This month I sat down for a virtual coffee with the brilliant Adrian Townsend to find out what connects Eric Clapton, Baldur’s Gate III and Patrick Stewart (spoiler alert…it’s him!)
MAKING AND BREAKING RECORDS Adrian found his way into the voiceover world much the same way I did…through music. His love of music and song writing led him to undertake a Musical Technology and Popular Music degree. However, it was in his final year, when studying a module on sound for TV, that he discovered he had ‘a natural flair’ for sound effects editing and mixing. Once out of university, he fell further in love with the industry at ‘his first proper job recording voiceovers for a localisation company’.
Fast forward to today, and Adrian explains that along with editing and mixing, most of his work now comes through voice direction for gaming, after he stumbled into directing when ‘freelancing for Pitstop Productions as a recording engineer.’ The project he was brought in to work on ‘got very big, very quickly’ and Adrian found himself being asked if he could ‘do some direction, as we needed more studio capacity’, he explains; ‘I loved it and have never turned back’. His career so far has seen him voice direct stellar titles such as Jagged Alliance 3 and Dead Island 2.
Although Adrian didn’t end up making records, the projects he has brought to life have broken them! The very first game Adrian worked on was the critically acclaimed Divinity Original Sin II and for the last four and half years Adrian has been directing on another universally acclaimed project – Baldur’s Gate III, both by Larian Studios. The record-smashing RPG has been ‘been a huge part of my life and I’ve learned so much working on it’, Adrian tells me. However, creating the game wasn’t without its challenges, as the Covid-19 pandemic occurred during its development. Thankfully the gaming industry ‘didn’t skip a beat’ he recounts, ‘we were like right, who has home studios? Then we started getting those [actors] in for the simpler sessions…we were recording spells, emotes and any lines that didn’t require mocap remotely - just simple things to try to keep smashing through content until restrictions were eased’.
A NEW LANDSCAPE
The pandemic brought about new ways of working in every industry, particularly for voice actors who often work remotely from home studios. I wondered if the same remote working opportunities existed for engineers and directors too, or if it remained a case of location, location, location.
‘For engineering, there is an opportunity [for remote working]’ Adrian suggests and shares details about projects in which he has recorded and directed voices remotely. ‘However, you do need that experience [in-studio] to be established’. When it comes to directing, ‘you can absolutely join in on a Zoom or Teams call and everyone is a lot savvier and more comfortable with that technology’.
To be (in the room) or not to be (in the room) is the question on everyone’s lips and so I wanted to know Adrian’s thoughts on remote versus in studio sessions. He explains that although it can feel ‘slightly more relaxed working from [his] home studio, nothing can quite beat being in the studio with the actor and building that face-to-face rapport’. Being in the room allows you ‘to bounce off each other’s energy and [the director] can really get to know the actor’. In a sentiment shared by many actors, Adrian expresses that he doesn’t see that ‘ever being replaced’.
Not only this but when directing remotely, ‘sometimes the technology can get in the way’ he explains. At times ‘vocal direction might actually be a physical note and it’s nice to be able to show that through the glass, it makes things so much easier. It could be something as simple as saying “do that line again but smile” and you can hear that smile in the voice…if I told you to puff up your chest, you’d know it’s a proud moment’.
THE MAGIC OF PLAY Adrian’s love of music hasn’t fallen by the wayside; not only does he pick up his guitar now and then and knock out a few Eric Clapton numbers, but his passion for music continues to influence the way he works today. ‘I’ve come from engineering, so I have a more musical ear when it comes to sessions…as well as contextual and emotional, a lot of my direction will be the timbre or pacing - ultimately if the delivery is too slow for a gamer they are going to skip [the dialogue]’
Much like a group of musicians jamming together, Adrian’s sessions are ‘all about collaboration’ and facilitating a ‘really creative space’ where the actor needn’t feel as though they ‘have to listen strictly and obey’. He’s always open to ‘the actor having input on something [because] we are creating a character’ he explains, ‘it’s not just what I’ve got in my head…it’s what the writer has written and what the actor can bring to the session as well’. It's in those moments of creative collaboration, when work and play come together that ‘the magic happens’. Adrian wants the actors he works with to ‘have fun in the sessions as well [because] a lot of the gold that happens in video game lines is something a little out of the ordinary… something adlibbed or said in a slightly weird way…[those] become the memorable lines that stick in gamer’s heads.’
LANGUAGE BARRIERS The job of a voice director is also one of translation, of finding the right ‘language and points of reference to get the exact delivery you are looking for’. A voice director is tasked with understanding both the writer’s vision, as well as the mindset of the actor standing in front of them. Adrian tells me that his ability to find the language that will best resonate with an actor is ‘one of the way’s [he’s] evolved as a director’.
Adrian’s sessions ‘vary depending on who the actor is and how well [he] knows them and their background…people like to work in different ways which means they might be more susceptible to different types of direction and language.’ He explains that in order to breathe life into a character, some actors ‘need to know the exact reason why they are saying a line, what kind of scene they are standing in’ whereas others may, ‘just want to know if it’s projected or not’.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask Adrian my favourite question to ask producers and directors with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working: If you could direct anyone, living or dead, who would you choose? Adrian replies: ‘Patrick Stewart – I’ve met him, he was the chancellor of my university, and he was lovely… he’d be a lot of fun to work with and that gravitas in his voice!’. When I asked what kind of character, he’d want to cast him as, Adrian warmly says, ‘something silly, something really comical because he has great comic timing as well...so something cartoony where we could have a good laugh’.
It was great chatting with Adrian and learning more about the life of a voice director. If you want to find out more about Adrian and his work, you can check out his website here: www.AdrianAudio.com
Let me know who you’d like to hear from next!