Archive for the ‘Animation’ category

New character demo uploaded

May 29, 2012

Exactly what the headline promises…

My new character demo has been produced and uploaded! Check it out at the link below:

CHARACTER DEMO (:90)

It’s an entertaining sampling of my character stylings for animation and video games. Not an exhaustive catalog, by any means — just a few of the voices inside my head.

My sincere thanks to the team at Voicetrax San Francisco: the incomparable Samantha Paris, who directed and co-produced; and the inimitable Chuck Kourouklis, who co-produced and engineered.

Enjoy!

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Law & Order: Legacies, Episode 5 — “Ear Witness”

March 27, 2012

A while back, I played a key role in Episode 5 of Law & Order: Legacies, produced by the fun-loving folks at Telltale Games. My character, an auto mechanic named Scott Leonard, makes his first appearance at about 10:50 into this video sample. (Bonus points to any reader who knows which real-life vocal group is led by a singer named Scott Leonard.)

As a longtime Law & Order fanatic, this was a dream project for me. If you’re intrigued by what you see here, you can purchase the complete seven-episode game for your iPhone or iPad at the App Store, or for your PC or Mac at the Telltale Games website.

Enjoy the preview!

If it’s free, I’ll take three (hours)

April 24, 2009

More often than not, you get what you pay for.

This is not one of those stories.

The ever-thoughtful folks at Voicetrax are doing a golden favor for their students this month — offering a selection of one-session group lessons on a variety of voiceover subjects, free of charge. When the schedule of free classes was released, there were two appealing options that fit into my schedule. So, with some counsel from Chuck, Voicetrax’s self-described factotum, I decided to choose the option I hadn’t tried before.

Good call, Chuck.

Last night, a dozen of us placed ourselves in the able hands of Brian Sommer, a Voicetrax-trained actor who today boasts a list of commercial, animation, and video game credits as long as my… well… let’s just say mighty doggoned long. Brian’s specialty is characters — notice that I didn’t say “character voices” (see, Brian — I was paying attention!) — so we launched into a pile of juicy character-rich audition scripts and sides from Brian’s magic bag of tricks. (Silly rabbit — tricks are for voice actors!)

I had the chance to experiment with a pair of fun pieces. In the first, an animation script, I played an evil (is there any other kind?) mad scientist. Brian found me guilty of gnawing a little too much scenery in my first take, so I dialed the broad portrayal back just a touch, picked up the pacing, and made sure I made better connection with my virtual listener the second time through.

Take two was vastly improved, though Brian nudged me about my usual nemesis — worrying about the words rather than simply playing the scene. On the third take, I relaxed a little more, and the character really came together. I love it when that happens.

My second shot in the booth presented me with sides from a Western video game. Here, my character was a charmingly roguish, slightly gonzo Mexican bandito of the sort one might have seen in old Clint Eastwood movies. Ironically, just the night before, my daughter and I were watching the NBA playoffs when a Dos Equis beer commercial came on, starring Jonathan Goldsmith as “the most interesting man in the world.” I can do a pretty fair impression of Goldsmith’s faux-Latin accent — “Stay thirsty, my friends” — which KM thought would form the basis of an effective character for me. I’d spent the rest of the evening tinkering with that voice. So, I started the character Brian assigned with a hefty dose of Mr. Interesting, ladled in A Fistful of Dollars, and built him outward from there.

Not surprisingly, then, Brian’s initial comment after my first take was, “That’s a great character for you.” We both liked the work I’d done in the second and third scenes of the three-scene script, so Brian focused his direction on the first scene, where I didn’t quite nail the balance between the character’s smarmy faux friendliness and his underlying villainy. A tweak here and there, and the whole bit gelled nicely.

In one three-hour class, I came away with two nifty additions to my character repertoire, and several useful tidbits about character acting that I’ll be able to apply dozens of ways. And all for just the price of four gallons of gas. (That’s how much petrol my aging minivan burns on the round-trip Sausalito run.)

I continue to be pleasantly surprised at how easily character work comes to me. It’s diametrically opposed to the kind of things I thought I’d find in my voiceover wheelhouse. Gotta admit, though — I dig leaping outside myself (or perhaps, discovering hidden facets within myself) and letting fly with the myriad people I can be.

The fact that a high percentage of those people are evil or crazy or both? A good subject for psychoanalysis.

Thanks to my mentors at Voicetrax — and especially to Brian — for the freebie. Given all that I learned, and the fun I had, I’d have gladly paid the usual rate. (But… don’t feel compelled to send me an invoice, Chuck.)

The song is ended, but the melody lingers on

April 17, 2009

Sad but true… I now have Friday afternoons free.

As I was preparing this morning for the final session of this six-week workshop, it struck me suddenly how much I was going to miss this weekly gathering, and the people with whom I’ve shared the experience.

The baker’s dozen of us — plus Samantha, of course — became our own little family as we supported and encouraged one another over the past month and a half. I’ve witnessed so much phenomenal growth in each of the other actors in the group, and have come to admire and respect each of them for their unique gifts.

I’ll see most, if not all, of them in other classes as we progress — some as soon as next week — but we’ll never be Sam’s 13 Apprentices again, or join together in this exact configuration.

I’m a touch misty, to tell the truth.

Realizing the occasion, I took my camera with me today to enshrine the moment. The pictures can’t preserve the electricity in the studio, or the raw emotions that we shared as we alternately soared or stumbled in the booth. They certainly don’t capture Samantha’s tough-love, painfully honest but maternal critiques, the hazard of which we each weathered like lobster fishermen braving a New England squall. But when I look at these faces — smiling, reflective, or focused — I’ll remember the 24 hours we spent together, and everything that we learned.

For my final exam, I performed two pieces of copy: an animation script selected for me by another member of the class, and an introspective TV spot that Sirenetta and I had worked on in a recent private lesson. I would never have chosen the animation piece for myself — I still have a hard time envisioning myself doing character voices, even though everyone tells me that’s where the core of my talent lies — but I gave it an earnest whirl.

When Samantha gave my performance her highest score, I couldn’t help asking, “Are you sure?” I’d struggled so miserably over the previous five weeks that it was difficult to accept that I’d done this well. Sam, with characteristic directness, reminded me how frequently I’d complained about my frustration with myself during this workshop. “So, when I finally give you a 3, shut up and take it,” she laughed.

The TV spot wasn’t perfect, but I was nonetheless happy with my read. Sam’s score for this one was, predictably, not quite as lofty, but still good. It also came with compliments and encouragement — I’d taken her direction following the first take and implemented it into the second. All it lacked was confidence, which I probably would have nailed if given a third bite at the apple. Still, coupled with the other piece, it represented my best work of the entire course.

It had taken me six weeks to find it, but the old mojo had returned.

Without exception, everyone in the group delivered her or his best on Finals Day. In several cases, the comparison with the first week’s work represented a quantum leap forward. Some of the newer students, in fact, pulled performances from their inward depths of which I would not have believed them capable. I was overjoyed for them.

For the more experienced of us, the increments of improvement were smaller and subtler, but still vibrantly evident.

Besides which, we gained something beyond our own talents — the connection with others traveling different, yet largely parallel, paths.

When next those paths intersect, we’ll tap into that synergy.

You do me, and I’ll do you

April 13, 2009

We did an interesting exercise last week in my Friday afternoon workshop.

During our first meeting five weeks ago, we were each secretly assigned another participant to “shadow.” For our fifth session, we were to bring a script perfectly suited to the person we have been observing, and perform that script in the booth as we thought that person would — using the qualities we’ve noted in that individual’s vocal and acting style.

My challenge was both easy and remarkably difficult. Easy, in that I’ve shared several other classes with the person I shadowed, and was more familiar with his work going into this exercise than I was with any of the actors in the group. Difficult, not only in that this person’s style is in many respects antithetical to my own, but also in that I like the guy — I was afraid I’d do a lousy job of imitating him, and he’d never speak to me again.

Fortunately for me, however, I’d had a fair amount of practice.

Since my challenging experience in narration class back at the beginning of this year, I’ve been grasping at every hook I can find to help me master what is, for me, a consistently frustrating aspect of VO. Because my natural vocal quality is energetic and expressive, it’s tough for me to dial down to the lower-intensity, more understated tone necessary for effective narration. Watching tons of TV documentaries has helped some, as has my growing appreciation for “vocal colors.” (When I narrate, I have to think “blue”cool, get it?)

As it happens, the actor I’ve been observing for workshop has one of the “bluest” voices I know. A couple of months ago, I discovered that modeling his thoughtful, measured, laid-back delivery helped me find my narrative voice. So, even before this exercise, I’d been imitating him for some time in my daily workouts.

I chose a piece of narration copy for the exercise. And what do you know — the read that came out of my “impression” might have been the best work I’ve done in weeks.

After class, I had a chance to catch up with my unsuspecting “model” and let him know how much practicing his delivery has helped me grow as a narrator. I think he was more than a little stunned. This was also my opportunity to let him know how much development I’ve noticed in his work over the almost-year that we’ve been in classes and workshops together. He really has come a long way from the first time I heard him read.

The person who has been shadowing me chose an animation character script for her exercise. She’s mentioned to me on prior occasions that she thinks animation might be my niche, so when I learned that I had been her observation subject, I wasn’t surprised by her selection. It was hilarious to hear my boisterous delivery rumbling out in her angelic, childlike voice, but she made it work — I knew immediately upon listening to her read that I was the one she was imitating.

What did surprise me was the evaluation my observer gave after a month of monitoring my voice. She described my vocal quality using words like “emotional,” “sensitive,” and “vulnerable” — characteristics that I would never in a million years have associated with myself. (Even more surprising was Samantha‘s follow-up comment: “That’s exactly how I hear you, too.”)

I’ve always envisioned myself as the aloof, detached, intellectual type. But I guess I don’t sound that way to others.

I hope that’s a good thing.

Next week, I’ll get my chance to perform the animation script my observer chose for me. I’ll try to do it justice.

I’ll also be interested to see how the person I’ve been shadowing presents the copy I selected for him. I suspect that he’ll give it a better read than I did. Which, I guess, is kind of the point.

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.

Bad day for celebrity voices

January 14, 2009

Good thing this doesn’t happen often.

Both Patrick McGoohan and Ricardo Montalbán passed away today.

Although I’ll mostly remember Messrs. McGoohan and Montalbán for their face-acting roles — McGoohan as the title character in Danger Man and The Prisoner; Montalbán as Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island and as Star Trek‘s “Kha-a-a-a-a-a-n!” — both possessed noteworthy voice credits.

McGoohan played Billy Bones in the 2002 Disney animated feature Treasure Planet (you can read my review of that film here).

Montalbán turned in quite a bit of TV voice work during his golden years, most memorably as Armando Gutierrez on The WB’s Freakazoid! and Señor Senior Sr. on Disney Channel’s Kim Possible.

Both of these talented gentlemen will be missed.