Acting in the Digital Age is a series that explores the opportunities and challenges of a rapidly changing industry. In this edition, Backstage looks at ways actors can get involved in the rapidly growing and talent-hungry video games industry.
Games can provide a great opportunity to play varied roles in a wide range of genres—from period pieces to dystopian sci-fi—and actors are now a core part of the business. No longer used for just introductory sequences, they now perform full scenes and dramatic mid-action dialogue. But many actors might not be aware of just how much acting is involved to allow a complete portrayal of character in the digital realm; including voice-only parts and full-body roles using motion video for live-action scenes, opportunities are constantly on offer.
A decent chunk of the world’s gaming industry is right here in the UK, with a mix of indie studios and industry giants making Britain their base of operations. Surrey has become something of a hub for the UK’s gaming scene, with Guildford playing host to major studios like Electronic Arts (EA) and growing indies like Supermassive Games. Beyond these shores, you’ll find heaps of opportunities throughout Europe, especially central Europe.
Here are some tips on how to get involved with the UK’s gaming scene, plus how to pick up your first roles.
Build a strong voice reel
With many video game and animation casting calls, your voice reel will be a key part of your application. This is your chance to show off what you can do, so make sure your reel is up-to-date and shows your full range.
You’ll often be tasked with sending in a bespoke tape as part of the audition process. If you’re given guidelines to follow, do stick to them closely. If the casting director is asking for a certain accent, prove that you can do it. And if they ask for you to record the tape in a specific way, make sure you do that too (Here’s our guide to self-taping for actors).
Actor Steven France has worked on major video games like EA’s Battlefield 1. He shares his self-tape story: “I did a tape not so long ago where I had to deliver my lines at a 45-degree angle while remaining as still as I could be. This was due to the fact they didn’t know at this point whether they needed full-body or just facial capture. So, it’s always worth reading the small print.”
Be aware of what’s out there
If there are specific gaming studios you want to work with, research their current and upcoming projects. The games industry is fully engaged on social media, so you should be able to find relevant people to link up with on Twitter and LinkedIn to get your name out there. You may also discover more opportunities than you expected.
Pete Samuels, MD of Guildford’s Supermassive Games, is currently producing a series of horror games called The Dark Pictures Anthology, which features a variety of characters and fully motion-captured scenes.
“We’ll normally either use a local [UK-based] casting agent or use the casting facilities of the studio that we will be using to capture the performance,” he tells Backstage. “We’ve recently had great results using Beverley Keogh Casting in the UK, and if we’re casting ‘Hollywood,’ there are a few reputable casting directors that we have long relationships with, such as Debi Manwiller in LA. Recently, the main studios we have used that provide us with a breadth of casting services are Pinewood in the UK, and the Montreal-based Game On studio.”
Samuels adds: “The duration of the casting process for us, for a single game, usually takes between four and eight weeks, depending on the particular challenges. These challenges can be many, depending on whether we need a true, digitally scanned, likeness of the artist, whether we need a specific authentic regional accent or multiple other details that are important to the game or the role. The overriding requirement is always great acting talent, and we’ve discovered that in new, up-and-coming talent such as Brett Dalton – when we cast him alongside the likes of Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malek in Until Dawn – and in established acting professionals alike. Of course, with the plan for two Dark Pictures games per year, we’re running this process approximately every six months just for that property.” Clearly, there’s no shortage of opportunities out there.
Bret Dalton in Until Dawn
Kick off the search
Your first port of call should be to tweak your job search criteria and if you have an agent, tell them you’re looking for video game work and/or animated work. Keep your own eyes peeled for opportunities that could interest you and if there’s something you’d like to go for, don’t be shy about telling your agent. It’s important to keep an open mind about which sort of experiences might come your way.
Don’t be afraid of stepping into a booth to record one-sided dialogue, and don’t shy away from putting on the motion-capture suit to play a full-body role. Both of these skills will be useful to learn – digital filmmaking techniques are becoming common across film and live-action TV, as well with games and animation, so you won’t regret picking up some of the expertise and lingo that’s on offer.
It’s worth ticking all the right boxes on the audition sites you use, allowing the services you pay for to know that you are open to animation and video game work. Backstage features gaming opportunities in most months. This year we’ve featured full-motion video projects and voice-only work – the opportunities are there if you know where to look.
While there are the obvious ways to find work (use your agent, build a voice reel, stay in touch with former collaborators in the hope of repeat work), it can’t hurt to think laterally with a growing industry like video gaming.
Actor Tom Fyans recently played a lead role in Zen Studios’ dungeon-based indie game Operencia: The Stolen Sun. He shares an interesting piece of advice with us – a prime example of spotting an opportunity many UK actors wouldn’t get to hear about.
Fyans explains: “I’m a bit of a unique situation – I have an agent in Budapest as well as a UK agent. So, for me, it was a case that [the Hungarian developers at Zen Studios] were on the lookout for English-speaking talent. I got the audition through my Hungarian agent, so one tip I can really offer is to try and find the emerging markets in the world.”
There are indie studios popping up all over the globe, so once again, it’s clear that doing your research – discovering different regions you’d like to work in – can pay off. There are a lot of video games being developed right now, all around the world, and most of them will need actors to bring their characters to life. There has never been a better time to get your name out there and begin your journey in acting for video games and animation.
Check back for more tips as our Acting in the Digital Age series continues.
More for UK actors? Check out the magazine.