The Voices in “Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror”

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Poltergeist Voices

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Blog Post by: Naila Burney

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Cries of panic, screams of terror, a few HMMs, and few other AHAs; magic spells, nonsensical gibberish and torn noises of small frightened dogs. These are just a few of the expressions you’ll find in Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror. How was the process of recording all these voices?

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First and foremost, a bit of context

Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror is a puzzle video game and a Square Enix Award Winner by Colombian developer GLITCHY PIXEL. The game has already been released on Steam and Play Station Vita. This was the first project in which we worked as BURNIS; my brother Tariq did the music and I did the sound design.

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Casting

The first step was to find the right voices. Radio and television narrators usually charge a lot of money for each recording, and although they might have years of experience, it does not necessarily mean they will be able to make the appropriate vocal expressions for a game. I’ve noticed that in most cases, these TV announcers have a very distinct advertisement style, and it is very difficult for them to express themselves in a different one. Sometimes it is better to hire an actor/actress, singer, or even someone who has nothing to do with this, but with no marked styles and a super attitude that will allow him or her to get deep into the role of the character. Thus, we decided to post on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that we were looking for someone super expressive and extroverted. Almost immediately, Ana Maria (Poltergeist’s voice star) appeared.

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Script and Gibberish

We decided Ana Maria Gonzalez (a graphic designer that works with a makeup brand, and has no experience working with voice) would do the voice of the generic woman, the witch, and the gypsy; all of them completely different. This is not easy to achieve, and more so when there is no kind of script and you can’t use words, just short cries, long screams, nervous expressions of surprise, some gibberish, and expressions like “uh” and “hmm”.

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Fortunately when I did my masters thesis on creating fictional languages for creatures and aliens I had to buy Ben Burt’s book: “Star Wars: The Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide” which served me well as inspiration. “Jee oto ta Huttuk koga“, “yo ho Chesko kimbabaloomba“, “La pim so bata le wompa” -these and many other phrases of Star Wars’ characters helped us to practice and begin to “loosen up”.

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starwars

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Voice Direction and Recording

I directed and guided Ana Maria as to how much she had to exaggerate and whether she had to add tone changes, heavy breathing, long or short phrasing, etc. It turns out that for these voices it is critical to exaggerate as in theater, because otherwise they won’t seem credible. Many movies are not credible precisely because the dubbing sounds fake. In games, where there is no linear narrative and recording is done out of context, the person who does the voice must literally forget about his/her existence and become that little character screaming of panic in a haunted mansion. Many people get a little self-conscious when recording in front of a microphone and a sound engineer and it is not easy to achieve spontaneity. Usually the first shots are not so good and it is necessary to try quite a few while the person relaxes a bit and feels more confident with the character. You should be cautious with this “warm up” because voices can get worn out and tired.

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It took us around an hour an a half per character (we recorded on different days).

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In order to do the witch spells, I used the Lorem Ipsum texts as inspiration and wrote: “Maurus, Nacrus, Sanctum, Sailum, Sactor!” Believe me … this took time! The character is a tiny witch in pixel art that only opens and closes her mouth (like all the other characters) and I had to find something cooler for her to say than “aaa, aaa, aaa”.

It is important to write the texts even if you’ll use gibberish or invented languages because otherwise the voice actors won’t know what to say. They can be used as inspiration at first and then the actor/actress can leave aside the “script” and improvise a little.

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For the gypsy, I searched videos of flamenco Spanish singers to get some inspiration.

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The result was pretty cool:

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Editing and processes

After recording, came the stage of editing and post-production: selecting the best shots, re-combining some screams, equalizing all voices to eliminate unwanted noise and adding a bit of compression. I had three characters with the same voice, so I lowered the gypsy’s pitch and increased the witch’s. I used a plugin called Air TalkBox for the witch to make the voice more nasal. The generic woman was left with her natural tone and timbre. Finally I did some batch processing in Audition to have all voices at the same level.

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Equipment:

I always try to record vocals with a good condenser microphone; this is the main thing. However, note that as most sounds were screams, it was particularly challenging to record without getting a saturated signal. We had to find the right spot to capture the sound, because usually we want the voices to have presence, but no distortion, and if the person is far away from the microphone you’ll feel the room in the recording and the voice will be heard from far away… kind of tricky.

- Rode NT1 Condenser Microphone – A
- Audio Interface Focusrite Saffire Pro 40
- Pop Stopper
- Software: ProTools and Audition
- Plug ins: Waves Bundle
- Studio: my room :P

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Other Characters

I conducted a similar process for the other characters. For male voices I had to do several tests with different people, as Ana Maria had already established a very high standard. Finally I chose Andrés Felipe Lopez (monk, priest and spectrum), David Torres (generic man, Morris, and The Boss) and Ivan Cáceres (the magician). Everyone did an excellent job and managed to transform themselves into Poltergeist’s characters. Because of time issues, I decided to record my own voice for Nicolek. Fortunately, as I recorded and directed all the other voices I already had clear what I wanted … I might even consider getting more into this voice acting thing :)

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The Dog

I used some dog cries I recorded in the Amazon last year. I was in Puerto Nariño, there was a terrible flood, and there was a tiny and ugly dog under a roof. When I went to keep myself away from the rain, next to the dog, the puppy started screaming in panic as if he’d seen a ghost. I recorded the puppy but all the rain was left in the background. I had to apply some EQ and noise reducers to remove it, though much of the material could not be rescued.

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General Reception

Overall I am very happy with the result because although this was a low budget game, we worked hard to obtain quality work and the voices have not gone unnoticed. There are several comments out there on the internet that refer to them positively, which is very rewarding.

Captura de pantalla 2014-10-21 a las 15.13.22

A comment on Steam

 

Captura de pantalla 2014-10-25 a las 00.26.04

Game Ramble Review
http://gameramble.com/Poltergeist-A-Pixelated-Horror

Captura de pantalla 2014-10-23 a las 18.55.53

IGM Comment
http://bit.ly/1tJrBXP

Game Ramble Review

Game Ramble Review
http://gameramble.com/Poltergeist-A-Pixelated-Horror

 

 

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