Archive for March 2009

No shirt, Sherlock

March 28, 2009

Call me an impulse shopper, but…

I simply could not live without this T-shirt.

Dude, it practically has my name on it.

13 again

March 28, 2009

In the third week of a six-week Friday afternoon VO workshop, I hit the wall.

Whenever I have a weekly class, there’s always one week where my frustration with my progress — or, more accurately, my self-perceived lack of progress — escalates to the point that I drive home quivering on the precipice of surrender. By the next week, I’ve clambered back onto the bicycle and am once again pedaling furiously.

Yesterday felt even worse than usual. Every bit of work I created seemed forced, trite, tired, or just plain wrong.

The fact that, an hour after that class ended, I started the first session of a two-day seminar didn’t help, either. It just provided me with another three and a half hours in which to be awful.

Fortunately, today was a better day. I didn’t rock anyone’s world — certainly not my own — with the work I did today. But at least I felt capable and competent each time I was in the booth. With the day’s final exercise, a refresher on “vocal colors,” I actually sounded like my old, marginally talented self.

Where was that guy yesterday?

Samantha gave me a stern pep talk after the other students left. Her words, as they inevitably do, put things into clearer perspective. “You’re in your awkward teenager stage right now,” she pointed out. “You’re past the point of being cute on raw potential alone. Now, you’ve got acne and growing pains. And it’s taken you a step backward.”

That observation ignited a light bulb in my chandelier.

It’s like puberty all over again, 35 years later. Only now, it’s not my physical voice that’s changing. It’s my ability to act with my voice that’s undergoing a fundamental — almost hormonal — overhaul.

When I first began studying VO, I could step into the booth with the cheerful abandon of innocence, because I didn’t yet know what to do and not do. I was unencumbered by knowledge. Now, months later, with hundreds of hours of coaching and personal practice time under my belt, I’m wrestling with all of the education and understanding I’ve gained. I drag a zillion things to think about — and worry about — with me every time I face the microphone.

Now, I have to fully internalize everything I’ve learned, so that I can stop thinking about it and start performing.

Knowing what my problem is should help push me toward resolution.

Samantha says that once I reach that breakthrough, nothing will be able to stop me from becoming as great a voice actor as I want to be, and know that I can be.

I would love nothing more than proving her correct.

Game on!

March 23, 2009

Last weekend, I participated in a two-day workshop on voicing video games.

Now, you have to understand — when I was actively playing video games, they rarely included voices. I’m from the era of Asteroids, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong here. The most sophisticated item in the arcade back then was Dragon’s Lair. (You young whippersnappers can pop over to Wikipedia to see what I’m talking about. And get off my lawn.)

As the dad of a college-age daughter, over the years I’ve played my share of Super Mario World and Aladdin on the old Super Nintendo. More recently, I’ve become familiar with such phenomena as Wii Sports, Major League Baseball 2K8, and even Guitar Hero. (I can’t play the latter to save my life, mind you, but at least I’ve seen it done.)

But confront me with something like, say, World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto, and I’m mystified.

For that reason, I enjoyed getting a feel for what’s new and exciting in the realm of video game voice acting. And, from a practical standpoint for a voice actor living here in the Bay Area, where numerous video game companies are based, it’s important career-wise, too.

Fortunately, I wasn’t (as I feared I might be) the only video game tyro in the workshop. Only three or four of our baker’s dozen considered themselves hardcore gamers. Judging by the comments and questions during the weekend, several other students’ backgrounds in the gaming arena fell short of even my paltry experience.

Our director, the voiceover coordinator for Household Name Electronics Corporation™, a sprightly personality in town for the Game Developers Conference this week, remained patient with (what must have seemed to an expert) our tediously lame inquiries. She provided us with detailed background on the industry, and walked us through the steps of game development, both in general terms and with specific focus on the voiceover piece of what sounds like an enormously complicated process.

I spent the majority of my time in the booth playing the antihero of one of the more popular video game series, and loving every second of it. I’ve not yet ceased to be amazed at the myriad voices that boil out of my inner psyche on command — I’d have never supposed that character work would be a strength for me, but I always seem to come up with something interesting and appropriate when given a character to create. I was even more surprised when we watched the actual game in play, to hear how closely my interpretation matched that of the actor who actually voices the role. (He’s better at it, of course. But give me a few more months of practice, and I’ll be nipping at his gladiator-sandaled heels.)

Almost as much fun as bellowing into the microphone was listening to the other actors in the workshop exercising their craft. It’s fascinating how several people can dissect the same few lines of copy and each take the character in different directions. I always wish that I had more imagination in that regard. I tend to be frustratingly literal still. I’m coaxing myself to “play” more. I think I managed that more effectively this weekend that I have on other occasions.

One of the unique aspects of game VO is the creation of incidental sounds — the grunts, howls, squeaks, and barks that spill forth every time a character exerts effort on-screen. Because the particular game we were practicing with is a hack-and-slash actioner, we made up a diverse range of death and injury vocalizations. I now feel confident that I can lose a limb, have my teeth yanked out with pliers, or get my throat slit with the best of them — on mic, anyway. (Kids, do not try this at home. Leave the throes of death to trained professionals.)

After this workshop and the one earlier this month that also included a game-character exercise, games have leaped near the top of the list of projects I’d like to voice. I dig the excitement and challenge.

If you’re a interactive producer looking for a blood-enraged warrior, I’m your huckleberry.

Pat-urday in San Francisco

March 9, 2009

Now that I’ve had a moment to rest and recover, here’s the lowdown on last Saturday’s workshop.

Pat Fraley titled the event Audition Technique Masters, which probably described everyone in the room other than me. Pat invited agent John Erlendson, principal of San Francisco’s JE Talent, to direct one of the two sessions. Sydney Rainin, a local voice artist best known for her work with Macy’s and Safeway, dropped by for an hour of Q&A at midday.

Paranoid that I am, I arrived at the event location, Polarity Post Production, nearly an hour early. I found convenient parking in a lot literally a stone’s throw from the studio. The extra time gave me an opportunity to decompress from the drive, finish my coffee, read a few pages on my Kindle, and arrive promptly feeling refreshed and ready for the day.

We began the morning with the usual get-acquainted round robin. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many of the other 11 participants also study or have studied at Voicetrax. Even though I didn’t know anyone, that commonality made the room feel immediately comfortable. So, for that matter, did Pat, who is every bit as funny and engaging as his reputation (and the audio lessons I’ve downloaded from his site) would suggest. All of the trepidation with which I’d arrived fell away like dandruff.

Our first round in the booth was a brief character piece from an interactive game project. We had several scripts from which to choose. I selected three possibilities, giving myself flexibility in case one or more of my classmates picked the same copy. That proved wise, as one of the first people into the booth went with my first choice, and I observed another student carefully reviewing my second option. That meant I ended up focusing on my third choice. That was fine — I enjoy a challenge.

It’s always fun to hear other people work. Although everyone else in the class outstripped me in experience — most of the others have been pursuing voiceover for several years, and several were working voice pros with agents and actual careers — I didn’t feel intimidated. Once Pat had put a few of my classmates through their paces, I was encouraged to think that I could stand on a reasonably level competitive field with the others. At least, I’d avoid embarrassing myself.

Before my turn in the booth came, we broke for lunch. While we noshed on sandwiches and salad from Il Fornaio (“you deserve a quality lunch,” Pat remarked), John and Sydney joined us to share their insights. I couldn’t think of any questions I wanted to ask, but I enjoyed listening to the responses both of these successful artists offered to others’ inquiries.

After the break, John led us back into the studio to tackle some commercial copy. I really appreciated John’s straightforward, non-technical directing style. As he sent each student into the booth, he asked for three consecutive reads through the copy — basically the same read, without major adjustments in character or interpretation. After the third read, he offered simple direction. What quickly became clear was that by the time the talent had run the copy three times, he or she more often than not had a handle on their basic approach. For there, it was just a matter of refinement. For most, the refinement involved speeding up the tempo of the read so that it flowed naturally.

I had chosen a spot for a well-known amusement park. Since the copy seemed comfortably in my wheelhouse in terms of both vocal character and personality, I didn’t attempt anything fancy. I just focused on delivering the read with the appropriate energy, and keeping my voice within my optimal range.

“How’d you feel about that?” John asked, after I’d run my three reads.

“Pretty good,” I shrugged.

“I think you’re right in the zone. Pick up the tempo about 20 percent, and I think you’ll be there.”

I read the copy a fourth time, propelling myself along more briskly. When I finished, I glanced toward the booth window.

John said simply, “You’re done.”

Okay — that felt solid. (John thinks my natural speaking voice sounds like Seth Rogen. Who knew?)

When John had finished with the 12 of us, Pat slipped back into the director’s chair to complete the character round. My turn came up quickly, so back into the booth I headed. I could hear my game character, described as a friendly, larger-than life auto-racing promoter, clearly in my creative ear, so I attacked the copy with aggressive abandon.

A little too much abandon, as it turned out. Pat sent his associate into the booth to demonstrate the appropriate volume level — probably one-third as loud as I’d been on my first read.

It took me a couple of experimental runs, but the final time through, I remembered at last not to over-project, while maintaining the character I’d adopted. The resulting read sounded less strident and more authentic. I don’t know whether I’d cast me in that particular role, but I was happy with the choices I’d made. (Pat’s planning to distribute the recordings later this week. We’ll see whether my positivity survives on second listen.)

Pat finished the day with some additional tips. We gathered the class for a group photo, then scattered to the four winds. (It wasn’t windy, especially. I just wanted to say that.)

I drove northward out of The City brimming with enthusiasm. All in all, a terrific day. I can scarcely wait for another opportunity to study with Mr. Fraley. With any luck, that chance will come sooner rather than later.

Thinking ahead

March 6, 2009

Tomorrow, I’m participating in Pat Fraley‘s Audition Technique Masters workshop in San Francisco. Given that I’ve never worked with Pat, or either of the other directors, I suppose this is something of an audition in itself.

As I recall, I was always a dreadful first date.

This workshop begins an intensive four months of VO training. From now until the end of June, I have exactly one week when I don’t have at least one class, and some weeks I have two or three. It’s a bit like immersion therapy, but it’s time. By the end of these four months, I’ll know with certainty that I’m either ready to make a serious splash in this business, or better off bowling.

I might be in over my head in tomorrow’s workshop.

Or, this might be right where I need to be at this point.

Whichever is true…

Here I come.

Another Brick in the wall

March 2, 2009

For me, a highlight of this past weekend’s WonderCon in San Francisco was meeting one of my VO idols: Scott Brick, perhaps the world’s most honored and respected audiobook narrator.

Scott had a booth at the con — how did I miss seeing that in the program? — promoting his self-published series of audiobooks. For the WonderCon audience, the draw was Scott’s recordings of Stephen R. Donaldson’s epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I enjoyed reading those books back when they were first published, so I’m looking forward to hearing what Scott does with them.

I’m always a bit nervous approaching people I admire — aw heck, let’s get real; I’m nervous approaching people in general — and my wandering by just as Scott was delving into his lunch didn’t help matters any. But I steeled my courage to walk up and introduce myself, telling Scott, “I want to be you when I grow up.”

Scott couldn’t have been more kind. When I told him that I’m a voice actor and that I’d love to get into audiobooks, he was interested to know where I was studying and with whom. I remembered to tell Scott that I’m taking a six-week intensive course in audiobook narration this spring… and promptly forgot the name of the instructor, even though I’ve taken a class from her before. (Please, everyone — let’s not tell Lisa Baney that I forgot her name. Or if we tell her, let’s be sure to mention that I forgot under the pressure of meeting Scott Brick. I think she’d be forgiving under the circumstances.)

Scott shared with me that he’s just begun a series of articles on his blog about getting started in audiobook narration. (Here’s a shock — I’ve already devoured Scott’s first installment, and am hungry for more!) He also handed me his card and offered to answer any specific questions I might have about the field via e-mail.

For my part, I smiled and nodded and tried not to sound like a blithering idiot.

It occurred to me as I was leaving Scott’s table — squeezing his card so tightly between my thumb and index finger that if it had been a lump of coal, I’d have created a diamond — that voice artists in the main are tremendously giving folk. Every working professional I’ve met or contacted has seemed genuinely eager to encourage and advise me in any way he or she can.

Given what one hears about the self-centered nature of actors and the highly competitive business we’ve chosen, this quality surprises me every time. And yet, the pattern continues to hold. Even the top players in the VO business — people at the level of Scott Brick or Pat Fraley — always take an interest in showing fledgling talent the ropes, and are astonishingly generous with their time and insights.

When I’m a big name in voiceover, I’ll promise to remember that.


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