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Voice Recognition – An interview with Dave Fennoy

November 5th, 2012 by

If you’ve recently been enjoying Telltales awesome The Walking Dead  episodes (review here) then you’ll be quite familiar with the awesome vocal talents of David Fennoy, but chances are you’ve come across his work previously

A veteran of video game voice acting ,he has appeared in some of the biggest games in recent years,his CV reads like a greatest hits of games franchises. From Bayonetta, Fallout: New Vegas and DOA, to Starcraft, Metal Gear Solid and Mass Effect, he has appeared in them all. As well as being an established voice actor in multiple animated series like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Ben 10

 

We were lucky enough to be able to share a few words with the man with possibly the coolest voice in gaming, about his career to date and games in general.

Hi Dave, thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Midlife Gamer. First of all, could you tell us a little about yourself, your background and how you got into voice acting?

I was a disc jockey in the San Francisco bay area when I first discovered and became interested in VO. After creating a really bad demo, Joan Spangler, an agent in San Fran saw some talent beyond the too long badly produced demo and signed me. I booked my first audition, a spot for the California Lottery, but after quick success things slowed to a near halt… about one job every month or so. Then a VO pal who started about the same time I did and was booking with about the same frequency started booking much more often. I asked him his secret and he told me he had started taking VO classes with a transplanted LA voice talent named Samantha Paris. I took some classes with her, including a weekend workshop taught by her LA agent Leigh Gilbert, who invited me to sign with her agency and come to LA. At the time I was the morning maniac at the top music station in town, KSOL, so I figured LA could wait. That was fall 1989. In February 1990 the radio station fired me, and most of the disc jockeys. Suddenly, I was on my way to LA. Never did write to thank that station. Once in LA, things happened pretty fast and I soon found myself voicing commercials, TV promos, and cartoons. One of my first jobs, winter of 1990, was as the voice of RoboCop in the telephonic RoboCop game. It was my first game voice job.

Most of our readers will know you from your recent work as lee Everett in Telltales awesome The Walking Dead game, but it’s fair to say you have a quite a pedigree when it comes to video game voice work, with your CV boasting such popular franchises as Metal Gear Solid, Saints Row, Mass Effect, The Elder scrolls and Fallout. What is it that attracts you to a Videogame role, especially when some voice actors shy away from video games entirely?

What I like about video games is playing great characters. Like most other VO actors, I am sent auditions and do my best to create the right voice, for sometimes several roles. An example is DOTA where I play 5 characters. (See if you can figure out which ones… shouldn’t be too hard.) Game voice work in general is similar to animation work in that your characters are very animated, but instead of recording as an ensemble, you record your parts alone and there is usually a lot of shouting during battles and such, which can damage your voice if done incorrectly, the main reason many voice actors shy away from game work.

Voice acting is obviously different from more traditional forms of acting, but just how difficult is it to carry a performance with your voice alone, and without the use of wardrobe and body language?

Acting is acting, but you are right, costumes and sets really can help make you look the part on stage or on camera. On the other hand, I guess your voice coming out of a bulging muscled flying super guy who breaths fire helps sell your VO to. What I’m saying is that the process is very much the same… who are you, what do you want, what are you hiding, what do care about as the character, etc… all the questions that you have to answer for yourself as an actor to know how to play a character whether on camera or in front of the mic.

Do you play games yourself?

Though I love portraying characters on games and I love the game fans, I am not a gamer myself.

How much insight do you get into a character in advance? Do you get access to early artwork/gameplay? And how much creative input are you generally allowed when voicing characters?

Generally, I see artwork and learn character backstory while auditioning for a part. Once on the job it’s generally just fine-tuning and maybe learning certain motivations for the character’s dialog. Usually there is not much to change in a script but I will add grunts, breaths, and other non-verbals to make a character more real. On the Walking Dead I sometimes change a line to make the meaning more clear or because I thought the wording wasn’t how Lee would say something. The WD scripts however were very well written and needed little adjustment.

In The Walking Dead, your character Lee’s reactions and responses can vary widely, depending on how the player chooses to play him. What kind of challenges does that present compared with more “defined” characters? And how do you manage to keep the performance flowing and not appear disjointed?

Real people react to even the same circumstances differently for any number of reasons. Sometimes, you just don’t feel good, or you’re insecure about something, or wake up feeling great, or you got some bad news. (It) could be anything. Lee is a very real person to me. A good guy, but not perfect. He wants to do the right thing and sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be a good decision to be made. Most of all he wants to make sure Clementine is protected. All other considerations become secondary. Lee Everett is the most 3 dimensional character I’ve ever voiced for a game. (He’s) an absolute joy to voice.

With most traditional voice work being done alone in the studio, how do you feel about the rise of full motion capture performance, as used in the Uncharted series? Could it limit actors in your field like when Sucker Punch switched actors for InFamous 2 in favour of an actor who could do full mo-cap.

I’ve done very little motion cap. I would love to do more. Yes, I think MC could limit some voice actors work. Perhaps you’re the wrong body type. Maybe they need an old fat guy and you just look too good. I think that must be why I don’t get more MC… I just look too good… or maybe it’s the hair! Seriously, most parts of boys in games and animation are done by women… tough to motion cap the body of a grown woman for that of a boy, so yes, some voice actors who don’t match the desired body type may lose some work.

Although all your performances thus far have been pretty unique, do you worry about your voice becoming too recognisable and possibly detracting from future performances, or do you take steps to counter that?

Do you get tired of seeing your favourite actors in different parts? I didn’t think so. I’ll just keep doing good work and trust that I’ll keep working. (You couldn’t see my crossed fingers could you?)

There are many examples of games where the voice acting really does add to the whole experience, yet most gamers wouldn’t recognise the actors involved in the street. Do you feel that voice actors like yourself get the recognition they deserve?

We are beginning to get more recognition. The game biz pulls in more money than movies and the fans are interested in the voices on their favourite games. We do not however get paid the way TV and movie actors do. No back in deals or percentage of gross. The more recognized we become, however, the more I think that will change.

Many developers lately seem to be spending large chunks of their budget on big name movie/TV actors voicing characters in games, and often the results don’t stand up to the same quality of professional voice actors, with some performances seemingly phoned in, how do you feel about this trend?

Celebrity voiceovers are a pet peeve of mine, and not just me. Many voice actors are annoyed with the number of celebrities voicing animated films, commercials, and now games. Our culture is infatuated with the idea of celebrity. We even create celebrities out of so called “reality show people”. Honey Boo Boo is now a celebrity. Scary. And what is Kim Kardashian famous for other than being famous. Ok, there was that video. The assumption is that if a celebrity is involved more people will buy the product. Very often that’s true, but if the celeb doesn’t take the work as seriously as we VO actors do, the product will suffer. That said, complaint made, there are some very good celebrity voice artist.

What has been your favourite character to voice so far?

Without a doubt, Lee Everett is my favourite. I also love playing Gabriel Tosh on Starcraft. Batrider on DOTA is a gas. (oops, just gave one away). Frankly, I don’t think there’s a character that I’ve played that I didn’t enjoy.

What does the future hold for Dave Fennoy?

I trust there will be more of what I’ve been doing. Continuing as the voice of Hulu, doing promos for various TV stations and cable networks, narrating shows for Nat Geo, Discovery, and Science Channels, voicing cartoon characters and of course being the voice of some of the world’s favourite game characters. That, and win the hundred million dollar lottery and discover Halle Berry is my stalker. OK, so only the 1st part is doable!

And finally, As is tradition here at Midlife Gamer, I have to ask what is your favourite biscuit and beverage?

I’m addicted to Trader Joes Gingeroos and they go down great with a good cup of coffee or a glass of cold milk. Hmmmm. I could do a gingeroo or two right now!

Midlife Gamer would like to thank David for taking the time to talk to us.

You can keep up to date with Dave’s work on his TwitterFacebook or check out his personal website http://davefennoy.com/

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