GDC 2015, Dialogue 101 notes.

Another talk I wasn't planning on attending. With over 15 years post experience I've done just about everything dialogue related you can think of, and I wasn't sure that even Michael Csurics . Recordist, re-recording, processing, ADR, editing, directing, I've even spent a bit of time on the other side of the glass. Fortunately, I get a perverse kind of pleasure from being proven wrong, probably because it usually means I get a chance to learn something.  

So right out of the gate, Michael starts talking about casting. Whoops, I've never done that before. Climbing off of a high horse is difficult, but fortunately the conference rooms at the Moscone center are relatively spacious, so I'm pretty sure no one noticed.

  • Give the actors sides, not scripts, which should contain, that actors name, character name, sex, age, race, accent, vocal traits, role description, notes, some lines of dialogue, artwork of the character
  • Relevant character info only, don't overwhelm the actor, help them do their best job. Try to keep sides to 1 page, 2 max

The lines don't have to be from the script, but they should be something that an actor can really show their idea for the character with. IMO the lines should also be where that character "lives" in your story (reluctant hero, naive sidekick, bitter but sage veteran) and emotional range. Further to that, I would also add that if you're doing callbacks that might be a good time to have your actors read lines where there characters "turn" or do something against archetype or seemingly out of character. Obviously great writing goes a long way to make such moments believable, but story setups get cut, and if you have an actor that can really sell those moments where a charcter turns a sharp corner in their development or acts in a way that is seemingly inconsistent with their core values, that's worth its weight in gold. 

  • Get your actors to read Onos / onomatopoeia lines. Some hits (tense jaw, tight core) some getting hit (mouth open relaxed, core not engaged) some pain / death screams.

If a character has a lot of systemic dialogue, there's no point in hiring someone who can deliver good Ono's. Its really immersion breaking for players.

  •  ACTRA rates are 890.13 including agent fees - good for 4hr call and is minimum
  • For non union budget 200/hr and a two hr minimum

That non union rate looks high to me, as its the same as ACTRA. My guess would be 100/hr 2hr min is accurate and that I've made a typo in my notes.

  • studio cost 200/hr on avg. includes engineer

This is going to vary by region and city, but that's a good benchmark. In Toronto you should be able to get a good room for about a grand a day, especially if you're booking a bunch of sessions.

  • Don't book a studio without visiting if you can help it, visit first see if the space feels comfortable. 
  • Walk on to the floor and give it a clap, make sure it doesn't sound too live (you can here the clap ringing for a long time or it sounds unnatural) or there's no natural decay, it just sounds like a muted pop

I'll add here, that an especially dead room doesn't really present any technical problems. In fact, a really dead room is great for screams and any loud sounds which excite a "live-r" room and generate a lot of reflections that get picked up on mic. Not having any room reverb makes it easier to "sell" stuff as being outside. However, a really dead room can be  difficult to work in for actors. A dead room sounds and feels unnatural, which is just one more thing taking an actor out of their character, scene and imagined environment. By and large, technical considerations should come second to performance - the whole point of recording VO is to capture a performance, so the technical considerations should always be in service to that performance.

  • Places to find actors in order of preference:  Agencies, Casting Directors, Local Theater
  • When choosing your actors,  check availability and type of experience. Confirm that they have availability the week before certification to accomodate last minute changes before gold 
  • Make sure they are right for YOUR game (try to avoid the fan effect / the celebrity effect) 


  • NEVER GIVE AN ACTOR A SPREADSHEET (or anything other than a properly formatted script)
  • Scripts need to include context - previous lines, and the scipt should to be formatted to distinguish between between your actors lines, and the context lines
  • separate scripted events / cinenmatics from systemic dialogue

To that last note, I would add save your Onos for the end of the systemic dialogue, with death screams (and screams in general) coming at the end. I would also add to make sure that you have scripts ready for everyone else on the team at the session. Plan for script for the recordist, her assistant, the actors, yourself and anyone else working "behind the producers desk" (producer, your assitant, the writers, narrative director, voice designer etc). You should also be at least perihperally aware of the workflow (intimately, if you're the engineer, assitant, voice / narritive designer) and be sure that everyone is on the same page for deliverables, naming convention and file formats.

And finally, on directing: 

  • collaborate not dictate, let the actors do what you hired them for and only give a line reading if they're really struggling
  • create a safe space, being in the VO booth with the actor can be a huge help here. Also leaving the talkback open in between takes is a big help
  • have a vision, know the script

I can personally attest to getting better performances when the director is on the floor with the actors and when the actors have someone else to act off of. Also nothing interupts the flow of a session more that when the director doesn't know the intention of the scene - if its not possible to read through all the scripts and have a meeting with writer before the session, the writer needs to be at the session. 

Okay, that's all for today, tomorrow I'll tackle both technical sound design and systems in Sunset overdrive.