Gettin’ Geeky With Voice Actor Matthew Mercer

Get ready to get geeky. In this interview, voice actor Matthew Mercer gives us an in-depth look at his voice-acting career in cartoon, anime,video games, and motion capture, along with what we can expect to find behind the sound booth. Could an American cartoon survive if voiced as a Japanese video game? Find out!


I really enjoy your performance in Tales of Xillia for PS3, you add a depth to your character Alvin that’s just so crucial. How do you decide where to place the inflections in your voice during your line delivery? I know you don’t always get the lines in advance, so did you have any prior knowledge of what his full character arc would be?


Deciding where to place inflection is just one element of performance that comes naturally through training and understanding language. Studying conversation, emphasis, and intonation are all very important basics in understanding and interpreting dialogue. It’s not usually a conscious decision, more like an instinct acquired through practice. As for character knowledge in advance, you don’t get too much information in general. Usually at the top of a session, the director and producer(s) will give you as much information as they can to help you understand the character and their quirks, their drives, their goals, and their flaws. If it’s a pre-existing project (i.e. released in Japan already), a little online research also helps.


 Voice acting requires more than just “feeling emotion”. There’s a technical aspect that most non-voice actors aren’t aware of. How do you create the voices of various characters?


A lot of it is proper breathing and mic technique. Learning to control the urge to move your head and body too much (movements that come natural when your character would do so) can be tough, but is important to harness. Knowing where the natural breath beats would be in a dialogue bit is tremendous. As far as voice creation, that’s something you expand through practice. Being that crazy person in their car talking to him/herself… that’s the time you utilize to play with voice tone, texture, and personality. When you become comfortable with that, you can begin to apply those strange voices and persona’s in the audition/booth.


Does the fact that the gamer has the option to skip line delivery while still remaining somewhat invested in the game (unlike live television where they can’t skip scenes they haven’t yet seen) effect your performance?


I wouldn’t say it effects my performance, though it can make me feel a little sad, haha. Naw, each gamer is different, and some folks aren’t in it for the story as much as they are for the kills, levels, upgrades, boss fights, etc… my goal is to deliver a performance enticing and alluring enough that the players find themselves unable to skip the scene!


 When working with video games, is there a key element that stands out in your mind that you know immediately distinguishes it from doing voice work for a cartoon/anime series? If any, what are the differences?


Largely, video games and interactive content records in a singular environment. It isn’t cost effective to have a cast recording when there is SO much dialogue to record and multiple possible story trees the player can follow based on their choices. Thus, it’s mostly the actor, alone in the booth, recording all of their lines back to back for upwards of 4 hours straight per session. Often, these lines are not recorded chronologically either, so that’s always a curious challenge. Animation is nearly always recorded chronologically, and in most pre-lay animation, the main cast will record together in the booth.


Do you think an American cartoon could survive voiced entirely as if it were a Japanese video game already having been translated into English? Why or why not?


If you mean all of the dialogue being recorded as ADR to existing animations, then yes! The process can be frustrating in that case, and the actor is locked to a pre-existing performance pace and delivery, but it’s certainly doable. The final product might not be as believable or achieve maximum quality, though.

Motion capture is similar to theatre in that your acting performance will be taken in by an audience, however, what subtle distinctions are there between the two? Do you have to be more/less dramatic with your facial and bodily movements?


Mocap is indeed very much like theatre! It’s a fine line between film (breaking chronology, scene-by-scene repetition, etc) and theatre (rehearsals, minimal set/costume, etc). Mocap taps into the same part of your imagination you used when you played in your front yard as a kid. Depending on the character, facial movements might require slight exaggeration, but thankfully most modern mocap tech is able to capture even the subtlest of movements and facial twitches. It might not start comfortable, being in a tight Velcro suit covered in shiny balls with a camera strapped to your head, but once you get used to it, it’s a very freeing experience for an actor.


 When recording a scene for video games, does the process take longer or shorter than with cartoon/anime ?


The formats are so different, it’s hard to make a comparison. Video games, depending on the character, can take only an hour to record… to 12+ 4 hour sessions, and those sessions are primarily just YOU going non-stop the entire time. Mocap generally take setup, rehearsals, blocking, sometimes stunts… and that itself can take MANY weeks. Cartoons, however, can only take about 2-3 hours per episode to record in a group, depending on how recurring your character(s) are. Soooooo many variables, hehe.


 In a past interview, you said that normally during video game production you’re in a booth alone, and for cartoons you’re more likely to be with more of the cast members. How does that affect your performance in both mediums?


When you are recording with a cast, it feels like a radio play. You get to play off each other’s delivery and energy, you get to workshop your performances in a collaborative manner… and this generally leads to a more natural sound and conversational flow in the final product. Recording solo is a challenge in that you attempt to achieve that same sense of natural conversation WITHOUT the other side of the equation (the other people). Thus, it can be a lot more technical when recording for interactive projects.


 Does it make a difference in your performance knowing that the standard fighting sounds you record for game play will need to be re-used multiples times, whereas in cartoons/anime you are not constricted in this way?


I wouldn’t say it necessarily alters my performance… it just means that most projects want a LARGE variety of fight sounds! Standard packages are 3-5 types of attack noises for Light attacks, Medium attacks, then Heavy attacks… followed by the same amount of sounds for Light, Medium, and Heavy damage received. Then you have jump sounds, stunned groans, jumping sounds, special attack cries, being on fire, being electrocuted, falling off a cliff, etc. In cartoons and anime, these sounds are singular and situationally called for, so definitely less strenuous in the moment.

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Be sure to follow Matthew on Twitter to stay up to date with his latest projects and gaming news!



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