As technology progresses and we move towards the uncanny valley, the production values of video games has been constantly rising. This generation has already spawned some Oscar worthy moments such as Hideo Kojima’s epic mini-movie cut scenes in Metal Gear Solid 4 and the sublime stories told by the Uncharted series. Realistic visuals and an entertaining script are a must but without talented actors the most brilliant of dialogue is useless.
Rather conveniently, I happen to know a voice over artist (it’s a six year long story involving bitching, Michael Bay, partying with JLS and lunchtime coffee). So, who better to quiz about the art of acting without ever being seen. Chris has voiced everything from an animated fruit in TV commercials to a death dealing Space Marine in the recent Ultramarine CGI movie. He has recently recorded the voice for Tanner for the E3 trailer for Driver: San Francisco (although rather oddly, he’s not Tanner in the game).
This is a bit different from our daily games coverage but regular readers should be used to TSA going slightly leftfield to bring you something new and interesting, so without further ado let us delve into the mysterious world of voice acting with Mr. Chris Finney.
Hi Chris, let’s begin at the beginning – how did you get in to Voice Over (VO) work?
I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid and was always fascinated by the voices and the fact that you had no idea what these people looked like. I trained as an actor at drama school and it was there that I decided that I wanted to get into VO work. So I had a demo made and sent it to twenty or so agents, none of whom wanted me. Then, one day my agent posted on MySpace saying that she was setting up a new VO agency so I sent her my stuff and she loved it. She signed me up and here I am.
So you were working as ‘normal’ actor before moving into VO?
I had an acting agent for a little while but not at the moment. I did a couple of series of the show “Dead Ringers” on BBC2 but after that the acting work just wasn’t there. I’ve had a lot more success as a VO artist, which is a bit ironic.
Which cartoons were you inspired by? I’m guessing one was Transformers as you do a perfect Optimus Prime.
I loved Transformers – I remember seeing the very first episode in… I think it was ’85? And the animated movie just blew me away. I also loved stuff like MASK, Thundercats and Battle of the Planets, I was far more into cartoons than I was live action kid’s shows.
As I mentioned previously, loving your work as the Vimto fruit. You have created voices for many characters, which has been your favourite?
That’s hard.. I love doing the Russian Raspberry, it’s a lot of fun. The whole campaign is very tongue in cheek. But I really enjoyed working on Ultramarines too, very different. That’s the beauty of doing VO.
How did you get the job of playing Tanner in the promotional material for Driver?
The company who make the ads, ICHI, had already used another of my agents’ clients for game promo stuff – he’s an older guy with a deep, husky American voice. For Driver: San Francisco they wanted someone along those lines, but younger. My agent sent my reels over, and they liked me.
Describe the process of recording a VO, what happens when you arrive at the studio?
Sometimes you may have seen the script in advance and you may have been given a fairly good idea of what the campaign is and what will be required of you. So, you have a few words with the ‘creatives’ and then pretty much go straight into the booth and get to work. A lot of the time they want to get on with it since they are paying for your time and it can be expensive but other times you will have seen nothing and know very little.
Things can be very last minute and ‘creatives’ can change their minds about what they want to do. Sometimes there may be a bit more discussion to begin and then you just have to get in there and get on with it. One of the skills a VO artist has to learn is how to get on top of a script quickly – to know what the aim is – and good sight reading is a must.
Did you find it difficult to replicate the voice of Tanner for the E3 promo?
In all honesty I wasn’t trying to replicate him. I had heard a snippet of his voice from the game previously but it’s basically my idea of what he sounds like.
Did you get to see any of the game for inspiration?
I did a bit of homework and looked at the early trailer and promo material that was already doing the rounds to get a feel for what the new game was all about. Plus, I was no stranger to the previous Driver games.
Moving on to Ultramarines, you played a couple of characters in that film, that was a pretty big job…
I think I played something like five – I’m a bit hazy on that now! But yeah, it was a big deal for me. I was really pleased when I heard I’d got the job because I’d always wanted to do VO for animation. But when I heard who else was involved, I nearly fell off my chair.
It was a top notch cast, Sir John Hurt, Terrance Stamp..
Sean Pertwee is there too, Donald Sumpter, Steven Waddington and Johnny Harris, who’s a top guy and a great actor.
Normally voice over work is a pretty solitary job, parts for characters are recorded at different times in different places. Did you ever meet the rest of the cast?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet Terence Stamp as we were scheduled to record on different days. I met John Hurt briefly, but didn’t work with him. But I did work quite a lot with Sean Pertwee who is a top bloke. I rehearsed for a couple of days with Donald, Johnny and Steven, and also Ben Bishop and Gary Martin. All hugely nice and talented guys.
Ultramarines is a full length movie, it must have taken a while to record your parts?
It took about three days but they were quite intensive. Getting used to the process on that movie was an education, it was something I’d never done before. Very interesting stuff.
Why is that?
Well, when I first went up for the job I imagined it would be 2D animation but when I arrived at the first rehearsal the producer and director showed me very early tests for the animation – and it was CGI. And not only that, it was created using facial motion capture. That’s a process where the actor actually has to give a facial performance as well as having their voice recorded. It’s different to normal MOCAP as they don’t need your whole body, just the head.
That’s the technique they have used to create the performances for L.A. Noire..
Yes – it seemed to be an emerging process at the time. Ultramarines was pretty cutting edge, I think.
Can you explain the facial capture process?
We had to sit in a chair and there was a camera about two feet away pointing at our face. As we read the lines we also had to act the performance to the camera but at the same time being careful not to move our body too much.
That was very difficult because sometimes the scene would involve the character being very physical and intense – firing in different directions or running and jumping. We could only convey that from the shoulders up and without turning our heads too much! It’s hard to be physical without being too physical – that took a lot of getting used to!
Unlike normal MOCAP, we didn’t have reference dots on our faces. The software being used was originally developed for medical scanning. If necessary, the software was able to record one side of the face and then create 3-D model by hypothesising what the other side of the face was doing. It was mad stuff and certainly a new frontier for me as an actor.
Did you you have any chance to improvise when recording?
Actually just the opposite. The thing about Warhammer is that you have to be very careful to get it right – it has a huge following and every detail needs to be just so, including the way the characters speak.
For instance we were told that an Ultramarine would not say “don’t” they say “do not”. The script was written by Dan Abnett, a revered 40K novelist, so he really knew his stuff and there was a representative of Games Workshop on hand to make sure that we did everything right. Improv wasn’t really an option within a rigid framework.
Finally, have you any plans to work on further video games?
Absolutely. Video games are a huge and exciting industry – the ideas and vision in modern games is astonishing. They can be every bit as engrossing and thrilling as a movie and there are opportunities for actors that I would love to be a part of. So, fingers crossed…
You can grab a copy of the Ultramarines DVD from the official site and check out every raised eyebrow of his performance. Chris will also be reprising his role as the Vimto Raspberry (‘Hello beautfiul laydeez!’) later this year and you can listen to his show reels (including some brilliant impressions of Jack Sparrow, Optimus Prime, Gollum, Charlie Sheen and Obi Wan Kenobi) over on http://www.christopherfinney.com/
To close, here’s an episode of BBC 3’s ‘Wu-How: The Ninja’s Guide To Everything‘ starring Chris as the posh voice over bloke explaining how to turn a Wii-mote into a virtual white board. What a clever chap.