‘I would say acquire a curiosity about your voice and other’s voices’
The Final Fantasy XIV voice actor cast is not only astoundingly large at this point, but it’s also impressive. The emotive and often dramatic storyline of Final Fantasy XIV is a huge draw, and those cast members help bring it all to life. I had the pleasure of sitting down with some of them to talk shop and see how everything is coming along.
One thing people often forget is that voice actors are actors: it’s in the name! So I wanted to kick off my time with the cast by asking them individually if they had any tips for breaking into the industry. It’s actually been a lifelong dream of mine to provide a voice for a character, and I’m sure a few of you reading this also share that same aspiration.
Bethan Walker, who plays Alisaie, has some sage advice to kick things off:
“Learn your craft, the craft of acting first, before you approach the technicalities of voice acting. Watch quality theatre, film and television as well as playing games. Listen to fellow voice actors as much as you possibly can and study what makes their work believable and moving. Learn about who makes work in this country and where. Support their work and make yourselves known to them. It’s a very long slow process but so worth it when you make a good contact and can start making quality work together. Social media is a powerful tool too, there is a lot to be learned by following the right people and supporting them.”
Walker also shed some light on how they approach their role as Alisaie, who has had a lot of meat to chew on in these past few years. I led by talking about how much range the character has and how that influences their performance:
“I agree there is a lot of range in this role, that is one of the reasons I love playing her so much. I think it just comes down to connecting with the truth in the scene. The script is such a gift to me as it is so expertly crafted that a lot of the work is done for me. I have to just play her truth and try my very best to deliver the most honest performance I possibly can. One recording session can see me having to perform her highest highs and lowest lows with little time in between, so preparation is key. I have to fully engage with the text and commit to the moment behind the mic both emotionally and physically. I’ve learned over the years that being polite and cautious in performance achieves nothing. If I engage by running, or emulating what Alisaie is doing whether that be fighting or laughing, just makes the whole performance come alive.”
Fan-favorite Colin Ryan, who voices the indomitable Alphinaud, had this to say on entering into the voice actor realm:
“I would say acquire a curiosity about your voice and other’s voices. Play and experiment with your voice as though it’s a musical instrument, have fun with it and explore what it can do, every facet of it. If you want a long lasting career I’d say look into some voice training if you haven’t already had any. The demands on voice actors, for video games especially, are becoming increasingly extreme and you’ll need to know how to take care of your voice to be safe in the studio. If formal training isn’t an option and I know how expensive it can be, there are loads of free resources online and on YouTube if you search for them. Getting yourself a voice reel together and sending it out to voice agents would probably be the next step. Good luck!”
They also had their mind blown when I told them that their performance would live on for years to come, given FFXIV‘s everlasting legacy, and the positive fan reaction surrounding Alphinaud:
“Wow, yes you’re right, my performance will outlast me *stares into space*. I’m constantly bowled over by the love that fans have for the game and for Alphinaud, I had no idea when I first signed up that it would have the impact it’s had. That’s definitely affected how I play the lines with the Warrior of Light; knowing you’re all out there loving the game and so invested in the story, I feel like I’m able to directly connect with everyone playing when I’m recording those lines. I think this latest expansion is probably the best one in terms of writing, it speaks so clearly to what’s happening in our own world right now, and there were quite a few moments where I was genuinely moved while recording it.”
Timothy Watson (Urianger) notes that it will take time to break through and to have patience:
“A voice-actor’s relationship with the mic, much like a film actor’s relationship with the camera, takes a while to develop! Listen to others, and listen to yourself. These days our smartphones are mini recording studios – so write, record, and listen. Delete. Repeat! Decide where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and be realistic about them. Don’t make wild claims about versatility that you’re not sure you can live up to – a wide range is great but equally, a notable signature voice can be a terrific selling point. Most importantly, remember – whether your script is one line or fifty pages long – that you are a story-teller.”
And they took the time to share their favorite scenes:
“Occasionally Urianger has an extended passage of prose where he describes events he’s experienced (or prophesied) ‘off-camera.’ I remember one such from Shadowbringers, to Thancred, I believe. His detailed and poetic style of delivery really comes into its own in these moments, and are particularly rewarding from a voice-actor’s perspective.”
Robyn Addison has been around for a long time voicing Y’shtola, and notes that outside experience can help:
“Based on my own experience, I think having a broad range of acting experience helps me to be a better voice actor. Working on stage and on TV has helped me to gain confidence in all areas of the industry and made me a better voice actor as a result. Listening to the voice actors/performances and thinking about what makes them good/why you like them also helps. Hearing a character you love in a video game or animation and thinking, oh I love what that actor did with that part can give you ideas when you are in the booth.”
Having fun when you can is one of the most important things to never lose sight of in any aspect of life. When asked if they ever feel pressure when voicing such a monumental character, Addison didn’t break a sweat:
“Perhaps naively I have never felt any pressure when I’m recording Y’shtola… Mainly because I have so much fun with her, I find it easy to enjoy the adventure!”
Peter Bramhill (Thancred) has some great practical advice, and frankly, their answer blew me away. I’m not sure I can like Thancred any more than I already do at this point!
“Hi, I’m so delighted that you’re interested in getting into the voice acting world and I hope I can give you a few tips that will be useful to help you on your way. Getting a voice over agent should be your goal eventually, someone who will be able to put you up for work and ‘get your voice out there.’ For this you are going to need a showreel that shows off your voice. Look up some of the big agencies online and listen to their clients showreels to give you an idea. However, there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself in the meantime. Firstly, practice as much as you can recording your voice. I know this sounds obvious but the more comfortable you get in front of a mic the better you’re going to be when you are trying to create a character. So, if you have got a mic at home (it doesn’t have to be expensive) you can learn a lot about how your voice sounds, it’s not always what you think!
And from there you will be able to think about what kind of characters or tone might suit you. A good starting trick for how far away you should be from the mic is to put your full hand span out, put your thumb tip to your lips and then put your little finger on the mic! Find out whether you prefer sitting or standing, for Thancred I have always found standing up gives me the best energy for him. But be careful of unwanted noises, like moving your arms too much or stamping your feet, this is especially irresistible during battle or action scenes! You’ll need to try and find a way of channelling that physical energy just into the voice. Try listening to some of your favourite games or animated films with your eyes closed, or radio plays, audio books and even radio adverts can be a great source for hearing how people find different ways of communicating emotion or action just with the voice. Take some time to understand how volume works, for example with Thancred he can have some very wistful interior monologue moments coupled with some extreme battle cries and everything in-between, learn how to control the projection of your voice to give the illusion of talking to someone far away or even to be just talking to yourself.
And beware of the dreaded ‘popping p sound,’ you’ll find out! Some more fun tips would be, remember to avoid noisy jewellery and watches, try not to wear zips or loud materials, no squeaky sneakers please, take that change and those keys out of your pockets, oh and always have an apple or two nearby: they are my go-to for a clear palate, just sink your teeth in and suck, don’t take a bite, they are the best thing for avoiding the dreaded ‘clacking’ sound, especially in long voice sessions. When I finish a few hours of Thancred I’m always surrounded by a couple of tooth pierced apples! Finally, I want to wish you all the luck in the world in becoming a voice actor, be tenacious, stay positive, stay focused and you’ll get there, remember there’s only one voice like yours in the world. I look forward to hearing your character through my headphones in a future voice booth, who knows, you might just be Thancred’s new friend or even his Foe, for your sake I hope it’s not the latter!”
Seriously, I hope this helps even one person get a VA gig one day: “have a couple of tooth pierced apples nearby” is in the running for “best advice of 2021.” They also gave me an equally robust answer when I asked if the look of the character informed any part of their performance (Thancred is stylish after all!):
“What a great question, in the case of Thancred, I’d say his appearance definitely plays a part in the performance. For instance, when I came on board in ‘Heavensward,’ I was presented with a drawing of Thancred’s new render which proved to be a very helpful piece of the jigsaw when it came to finding his voice. Without a visual reference, you could assume that he was not such a charismatic and good-looking presence and therefore his pithy quips to the ladies could have taken on a more ironic or slightly needy tone, rather than his surefooted, smooth, throw away delivery which can be so much fun to play. My initial reaction when I first saw Thancred was that he was an irresistible mix of a stylish yet roguish warrior, someone who looked like they’ve evolved their look over many years and experiences and ended up with something with both personality and practicality.
The credit for this has to go to the artists and designers of the show who’ve done an incredible job. Other helpful visuals are when you can see the way he is going to move in a scene you are voicing, this is not always possible when we are recording as sometimes the graphics are not completed enough for viewing, but on those occasions, just seeing how Thancred moves and holds himself can really inform the delivery of those lines. It’s also a great visual key for getting back into character, as I usually have a few months away from him between recordings. The bottom line is, it’s a treat to be able to have such a charismatic avatar to reference, plus I’ve always wanted a tattoo!”
Robert Vernon, who brings Estinien to life, had a really interesting response that reminds me a lot of my own outside experiences with the industry. For me, Soul Reaver was equally enchanting:
“When I first started playing games, there was no voice acting in them. I remember loving the performances in Soul Reaver when that came out, and did think that would be an amazing thing to do. I guess my advice would simply be to listen to as much output as possible. Listen to people with similar voices. Listen to yourself back. Critique. Tweak. If someone is still then serious about it, get a professional reel made and get it out there. It took me a year of trying to get a voice agent before I finally did.”
Like Addison, they try not to feel the pressure of voicing a big character:
“I tend not to think about the pressure of it with voiceover, as there is so little time, so you have to stay very focused on the intentions and objectives being fed to you by the creative team. If you were feeling the pressure in the recording session, it would start to filter through in the voice. So you channel it and put it to use where appropriate. It is a lot of fun though!”
Gemma Lawrence (Krile) agrees that practice makes perfect, and gives us a great piece of advice to cap things off!
“I really love it. I would recommend really immersing yourself in all the different audio mediums, whether it be audio drama, video games, animation etc. They all require slightly different skill sets and styles, and the best way to familiarise yourself with it is by listening, listening, listening!”