Right after our sit down interview with Tohru Furuya was one more press event with Crispin Freeman, a long time veteran of American voice acting who’s been featured in such works as Revolutionary Girl Utena, Ghost in the Shell, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya! We sat down to listen in on him answering questions about the craft of voice acting.
Q: How different would you say voicing is for animation versus a video game?
A: One of the primary differences is that video games tend to be much more vocally demanding. It does depend on the game, but chances are that, if you’re playing a video game, characters are going to die in horrible ways over and over and over again. If my character dies in an animated series, it’s usually just once. So video games can be far more vocally demanding and that can lead to very intense recording sessions. Also, often I’m going to a video game with almost no context. I rarely get the script ahead of time. Video game companies are incredibly secretive about their projects. They will often not even share the name of the title with us, which can be very frustrating. So you’re going in as a voice actor for video games often quite blind on what you’re going to be working on.
Whereas with animation, they almost always -yeah, I think always- have given us a script ahead of time. Working on an American animated series, they usually submit us a script at least the night before, if not more than 24 hours before so we can read the script before the recording session. Video games, we are often recording alone, one actor at a time. American animation we often do our best to record as an ensemble with as many people in the room as possible. Sometimes it’s a challenge, especially on a show like, say, Young Justice, which I work on, where I play Red Arrow; and there are a lot of characters in that show. Sometimes it’s difficult to get absolutely everybody in the same room at the same time to do something. But, you know, if I have an episode as Red Arrow and I have a lot of scenes with another actor, they will do their best to get that actor in the room with me and we can interact in real time.
Q: Because of the challenges that are associated with video games over animated series, do you prefer doing animation over video games, or do you enjoy that challenge?
A: For me, my preference, when it comes to voice acting, has less to do with process and more to do with the content. I’m probably not like most voice actors or even a lot of actors in general in that a lot of times actors can just be fascinated by a character, and that character in isolation can be interesting to them but they don’t really care about anything else. I’m a little different; I got too much director in me. I like to look at the story as a whole and I would much rather play a smaller part in a really good story than play the lead in a story that was lackluster.
So, for me, it’s about the story of the project. If the story is compelling, then I want to work on it. One of the most compelling stories I have ever worked on in recent years is Overwatch. From the moment they (Blizzard) started releasing content, I got to see the whole world of Overwatch, and I felt so honored to be a part of it. I find it incredibly idealistic, aspirational, heroic, diverse… so I got very excited about that. Winston is not an easy voice for me to do; I don’t care. I admire the story and the world so much I will do whatever it takes to play Winston to the best of my ability. So it has much less to do with the medium and much more to do with the content.
Q: What can you tell me about recording stuff for animation in the 90s vs now? Are there things that were easier back then that are difficult now, or has there been much change?
A: It’s funny, there are certain aspects of the recording technology that have stayed the same. We basically use the same microphones that were designed in the 1960s. The Neumann 287 microphone is sort of the industry standard for voice over, and I don’t think it’s going to change because the laws of physics aren’t going to change any time soon. But the devices we use to record have changed. My first work on my very first anime series, Slayers, they had started using non-linear editing programs like Pro Tools that could record to computer. The video, however, was still on a beta tape, and so they had to lock the beta tape to the Pro Tools rig, so they would put in a time code and the beta tape would have to race to that time code. While it was doing that, you would watch the video go past by you at high speed, so even if I wasn’t in, say, 10 minutes of the episode, I could sort of follow what was going on because it was going past me at high speed. Couple years later, they got rid of the beta and everything was digital, and suddenly we’d be doing one scene and just cut to the next scene and I wouldn’t get to see all that stuff in between. I’d go “Guys, I don’t know what I’m doing!”. Like, they sort of took that away from me. I had to learn about the show before I went in if I was going to make sure I had context.
I think the biggest disruptive element in the voice over world is the fact that recording technology has gotten so cheap that it has gotten so that everyone expects voice actors to have home recording studios. That was not necessarily the case in the 90s -though I was precocious and had one!- but not many people did. Also with the expansion of the internet and the ubiquitousness of broadband internet and MP3s, we are now expected to get our auditions back sometimes overnight, sometimes the same day. That kind of speed of delivery can only happen when someone has a home studio and the ability to e-mail large MP3 files without a lot of resistance. It’s stressful. I think it actually hurts the industry because it means that voice actors are often isolated at home auditioning by themselves, not getting any feedback from a director or a creator of any sort. It also reduces the community aspect of things and we don’t learn from each other. I learned so much from being next to my fellow voice actors in a recording environment. It’s a shame we don’t have that anymore. It used to be you’d go to your agent and everyone would audition at the agency or at a casting director’s office. That’s sort of gone now. I think the speed in which it is expected to be done is not helping the art.
Q: So is auditioning for voice acting like that now across all the different types of voice acting out there (video games, anime, commercials, etc), or is there still some that’s done like it was in the old days?
A: It depends on the project and how much care the publishers want to put into it. There are still times where I’ll go in and audition for a director for a project or sometimes I’ll audition from home and then I’ll get a call back. But sometimes I’ll just audition from home and just sort of out of the blue I’ll be called in to work on a project based on my home audition. In the world of animation, they need actors. In the world of commercials, they need attitude. It doesn’t mean that people who do commercials aren’t good actors; they can be very accomplished actors. But often all they need in a commercial is 30 seconds, and often times you’re dealing with the producers who may speak “actor”. They’ll just like the sound of somebody’s voice. They’ll just cast someone and they can’t really tell whether that person has performance skills or not… but they don’t really care, because all they have to do is squeeze 30 seconds out of them and then they’re out of the room.
If you’re expecting someone to play Batman for 26 episodes of an animated series, you better know that person can do what they need to do. Warner Bros is going to be in big trouble if they just like the sound of a guy’s voice, and he can’t carry that character for an entire series. So things are still a little slower in character-based voice over work because they know you have to carry the story and the character, but in what I would call more narration-based work like commercials and things, the speed is sometimes numbing with how fast they want things back with a signed NDA. I was out of town once and they were like “We just got this audition. It’s 2 pm. You need to sign this NDA and get it back to them so we can have your audition that you record at home back to us in the next three hours.” And I say to them “I’m at a wedding. I’m sorry, but I don’t know if that’s possible.” So I’d have to sign a document and fax it back to my agent… There are certain industry standards that I think are unreasonable. I would think that it doesn’t get them the best results, but I’m not a producer for their company so I don’t know. But it is still a little slower with animation and video games, but I still get the “Last minute and we have to get this character cast!” and it’s a video game that’s been in development for 3 years and you go “You didn’t know you needed this character cast last week?” It’s sort of odd to me at times, but I don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. Maybe I don’t want to know “how the sausages are made”.
Q: Do you enjoy watching anything you’ve ever been in?
A: I think it was Michael Kaine who once said “Never look at your dailies”, because you’ll just hate yourself, you’ll just tear your acting apart, and it’ll make you a very self-conscious performer. I do, do my best to watch my work afterwards, because I want to see how it came out and I want to know if I can do better. Sometimes, it may take a while, especially if I’m working on an American animated series because it may take months before the episodes are released, never mind anime. But I do my best to go back and watch things because I always want to improve my craft. And I am the kind of actor that if I can go back and watch something, even something from a long time ago, and I can look at my performance back then, I can say “I’m a better actor now, I can probably do that better”, but I can listen to what I was doing and say “You know, that was the best I could do then”. But you know what? People still come up to me and say they still liked that performance, so who am I to rain on their parade? If someone liked that performance, great! I can listen to it and go, “That’s the best I could do, that’s going to have to suffice.”
We’re incredibly grateful we got to gain such insight into the industry from Crispin Freeman! The man clearly has a true passion for the work. If you’re interested in hearing more, you can also check out his podcast, Voice Acting Mastery, in which he’ll give you tips on what you can do to break into the industry as well as interviews with other industry professionals!