Post tutorial RSS Voice Acting Tutorial #2

In this tutorial we get down and dirty with the text content and record the line!

Posted by on - Intermediate Voice Acting

Hello and welcome to my second tutorial! In this part I'll be covering the second out of three parts concerning voice acting and my experiences with it. In this article we'll be getting down on the real meat of the work and start with the actual voice work.

If you've just stumbled over this tutorial series, go here for the first part:

In reality I was hoping that I'd be able to complete this article much sooner, but as luck would have it, I was stripped of both time and inspiration to do so.
And luck indeed it was, as during that time I learned techniques about analyzing and working with text that has later become invaluable to me in my work as an actor, and I'll be sharing some of this with you in this article.

So let's not beat about the bush, but instead get down to business. By now you're probably settled with a modest place in which to record your lines, you have all the software required (or you've shanghaied a friend to do the work for you), your recordingequipment is on standby and you're all warmed up and good to go.
Suppose you got this line from the Operation Black Mesa script:

“Just like I thought, his shoulder has been dislocated, hold him for me. This is gonna hurt you a lot more than it’s gonna hurt me Shep.”

How would you go about doing this line? If you're halfway reaching for your recorder already I can tell you immediately that you're doing it wrong unless you've had a stroke of genious and have a great idea on how to do the line, which implies that you have a complete understanding of its implications, direction, tone, setting and persona.
The things I'll be going through now might sound a bit «of course its like that», but its almost baffling how often it's forgotten or not considered by the Voice actor.

1) Understand your line.

You can not convey what you can not understand.

Make sure you know to the best of your ability what's being said in the line. There is an insane amount of information just waiting to be mined from any given line, you just have to know where to look.
We can tell from the example line that the character is examining somebody and confirming already existing suspicions/Fears, which means that he is concerned about the wounded characters well-being and hates to see him in a shape like this. Also, this statement implies that the two have shared past story, even if its as simple as the medic having hauled you out of the wreck at an earlier point.
We can also glean that he's got someone with him either as an acting orderly or was simply grabbed by pure chance for being the closest and the character cracks a joke at the implications of fixing said shoulder. Maybe trying to cover over another emotion? Is he afraid the wounded character might not make it if he does set the shoulder?
And the wounded man in question is named Shep (or as we all know, Shephard).

If there's something in the script you do not understand, as a word or the like, look it up or ask the developer responsible to shed some light on the issue. With all the made up terms and scientific language that tends to show up in mods for flashy effect it can be hard to find out what the writer is talking about even if you use a dictionary. There is nothing more embarrasing in voice acting than an actor who obviously has no idea what he or she is talking about.
Also, be sure to have a pen handy when going through the line and jolt down any ideas that spring to mind whilst reading the lines over and over. Some of the best ideas show up during the first read.

2) Find the twists

I only know the term in Norwegian so I'll go by a direct translation of the term which is 'break'. (Note; see the Cry of Fear Videocast #4 for another and more visual example on how to work with text)
And no that does not mean break as in 'pause' or 'rest' but break as in breaking something. And by 'Break' I'm talking about a shift in the characters mental process.
Again lets take the example for illustration:

“Just like I thought, his shoulder has been dislocated, hold him for me. This is gonna hurt you a lot more than it’s gonna hurt me Shep.”

In this line there's at least three breaks. A break is basically a term for when the character takes a new direction. I'll colourcode the line to illustrate my point:

Just like I thought, his shoulder has been dislocated, hold him for me. This is gonna hurt you a lot more than it’s gonna hurt me Shep.

Each coloured line is now carrying a single thought, and the point where a new colour begins is called a break. In the blue line, the man speaking is giving his diagnosis, he expresses maybe his concern, trying to calm himself by stating the medical condition or simply informs the 'orderly'. In the red line he turns to said orderly and gives him/her an order. In the green line he addresses the wounded, maybe trying to calm the wounded down by cracking a joke.
Now in order for you not to be mistaken and think its based on a matter of who you're talking to, I'll consider a second example:

It’s too fast, I can’t get a lock, switching to..HOLY SHIT!!!

So to sum up, a break is where the character takes a new direction, gets a new idea, gets interupted or in any case changes in his mental process.

Okay so now you know how to identify changes, but how to act those bits of the puzzle?
Simply understanding the line and seeing the changes in the line isn't enough, you have to know the subtext.

3) Decide on the subtext.

I slightly touched on this in the previous point, but its important enough to state twice.

The subtext is simply, what are you really saying in the line? What is the characters purpose with the line? Sure a text can read;

«Hello buddy!»

But the subtext decides what you really mean when you say it. To illustrate consider this; How would the line have been said by your best friend seeing you again for the first time in a year?
How would it have been said by someone who's been waiting for you for an hour because you misjudged the time? How would it have been said if the person in question hates your guts? Etc.
Subtext is all in all what you really mean when you say a line.

Let's take the example again;

«Just like I thought, his shoulder has been dislocated...»

Now the fun part begins in earnest. This is where you start playing with the text. Its up to you, and largely the developer responsible for the script, to decide what the character is thinking and feeling at the time of speaking. For sake of argument lets apply two variations. The first would be that «It's not bad» which is a positive phrase. That variation leads us to believe that the man is relieved to find out that it wasn't anything worse. The second variation is «This is bad», in which the line implies that the wound is outside the mans capabilities to fix or that its going to be a real bother to heal.
It also plays a big role who you're talking to and under what circumstances. I'll go further into circumstances further down below.
For the observant reader you'll have noticed that I've basically just used 'yes' and 'no' phrases. This is basically what it boils down to. Either you're positive about something, or you're negative about something. The reason why, to what level and variation of yes or no is all up to you.

4) Consider the setting

This part really ranks in with subtext, but I've heard it done wrong so many times that I think it deserves a special mention.
Never forget the circumstances. You talk in a very different way if you're talking to someone who's inside an outpost about to be overrun by brainsucking snails than if you were inside said outpost screaming your head off with one of those snails munching on your ear. Or if you're trying to convey a message to someone while being shot at by a heavy machine gun emplacement you'd probably be talking in a very different way than if you were the guys manning the machinegun with explicit orders not to let anyone get past a certain point with death as the only alternative.

5) Consider your fellow VA's.

Just recently I played a mod where I was made painfully aware of what happens when the VA's don't take eachother into account. Time and time again during my lessons in shakespeare we've been told to listen to eachother when on the stage. You have to listen to your fellow actor in order to build a believable response.
This holds especially true for game development, where the voice is the only thing you can relate to past animations, and good voice acting can sometimes help out an animator and vice versa.
The trick of managing this (since you more often than not can't really get together and practice) is to keep the other VA's line in mind when you say your line. Playing out a dialogue isn't a one man game, it requires you to be alert not only of subtext, meaning and everything else I've covered, but also how you end your line tonally, at what level you continue after the other VA has said his or her line and where the conversation is going in general.

So in conclusion; Know what you're saying, know how you're saying and what the character is trying to achieve with his/her line, know what he/she feels about it, consider the setting and communicate with your fellow actors.

Thats it for this part! See ya all next time for a much shorter tutorial on the basics of editing your recorded clip!


cool :D

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DragonNOR Author

I'm glad you guys like them :) The final part of the first tutorial series will be released on the 15th. If there are any requests on a VA subject I can delve into please Pm the question to me and I'll see if its big enough to vouch an entire article. I have a few ideas in mind for what should come after that, but I'm VERY open to suggestions xD

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Nice one Dragon! I really dig theese tutorials! Looking forward to part 3 now :)

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