We're always want to champion local talent who work in the film industry, and today we're focussing in on the great work of Ian Champion, actor and voice over artist. We talk with Ian about this niche but fascinating world of providing voice over work for the film and games industry.
Q1: Voice over work may feel a bit niche in the industry, what was it that made you realise you had a skill in the field and wanted to go further into it?
I'd always been told I had a very distinctive voice as a kind of trademark and a flexibility with accents. After I was asked to voice a radio campaign to match a TV commercial presenter job I did in 2001 the idea of VO work appealed, but I was given off-putting advice back then that most VO work was low-paid and restricted you to needing to be available all the time. It wasn't until 2010 that I decided to bite the bullet and commit to focusing my spare time on marketing myself now that the internet and technology supported artists better. I've always been very self-motivated and spent six months promoting myself to potential employers. That's how I built my reputation and client base whilst still fully being a mainstream actor in TV and film. Also, although I trained in theatre, my personality is very suited to working in focused, compartmentalised bursts which is ideal for on screen film roles and audio work and their perfectionist need for retakes!
Q2: You’ve worked in both the film and gaming industries, what are the main differences between the two approaches?
Right off the bat, compared to filming on-screen roles there is a satisfying economy of time in gaming work in the sense that no time is spent on costume changes or the learning of dialogue. I've recorded gaming roles that feature thousands of words across multiple scenes in just a few hours. There's no waiting around for hours on set waiting for scenes to be set up!
Both disciplines are lovely for the way the actor is entrusted to self-govern and self-generate the character to a large extent. Little if any time is set aside for rehearsal so you're expected to bring your own ideas. However, one interesting related difference is that in gaming roles (where you're solely recording a dialogue part) you usually record your lines in isolation without your scene partner to play off in the room, unlike on a film set where you are together in the scene. Often you will get play-back of the lines to react to in the studio, but even then it still needs the techniques of applied imagination, sustained concentration and energy to create the believable reality of a 'live' argument, fight scene etc. Q3: How do you approach creating a character such as a narrator or a game character where there may not be many physical attributes to help define your delivery?
Funny you should ask about that. In the 2018 PS4 game JUST DEAL WITH IT I was asked to be the Narrator voice who guides the player through the fantasy world and game rules without ever being seen. The team gave me free reign to interpret it however I wanted, providing I used an accent of some sort. It all comes back to the script like any role. As his dialogue was warm, slightly grand and mischievous I imagined Bela Lugosi as a game show host - and they loved the texture of such a left-field choice!
Character description and some back story is a vitally important underpinning. It's very rare not to at least have this supplied by the creators. As an actor I was trained to be a detective, assembling a composite of my character from their relationships, motives, actions and also what is said about them by others (and themselves when alone). This is the same in whatever medium I'm working in.
When you are given the luxury of artwork as to how they will look, this gives you clues to their physicality, posture, status, and most importantly the face is extremely helpful for detail (e.g. the shape of the mouth suggests a lot about how they speak). I'm an actor who likes to channel that learned physicality of a role even when unseen delivering it on the mike, which no doubt appears insane to an onlooker.
Q4: What is your view on a different type of voice over work, dubbing? Do you think it helps or hinders in films?
Well, I've dubbed literally hundreds of training films, foreign lectures and some film work as well as TV ADR work where necessary (Automated Dialogue Replacement) to cover changes in script or noise on set. However, 'lip-synched' dubbing (where you aim to exactly match the on-screen actor's lip movements), is not something I offer unless I'm post-dubbing my own screen work as it's very time-consuming, exacting and pays very modestly compared to much more lucrative areas. Like many fussy movie fans, I much prefer to hear a native language spoken and read subtitles rather than that distanced quality you get from hearing someone else's voice pasted over! (Horror films can often be self-sabotagingly problematic when the dubbing artist has a different tone, energy and even vocal age to the on-screen performer - and is speaking a hilariously bad translation!)
Q5: What is your advice for anyone thinking about getting into this area of work?
Firstly, you must be very self-motivated as I mentioned earlier - and this cannot be taught in my opinion. All self-employed entrepreneurs have to be able to work long hours with a strong, undaunted work ethic despite what seems minimal results in the early days. If you're not prepared to put a lot of hours into marketing yourself especially in the first months you won't last.(I give little time to advising people I sense are just looking for a quick buck without effort).
Equip yourself with a home studio with a good quality mike, audio interface between this and a PC, and professional-standard sound-proofing.
Learn to be a very good sight reader - otherwise you will cost clients so much extra studio time they will not re-hire you.
Learn to speak in RP (Received Pronunciation - otherwise known as Standard English, devoid of regional accents). Whilst I use my native soft South Yorkshire where useful for a down-to-earth approach, RP is what most clients need to appeal to the widest audience - and what you will need to gain the highest number of bookings.
Also on the point of accents, ensure that you only claim an accent or dialect skill that is authentic and sustainable for long periods (crucial when doing long hours recording video game dialogue). A funny voice you do for your mates down the pub will not cut it. There are certain accents I won't touch as they'd not only sound like an offensive parody but would collapse like a clown car under pressure!
Ian's latest horror feature film SACRILEGE in which he plays sinister cult leader Father Saxon is released on Amazon Prime, Sky Store and DVD on September 27th.