Hollywood Sound Effects & Voice Over Specialist lends his talents
to video games
From Hollywood to Silicon Valley, Bill Black has helped cast and
direct some of the best voice actors in video games. GameZone Online talks with
Bill about his projects, his work as a director, what he looks for in a voice
actor and more.
Delta Force Black Hawk Down.
Neverwinter Nights. Kessen II. Ultimate Ride. The Weakest Link. What do all
of these games have in common? Their sound quality has been greatly influenced
by Bill Black, a sound effects and voice over specialist.
For Black Hawk Down, Bill was in
charge of deciding which voice actors would be used in the game. He was also
the editor for the dialogue, making sure that everything blended nicely
He had similar duties for
Neverwinter Nights, and in addition to working as the associate producer of
Kessen II, he also did the voice actor editing, script preparation, managed
pre-production and handled the localization from Japanese to English. Bill
Black designed Ultimate Ride’s sound effects, and helped localize The Weakest
Link from British to
With so many big games under his
belt, GameZone Online was thrilled to have the unique opportunity to interview
What do you
look for in voice actors? Are there any particular acting styles, traits, etc.,
that tend to achieve better results than others?
I go for actors with animation and lip synch experience. Like actors that do
Japanese anime dubs. These guys have great characters in their head.
How does the
auditioning process work?
I am very particular about that. I raid the developer for all the character info
I can get. I create a sample script that covers the range of emotions for each
character. I do a pre-casting session going over this with Doug Stone, an
actor/director I have worked with for years. We select from actors we have
worked with in the past mixed with any new actors we wish to try out. We can
have from 3-6 actors read for the part. Then I make a CD with all the
characters as wave files. Everyone puts their heads together and we cast the
Was it hard to find the necessary
voice talent for games like Neverwinter Nights?
That was a real challenge. There were so many dialects. Doug Stone and I worked
on the American voices and we brought in a
British actress Jean Gilpin to
line up auditions for the
British talent. The cast
was enormous and I can’t recall how many people we auditioned but it took 3
On average, how much time will an
actor spend recording his or her voice for a game?
That depends on the size of the part. I have gone from 30 minutes to one week on
Is it difficult
to translate Japanese into English without losing any of the story’s impact?
(Lots of Japanese words and sayings have different meanings in English and vice
It has been my experience that when localizing a game is to first translate.
Then from that point the script needs to be refined to make it work for the
respective culture and dialect. An example would be when I was recording I-76 in
German. The director adapted a line this way. In English you run over a bad guy
the character says “Road kill.” Direct translations didn’t work in German, not
funny. They changed it to “Strassenpizza”: Street pizza. Now it’s funny. This is
the type of analysis that is needed to make a game work.
Now when you are doing
localization, for example, taking a game from Japanese to English, you add in
the lip sync factor and then you best know some great sync writers and sync
actors…which I of course do!
effects that you provided for the Return to Castle Wolfenstein E3 Trailer – were
they generated using a PC, or were any of the sounds captured from real life?
The E3 trailer was a two-part theme. The intro SFX were about creating the
anticipation and fear of dreaded third Reich. I put in a real Hitler speech to
give it real authenticity. Then the music takes over. Later I come back with
hard hitting impacts for the Activision and Grey Matter logos and other credits.
That was good fun.
How soon do you
begin working on a game’s sound? Do you work on the sound throughout each game’s
development, or do you start working on it after the title begins to take shape?
When I get involved in a game for voice over I am really looking at getting
character descriptions, I try to see what is done so far to get an idea of the
scenes and characters. I look at script and get into pre-casting.
As for sound effects I want to get
a copy and start to play the game, I want cut scenes, stills, anything visual to
start plugging in ideas. With creature sound effects I really rely on screen
creature of the sprite movements.
The developer often has
placeholders in already as a starting point. The challenge is try to stay
Is there a major difference between directing actors in a live action movie
and directing voice actors for a game or an animated feature?
Yes, substantially. On camera is usually a movie. You are telling a linear
story, you have make-up props, lighting, floor makers and a litany of other
elements. You are spending days on one scene capturing it from different angles.
A game isn’t always linear; the
actor does not have the other actor to play off of. With voice you have none of
that. You just close your eyes and listen to the voice, you manipulate the
actor, create an illusion, a character that for the moment has nothing other
than it’s naked voice to create this imaginary character. This is the true craft
and challenge of voice acting. When well cast and well acted it really creates
Are actors ever
allowed or encouraged to improvise a little bit, or must they always stick to
Both really, we often improvise and come up with some good lines; we also
diligently stick to the script because in addition to telling a story our
character often gives specific instructions to the player.
How do you design the sound effects for a game? Do you use the same
techniques as a Foley artist?
Not really. A Foley artist is watching a motion picture and making the human
sounds, clothing rustle, footsteps etc. This is a linear process.
In a game you are generally
creating a list of sound assets based on the action. Games are repetitive and
non-linear. By that I mean you will hear the same explosion 50 times. Except for
pre-rendered cut-scenes the sounds are attached to actions. So you are faced
with making weapons, ambient environments, button and switches with many
alternates to keep it interesting and on the edge.
I do go into the studio to create
source material for sound effects. I also will bring in voice actors to create
source material for creature sounds.
Is it difficult trying to edit
dialogue for a game in more than one language?
Not in general but the challenge for me is when the language does not use a
western alphabet such as Arabic or Korean. That can be tricky. If I have
recorded it then I have a system that really makes it easy.
have you had the most fun working on?
I love games in general. I really liked Fighter Squadron – The Screamin’ Demons
Over Europe and Call To Power II. Galerians was really fun because I had already
played the game before I did the localization. Delta Force: Black Hawk Down was
a blast as well.
Did you get to meet Anne Robinson while doing the localization for The
The producer Stephanie O’Malley, who I have worked with for years, shot Anne’s
parts at the TV studio, and I was ok with that because Anne can be scary.
Can you reveal any details about
your next project(s)?
I could tell ya but then I’d have to kill ya. It is a competitive business and I
have to sign non-disclosure agreements. All I can tell you is I have military
style shooter game coming up and I did some of the creatures for another title.
I imagine they will be out by Christmas although I am not certain.
I’ll keep an eye out for those
Thank you Bill for such an
Bill’s official site can be found