AUDIO SPECIAL: Managing a monster

AUDIO SPECIAL: Managing a monster

By Sini Downing

May 31st 2012 at 3:16PM

Sini Downing offers advice on handling the logistics of voice production for MMOs

With script sizes for MMO's and large RPGs now often running into the hundreds of thousands of words, where do you start to efficiently run and track voice production for these projects whilst still delivering engaging, believable performances?
 
Over the last few years Side has worked on a number of projects with some pretty enormous scripts including Fable III, Dragon Age 2, The Witcher 2, and the big daddy of them all, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

So here are a few tips to help make the process easier.

PEOPLE POWER

Let’s start with the people. Just as we have a dedicated production manager working on each project, it is essential that there is one point of contact from the developer’s side as well. This might be the producer or a member of the audio department, but it needs to be one person who can communicate all of the dev team’s needs to the voice production team and vice versa.

Next, some sense of scale: the script for Fable III contained about 460,000 words; or over 45 hours of recorded speech. Compare that to 25,000 words in a typical feature film script and you get some idea of the size of these games. The traditional method of just printing out the whole script for each actor isn’t going to work. They are just too big. So how do you provide the actor enough information to make sense of each line without overwhelming them?

We’ve come up with some great tools that can make the voice production run smoothly and get great performances from the actors, but they require a script from the dev team that contains the basics: the lines, filenames, consistency in character names, and context. There must also be some way to keep track of lines as they get added, changed, or deleted.

An easy way is to give each line a unique ID – usually numerical – which is never overwritten. That way if a line is changed but retains the same filename as the old one there’s no confusion during recording or post production.

But great performances aren’t contained in spreadsheet cells. While it can be tempting to format scripts into reams of individual lines per character, the performers need to see the full scene, have context and a way to find their lines easily, whether that’s with highlighting or putting their lines in bold font. Along with bespoke scripts for the actors, it’s useful to provide the director with enough information to not only guide the actors, but also help manage the recording session. Using a script tool which can jump to the character’s next line will ensure no lines are skipped and an automatic progress report can help the director judge how they’re doing time-wise in session. Providing a script with hyperlinks also allows the director to trigger recorded feeder lines for the actor in the booth, creating a more natural flow to the dialogue.

FIRST PASS THE POST

Of course, all these scripts create a lot of files to be processed by post production. There needs to be a way to pass files from studio to post and back to the dev team in an efficient manner. For The Old Republic, the original script format arrived actor-friendly, but we created tools to compile recorded scripts and put them into a single one that was formatted for post, thus avoiding the editors having to chase down many individual scripts.

Along with the monster scripts come massive character lists; The Old Republic had over 50 British actors on board (out of a total cast of 200), Witcher 2 had over 40 and with Fable III we had 80 actors including Sir Ben Kingsley, John Cleese and Michael Fassbender. While some of this talent may provide a singular key figure in the story, many of the actors will voice numerous characters. And with recordings taking place over months or even years, it’s important we help the actors get back into the right voice each time they come in for a session. Always have files of the previous recording on hand for the actor to listen to and find the match before you get going.

These well-managed monsters aren’t going unnoticed. Witcher 2 has won over 60 awards globally and The Old Republic holds the 2012 Guinness World Record for most voice acting in an entertainment project.

With good script preparation and tools you too can be ready to tackle the next beast on its way in.
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