Voice header

Intro by Josh Bray, Interview By John Sweeney 

We recent­ly had the hum­bling oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak with voice pro­duc­tion vet­er­an Lani Minella after she offered her view on the ongo­ing ker­fuf­fle between SAG-AFTRA and the video game indus­try in the com­ments of our arti­cle on the mat­ter. Those who don’t know that name by sight are like­ly to rec­og­nize her by voice as she has such char­ac­ters as Ivy from Soul Calibur, Nancy Drew from near two decades of com­put­er titles in the character’s name, and Urdnot Bakara/Eve from Mass Effect 3 under her name.

That’s just the tip of ice­berg that is her cred­its.

Lani also found­ed AudioGodz in 1992, a voice tal­ent and pro­duc­tion agen­cy, so she has long term and inti­mate knowl­edge of voice pro­duc­tion from the ground up. We are proud to offer her views on the indus­try and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an upcom­ing video game indus­try strike by SAG-AFTRA.

Her views are not new­ly formed either. A 2004 New York Times arti­cle on the video game voice act­ing indus­try (that is a pret­ty great read, by the by) states,

Ms. Minella debat­ed whether a star cast alone ever led to an increase in game sales. She prefers to cast by voice abil­i­ty rather than by fame. ‘A good movie actor is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a good video game voice,’ she said. ‘They might just be good for mar­ket­ing.’”

In the same New York Times arti­cle, author Tim Gnatek suc­cinct­ly sums up what is far from a black and white mat­ter in regards to the actor’s union and asso­ci­at­ed costs.

Professional voic­es bring anoth­er Hollywood dimen­sion to the game indus­try: unions. Many of the actors, culled from else­where in the enter­tain­ment indus­try, are mem­bers of the Screen Actors Guild or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which have strict rules for actors’ treat­ment and pay. Studios look­ing for voiceover pros must often become SAG or Aftra sig­na­to­ries to secure pro­fes­sion­al tal­ents, oblig­ing them to use union tal­ent exclu­sive­ly for that project. Going union is a gen­er­al assur­ance of qual­i­ty, but it can be cost­ly and con­trol­ling.

To save on the costs asso­ci­at­ed with using star tal­ent, stu­dios will often look for lesser-known actors who are tal­ent­ed in mim­ic­ry and in enun­ci­at­ing with emo­tion, even for film-inspired char­ac­ters that almost cry out for the famil­iar voic­es of the stars who played them in the movie.”

For those not keep­ing score, that means the debate whether brand name actors actu­al­ly increase sales or not, and the ben­e­fit of unions in the video game indus­try, has been going on for over a decade.

With the cur­rent media black­out on the issue from the folks at the nego­ti­at­ing table, we are pleased to offer Lani’s vet­er­an view on the mat­ters.

Many peo­ple may not know who you are, but they will know your voice. Would you intro­duce your­self for those unini­ti­at­ed and tell us a lit­tle bit about what you do?

Hi every­one and thanks for tak­ing a look. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my day but began doing some morn­ing dri­ve radio gigs, pro­duc­tion, pro­duc­ing, writ­ing in the late 80’s.  Always doing the celeb sound alike, I was hired to imi­tate voic­es from the Fern Gully movie when this com­pa­ny was pitch­ing the Laser disc to Magnavox and Philips. They had me do hun­dreds of voic­es for children’s CD roms as inan­i­mate objects and I asked who else did this? They didn’t know but sug­gest­ed I go to trade shows. Started with Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas 2 yrs, then Electronic Entertainment Expo for 13 yrs and Game Developer conference-2 yrs.  Found out it’d be eas­ier to land entire projects for game devs if I was a one stop shop so I found­ed Audiogodz Inc in 1992 and thus began all the­se titles world­wide.

Voice side 1You’ve been in over 500 titles and pro­vid­ed a stag­ger­ing range of voic­es; do you have any favourites from this exten­sive back-catalogue?

I love doing any­thing cre­ative and the bet­ter scripts always are more fun to deal with. From very male or crea­ture sound­ing end boss­es and char­ac­ters from Blizzard (Succubus, Banshee, Harpy, Medivac Pilot, Dropship Pilot, Zerg Queen, Zaela of the Dragonmaw etc) to the infect­ed Bloater, Runner, Clicker in Last of Us, to Eve in Mass Effect 3, Nancy Drew for 16 years, Ivy in Soul Calibur, Sindel and Sheeva in MK9, and tons of char­ac­ters in Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, Rouge the Bat (Sonic Adventures), the hive­mind in Warhammer 40,000:Dawn of War II, Night Mother and Nocturnal etc in Skyrim, and so many more fun ones.

How has videogame voice act­ing changed dur­ing your time in the indus­try?

Lengthier scripts but some are still writ­ten pret­ty bad­ly. I think writ­ers often don’t read them aloud first.  More atten­tion can be given to char­ac­ter devel­op­ment some­times.  Still needs improve­ment though.

What is the most impor­tant part of a voice per­for­mance to you?

Acting act­ing act­ing.  Putting more action in the per­for­mance is need­ed for games ver­sus oth­er gen­res.  Disney and Pixar over ani­mate some­times bor­ing voic­es which helps. In games we don’t have that over-animation lux­u­ry.  So we need to move our bod­ies a lot more than looks good on a big screen to get that pizazz and ACTION into the VO.

Is there a par­tic­u­lar devel­op­er you enjoy/enjoyed work­ing with, one that stands out?

I love them all, but I have to say Blizzard is up high on my list.

I know I’ve heard some pret­ty ter­ri­ble video game scripts, how much is a voice actor held back by their source material/ direc­tion and is there much lee­way for impro­vi­sa­tion?

Always blame scripts first and some­times we nev­er get to see them until we are on the mic. I try to rewrite many if I get them in advance, but many are text on screen sup­port­ed so the client doesn’t want a lot of improv if the text is already locked in.

As an indus­try vet­er­an what would be your advice to some­one who wants to get into voice act­ing?

Don’t quit your day job. It’s a lot of work and even hard­er to get your foot in the door. I’m one of the best coach­es around but don’t make a liv­ing coach­ing AND I can hire some­one, which most coach­es do NOT.  So beware of spend­ing mon­ey on inane class­es and buy­ing equip­ment that may be overkill.

What are the harsh­est roles on a voice actor/actress’s voice and how do you guard again­st ruin­ing your vocal chords?

Doing things like the Hivemind voice I did for Warhammer where I’m basi­cal­ly vibrat­ing my vocal chords loud­ly made me total­ly hoarse.  Nothing you can do about that.  Other games if you die or have attacks, just leave those until last.  You can do a pseudo scream that sounds loud with­out real­ly push­ing it, but it’s best to let loose, and your chords will recov­er soon enough.

In your expe­ri­ence how much time does it typ­i­cal­ly take to record a set of voic­es for a game?

This total­ly depends on how many lines and parts there are.   We use a 125 lines per hour rate and that’s aver­ag­ing 10 words per line.  This allows for direc­tion and cor­rec­tion if need­ed.

You weren’t shy about your opin­ion in the com­ments sec­tion of our “PerformanceMatters & the SAG-AFTRA Strike” arti­cle, going so far as to say “If you don’t like the work, don’t take it.” What do you think would be the effect on the indus­try if the voice actors tak­ing part got their demands?

The whole thing is ridicu­lous.  When peo­ple who slave away for months, years, week­ends, don’t get any bonus­es, why should actors who waltz in for an hour or two get a dime? The demands I see from this union strike threat are from whin­ing wimps who are prob­a­bly not that effi­cient at get­ting the job done cor­rect­ly and per­haps can’t help a direc­tor who might be too green to make things work as they should.

voice insert 1

How much cred­it do you think voice actors/actresses can take for the suc­cess of a game? 

Less than 20%.  Game play is most impor­tant.  Non bug­gy pro­gram­ming, cre­ative graph­ics, intrigu­ing script, then voice­work in that order. Plus let’s not for­get about TV adver­tis­ing. That inane app with mod­el Kate Upton in Game of War — is mak­ing a mil­lion a day, but they start­ed out with $40 mil­lion in adver­tis­ing.  And a lot of boobage that made Jr. plunk down daddy’s cred­it card for a lot of moolah in micro trans­ac­tions.

When it was announced a strike was being con­sid­ered, the good peo­ple over at Niche Gamer got some respons­es from devel­op­ers bor­der­ing on the bru­tal. How do you think this will affect rela­tions between devel­op­ers and voice tal­ent?

I’d like to see those respons­es.  But the union hype and insane claims are so crazy, I would not blame devs for being ticked. Voice tal­ent that believes the union hype should get a dif­fer­ent career.  And what about the celebs who don’t just voice games, but have lent their less-than-interesting pipes to a game?  How would they not be affect­ed by a strike?  The whole thing is stu­pid!

Do you agree with game developer’s assess­ment that voice actors/ actress­es are gen­er­al­ly replace­able?

Sure.  Anyone is replace­able.  Quality doesn’t depend on a SAG-AFTRA card, and just because some­one has land­ed a role, may not mean some­one else can’t sound like them and act just as well.  Depends.  Of course if you have an IP like Star Trek, you wouldn’t want to hire a sound-alike for Patrick Stewart, but you COULD if you had to.

Why would a voice per­former require “Stunt pay” as one of the SAG-AFTRA demands lays out?

Another ridicu­lous demand.  Hardly any of us do Motion cap­ture with full body. But if you did, a stunt per­son could do it and it’d sound bet­ter if you voiced it lat­er with Audio Dialogue replace­ment or ADR (Looping)

SAG-AFTRA states “The com­pa­nies also pro­posed they be allowed to hire their own employ­ees to play char­ac­ters in video games with­out hav­ing to join the union.” Do you feel that motion cap­ture per­for­mances should be cov­ered under SAG-AFTRA, or is it rea­son­able for devel­op­ers to get motion cap­ture tal­ent out­side the voice actors?

Voice actors don’t have to do mo-cap. Sometimes facial mo-cap like I did once for Ivy in Soul Calibur V may help ani­ma­tors, but that’s not going to burst a blood ves­sel.

In your mind would it be fair for voice per­form­ers to get roy­alties when devel­op­ers do not?

NO not at all!  And all the prof­its are made from in game micro­trans­ac­tions not game sales. Most are free to down­load nowa­days. And how would you deter­mine how much each actor got?  How many lines they had? That sucks.  Some of us who do a zil­lion parts and have a lot more tal­ent than some­one who was the main char­ac­ter and who is a one trick pony, should not get less just because of line count.  The whole idea of pay­ing per­cent­ages to voice tal­ents — not some­thing fea­si­ble or do-able.  Payroll com­pa­nies could not remem­ber or tal­ly either sales or micro­trans­ac­tions and most devs have to pay their tal­ent through union sig­na­to­ry pay­roll com­pa­nies.

Do you think the move by voice actors to unionise in such a way will make it more dif­fi­cult for new tal­ent to emerge?

There is not a move for voice actors to union­ize.  The union already cov­ers voice act­ing. But I think smarter game devel­op­ers who don’t HAVE to hire celebs, can choose not to be sig­na­to­ries and are then allowed to hire either union or non union or Financial Core actors (FiCore means you pay union dues but can work either union or non union)

voice insert 2

If you could talk to them direct­ly, what would you say to peo­ple like Wil Wheaton,  and Ashly Burch who are spear­head­ing the calls to strike?

Get a life. Get a grip. You have no idea what you’re talk­ing about. I’m glad to dis­cuss issues with any actor since I’ve been on all sides of the fence, as a cast­ing direc­tor, direc­tor, pro­duc­er, game design­er, cre­ative direc­tor, voice actor, writer, etc.

Most VO actors, espe­cial­ly union ones, are not aware of how much the client has to pay a pay­roll com­pa­ny to pay the basic scale check.  Many of those “celebs” com­plain­ing get way more than scale.  If you don’t like that work, stay out of it.  Leave it to those who are bet­ter suit­ed for it.  The claim that a client will fine a tal­ent $2500 for being inat­ten­tive?!  Paleeze. That nev­er hap­pens and a pro tal­ent should NEVER BE INATTENTIVE any­way.  You are hired to hit the ground run­ning when you do voice work. Not sit in your trailor between sce­nes, stuff your face at the Kraft table or wait hours while they reverse light the set or do your make up.  And all the oth­er claims don’t hold water either. I think the union is mak­ing stuff up. Also I know union sig­na­to­ry devel­op­ers who are not even being invit­ed to the bar­gain­ing table. SO HOW FAIR IS THAT?

The BOARD of SAG AFTRA decides on every­thing regard­less of how their mem­bers vote.

This is why the Equity Board is being sued by the­ater actors because the union board decid­ed to demand that the­ater actors who nor­mal­ly don’t get paid any­thing to work small venues, should get min­i­mum wage even if the the­ater has 99 seats or less.   Time for the union and its mem­bers to get a real­i­ty check and cope with the real world instead of mak­ing all the­se demands.

Most games don’t have a long shelf life, and resid­u­als for TV shows and movies are tracked every time they are shown. This is not pos­si­ble in games.

Lastly (and most impor­tant­ly) who do you think would win in a fight between a pirate and a nin­ja?
Arrrr, be garr.  Depends on if either of them are armed.  A mus­ket would out­do a nin­ja but a sama­rai would slice off Capt. Hook’s hand eas­i­ly.  har har­rr

https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Voice-header-.jpghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Voice-header – 150x150.jpgJohn SweeneyInterviewsIntro by Josh Bray, Interview By John Sweeney  We recent­ly had the hum­bling oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak with voice pro­duc­tion vet­er­an Lani Minella after she offered her view on the ongo­ing ker­fuf­fle between SAG-AFTRA and the video game indus­try in the com­ments of our arti­cle on the mat­ter. Those who don’t…
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.