandpa who, confined to his seat, fancies a round of golf on Boxing Day (a wonderful, true, remarkable moment from my own family!). There's character games for kids, there's war games, there's fantasy, there's Zumba! They are interactive, they are on the big telly, they are with us on the go in our hands, in our pockets, on our phones. And that means greater and broader opportunities for Voice Actors within this niche industry. However, in the UK, it seems that the work is increasingly going to a select few. So what can you do to ensure you are the one with a foot in the door as Gaming grows? It's a chicken and egg situation: getting experience without having experience has been nigh on impossible, until now.

Hugh Edwards, Voice Director and Casting Director from High Score Productions is making a firm commitment to training actors specifically for Video Game work. He wants to widen the talent pool that gets used, and ensure those that are up-and-coming know the tricks of the trade. Voice Actors need to fully understand the gaming industry, to have a feel for what is required of characters within game play, to have background knowledge on Gaming pop-culture references. If you are serious about getting anywhere in the industry, you've got to know your Blades of Time from your TombRaider. Most people have grown up around film and television, but not everyone has been involved in Gaming. Hugh aims to give a taster of what is going on in this branch of the entertainment industry which currently is overlooked during traditional actor training.

If you're selected to join a Game cast, and you are working in front of a Developer or Publisher, from Sega for example, the Voice Director needs to have total confidence that you know not only how to perform in front of the mic, but also the gaming specific terms and lingo bandied around the studio. It is not enough to wing it and learn on the job. Valuable time can be lost in an hour session if you are having to be coached in the 'how-to's' by the Voice Director. And that's why those with Game experience get cast again and again, because they can be trusted in front of a client to get the job done, and done right. So, for the humble Voiceover Artist who wants to break into this industry, where can you go, and what can you do to help yourself?! Well, Hugh places such importance and value on training the next generation of Voice Actors as the industry grows, that he has established a course based at Hackenbacker Studios, where together with Peter Dickson (of X-factor fame, although also a prolific Voice Actor for Games) they pass on their vast knowledge of what is expected of you on a Video Game job.

The course is a full day, and jam-packed with information and opportunities to ask advice and know-how. Each participant gets equal amounts of time in front of the microphone, and one of the benefits of the course is that you hear and see everyone else's performance. So often in voice work, a VO is alone in a booth, and is usually booked for a separate slot from other voice actors. The chance to watch and learn from others on this course is invaluable. To experience the difference in someone else's performance when it is well acted and properly directed leads to a greater learning opportunity for everyone. Peter and Hugh create a supportive atmosphere where to experiment and play with your voice, your character ideas and accents, is safe, and creativity is encouraged. And one of the best things is that the course is only open to actors and VO's already well versed in performing for the mic, and not to total novices. This means there is already a wealth of experience in the room before anyone opens their mouth.

Frank discussions on agents, demo content and on how to approach gaming audio companies were extremely useful. There really is no bigger turn-off for Gaming producers than to be sent Commercial reels. After all, how good you are at selling BMW's or a bar of chocolate, has no reflection on your ability as a Gaming character. Demo's need to be Gaming specific, and packed with decent content, to show your ability and range in an interesting and engaging way, with careful consideration for the kinds of smaller roles you are likely to cast in. You firstly need to be in the right category, but within that framework you can show variations and be dramatic, and show your malleability. In many instances up to 8 smaller roles may be played by the same performer. Each needs to be distinct and fully formed. And this can be a challenge when you are often working in isolation, so you need to ensure you can keep an accent or character up, and remember them from one session to the next. Some tips on how to do this were insightful and easy to put into practice.

With £1 billion per year in the UK alone spend on Gaming, the industry is only going to grow, with PS4 and the new X-box offering coming shortly. Current and emergent new technologies will offer the Voice Actor opportunities for Motion Capture work, both body and facial, & for wire-framing. Plans are already afoot to encapsulate some of the rudiments for these techniques in a new course coming later this year. Watch this space.

HighScoreWhy not start working through some characters for yourself, find the ones you are most comfortable with? Have a snoop on YouTube at popular Game characters and see where you might be a fit. Do some leg work before you are ready to create your demo. Or, if this is really going to be your thing, be a Gamer. Get hold of a console, and get playing. It'll be the best way to immerse yourself in this whole other world.

Further info on High Score's course can be found here, and I for one, can highly recommend it.