• 3 May 2012 13:29:42

    Interview with modder and voice actor Ibsen

    posted by Lingwei Game News
    The Nexus series of sites presents a brief question and answer series with Ibsen3, a modder and voice actor for the Elder Scrolls series of games. Ibsen3 also goes by the name Ibsen's Ghost.

    Ibsen3 focuses upon providing voice acting and modding for Oblivion.

    He provided voice acting for one of this news poster's Oblivion mods thanks to an uncanny ability to mimic the sounds of the original Oblivion male voice actors.

    This Q&A was originally conducted in November 2011 but due to mutual conflicting schedules was not published until today.

    Q1) Could you provide TesNexus with information about yourself, how you first got into voice acting and then into The Elder Scrolls voice acting specifically.

    I'd like to remain fairly anonymous, to be honest. Guys my age and in my profession get a bad reputation from being associated with mods (unfairly, in my view since it's such a productive and creative process). Nevertheless, I can tell you that I'm in education and, after having once been a gamer in my earlier years, I became more interested in modding later on. I particularly liked the way that some game's narratives were structured as, at the time I began, some fascinating avenues were opening up as regards creating more open-ended narratives. Sadly, they often led towards a simplification of a storyline and lots of action as opposed to deepening the experience.
    I'd like to point out that I particularly appreciated what you did with 'Choice and Consequences', Lingwei, since that sort of evolving narrative is what initially caused my fascination.

    Yet my attraction is also based on the potential for creating mood and atmosphere. In recent years, no other game has ever matched the Thief series for that because the sense of immersion and palpable tension was unparalleled. This is where my modding career began.

    Originally I wrote quests for Thief but my skills were very limited so I preferred working on voice acting since I have some experience with it after having been involved in an amateur academy as a kid.

    Alongside a guy called Alexius, who did a lot of the modding, I wrote the storyline for the extended Thief mod 'The Hammerite Imperium'. I later worked as a VA on the likes of 'The Circle of Stone and Shadow'. This is where I originally became quite well-known.
    I moved to Oblivion after loving the game but feeling that the voices, dialogue, atmosphere and narrative could never really rival Thief's. Oblivion had other talents but I figured I'd give it my best shot to mod it the way I felt it could have been. It just doesn't have the same cult status though.

    I suppose my biggest inspiration to keep going was by going into local schools and entertaining the kids with daft voices. Lots of fun...

    Q2) Please provide a breakdown of all the mods you have voiced, not just for The Elder Scrolls games, but more detail on those mods would be appreciated.

    As mentioned above, I worked on mods for Thief 2 such as the 'Hammerite Imperium', which was my 'baby' and 'The Circle of Stone and Shadow' episodes 1-3. Our sound department for HI was awesome as our main composer Atolonen was brilliant at getting the sound right and we took a really professional approach to the VA work. Coupled with Alexius' fabulous artistic vision (who went on to produce digital art like this, it was a really high-profile mod at the time but, in hindsight, too ambitious to implement as we had hoped. A lot of this stuff still creeps into our BlackMarsh mod and my youtube videos though.

    When I began offering my services for Oblivion, I was just doing bit-parts for mods I really liked. In those days, the individual modders welcomed you in quite quickly. I can't remember if this is an exhaustive list or if the order in which they are listed is correct but my youtube videos detail most of them in samples and this is roughly how it worked out in time order:

    • The Forgotten Shields by Painkiller97 (inc. the Dark Seer and others)
    • Gift of Kynareth by Painkiller 97 (Ghost of Morihaus and perhaps others)
    • Daggerfall Memories Series by Deathless Aphrodite (Ectodok the Enchanter besides others)
    • Kvatch Aftermath by Giskard (aka 'He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named') and, later on, the Dragon Captions team (various survivors of Kvatch including the Master of Initiates etc.)
    • Origin of the Mages Guild by brucevayne/Dragon Captions (Raminus Polus, Archmagister Yola, J'Skar, Inquisitor Ivan, Calindil, Denel, Clan Guards, Barraedi)
    • The Necromancer by Giskard/Dragon Captions (Davinus, Fletchus Curdle and others)
    • Gates to Aesgaard Episode 1 & 2 by The Priest909 (Imperials, Nords, Bretons, Redguard etc.)
    • The Lost Spires by Liquid Graphics/Leo Gura (Rythor, Dakkon, Tumyr, Rathmer, Aster Cei, Teav, Verus, various miners, guards and assistants)
    • The Blackwood Company by Lingwei (Various Imperial, Argonian, Bosmer, Breton, Dunmer, Imperial, Khajiit, Nord, Orc & Redguard characters)
    • Oblivion Sound Sets by brucevayne (Jeremiah, Ja-Kha'iit-Myr, Borrodin Amelius & Markynaz Kyndrulhu)
    • Companion Sound Sets by brucevayne (Jeremiah, Ja-Kha'iit-Myr, Borrodin Amelius & Markynaz Kyndrulhu)
    • Kyndrulhu - the Obscenity Mix soundset by Ibsen's Ghost (the only thing released under my own name and such a blast!)
    • Silgrad Tower by the Silgrad Tower team (too many to list; various individual NPCs including a version of Sheogorath and others ranging from gardeners to demons; complete generic voice sets that replace the original lines of dialogue with unique lines for Khajiit, 'Scottish' Nords and two classes of Imperials; voice samples that eventually became the sounds for beasts such as the Kwama)
    • The Dark Brotherhood by the Dark Brotherhood team (The Watcher, The Chronicler, Khajiit hermit, Bosmer/Dunmer Assassins)
    • Black Marsh by the Ibsen's Ghost and the Black Marsh team (Anaster Marrowmir, the Sarpa race and any others that I have the time for)

    I have not actually done any voice acting for about two years or so since increasing my modding skills and working exclusively on the Black Marsh mod so apologies to those modders who have asked for more voices. I simply haven't had the time. However, I can say that one of the things that originally attracted me to 'Black Marsh' was the potential to adapt brucevayne's companion sound sets and give them a full storyline. To this extent, I still have the work on 'Anaster Marrowmir', a Redguard inspired by the voodoo spirit of death, Baron Samedi.

    My youtube video demonstrations are here. I'm still voice acting for Dark Brotherhood Chronicles since we work with many of the members on Black Marsh and I will probably return to it once Black Marsh is done.

    Q3) Can you explain the technical process for recording voices, editing, improving the quality etc. What sort of programs and hardware do you use for example.

    Audacity rules! It's simple and easy to use. Some audio software offers plenty more options but none do it with quite so much ease as Audacity, in my experience. A lot of the work I did purely used my own voice with few technical adjustments and that tends to mean throat-destruction, especially in the case of Argonians (yes, Black Marsh's voices worry me). However, Argonian voices do benefit from down-pitching which is something you can do quite easily on Audacity. The throat sounds are another matter entirely though. Argonian voices are the hardest to get right. You simply cannot utter long sentences in one go and still retain the correct sound so it means doing lots of recordings of segments and they all have to flow.

    I have used other software than Audacity though. There are some pieces of software that will distort your voice. I like to refer to it as the 'Darth Vader software' since I remember the old Star Wars helmet which, when you put it on, it alters your voice to sound like the character. It's the same thing here. I don't like using this stuff though. It feels like cheating and often produces a synthetic sound.

    Any problems can come from being too close to the microphone or having dodgy equipment. A typical problem is having 'pops' in the recording which occurs from too much breath on the mike or too high a volume. You have to tweak things a lot when putting on the anger and, unless you have proper studio equipment (I don't), there are always issues to smooth out. Normally, I just cut and re-record which means taking special care in the re-assembly. As mentioned, Argonian voices take up a lot of time. Thankfully, one of my more admired voices is the Khajiit and, despite some throat-deconstruction, it's not quite as time-consuming.

    I did have a complete tutorial written up for voice actors on the Silgrad Tower forums but it seems that the old forums have gone down so I can't retrieve it (maybe later). Otherwise, I'd post it up here.

    Q4) From my (ed - Lingwei's) personal experiences with you you were able to closely mimic the 6 voice actors who performed the male voices in Oblivion. How did you do this - long hours of practice or just lucky?

    I certainly practiced it but it's also something that you either do or don't do. As I said, I used to work with kids and I was known to 'do voices'. That was just something that comes from listening closely to the way people speak. I'm an English graduate so it's in my personal history.

    Nevertheless, I do have an ear for great voices. I think it comes from an appreciation for theatre. When I heard Patrick Stewart in Oblivion, I was delighted. He has a great voice! I still have some films in my collection featuring characters I'd like to try and develop one day.

    Much has been said of the generic voices in Oblivion and some have described it as a bit 'cookie-cutter', repeating the same recordings for particular races and so on. The voices, to me, have quite a standardised sound. They all aim for a particular texture rather than reproduce an actual person's style of speaking and this makes the process easier. What would be better for Bethesda would be to get someone who WAS an Argonian etc. and just naturally suited the voice but this would be harder to reproduce. As it is, they're just accents and throat sounds. You just have to have a good ear and a bit of verbal flair in order to make it work.

    I suppose the hardest stuff I've done is doing accents correctly since you always fear that someone with that accent, or knows someone with it, will see right through you. That's what gets you going back to original recordings and voice samples on youtube to pick up idiosyncrasies.

    Q5) What advice can you give to aspiring voice actors to help them out. For example how should they practice their voice, tips for recording without getting that annoying plosive p sound, making their voice sound like a different person, etc.

    It takes a good ear most of all. I still watch films and TV where I spot an incredible voice that I want to replicate and sometimes those have ended up with being used in mods like brucevayne's sound sets. There's really very little besides having a good ear and trying to get the sound right. I was fascinated by accents as a kid and it's something that is really assisted by a passion for it. You have to pick out the patterns of speech because, if you can replicate those, you're onto a winner. Learning another language is actually very useful as well. I basically have a vested interest in this link of work so it feels natural.

    I've read about all sorts of tips for voice acting, including voice training exercises but it always depends on the type of voice you're doing because some of the advice given works in different contexts.

    Here's where I have to apologise because, as mentioned earlier, I had a full and complete guide to voice acting including tips for those trying to perfect particular characters but it was written up on the old 'Silgrad Tower' website which is now defunct and I didn't get a copy. Having not done any voice acting of any kind for years, I'll be brushing the cobwebs off my mike soon but it looks like I may have to re-learn a few things for myself.

    One technique I will be using for the Argonians in the soon-to-be-released walkthrough trailer for Black Marsh is to cut together recordings so as to minimise running out of breath for the very demanding Argonian voice. If you catch the cadence, pitch and volume of the voice just right, it's seamless and you get a series of great effects. Some people may regard this as cheating but I've not heard anyone complain about it so far so I'm guessing it works....I only use it for long passages though.

    Q6) Outside of your voice work you've also been involved in building a province of Blackwood Marsh for Oblivion. What challenges have you found with that mod and how does working in the construction set compare to pure voice acting?

    It's all hard work. Although there's a lot of creativity involved in modding, you really have to graft to get results and master a great deal of stuff. Noobs are instantly recognisable to those who have been around a long time and it's obvious when someone hasn't read tutorials properly....but anyone can pick up a microphone. The only problem is if your voice has developed properly or not. Many youngsters on this scene just couldn't possibly 'do voices' as well as the older ones although their skills might well surpass the veterans.

    Make no doubt about it, as I said in my description section of the fourth voice trailer I did, voice acting can murder the throat and is quite draining, especially if you're doing complete voice sets like I did for Silgrad Tower (probably released soon under brucevayne's guidance). What I don't think I mentioned in that piece of writing is the experience I had trying to recruit voice artists for Leo Gura's 'Lost Spires' mod. In the end, only the ladies turned out to be reliable enough....and there were even plenty of them that let me down! That meant that I had to do every voice myself except the ladies (although 'the old man' was the only other that came from someone else). Voice artists are a flighty bunch!

    Nevertheless, VA work is a lot less tedious than doing a complete worldspace like Black Marsh. I LOVE this mod and we've made masses of progress but people have no concept of what they're getting into when they do something epic like this, resulting in tons of these types of mod disappearing with no one helping and a monumental workload. It's an absolute nightmare! Go in with your eyes open.

    The worst thing is those who sign up, claim to offer the world, herald their mighty skills and then promptly leave, having done precisely nothing! Rest assured that once the BM beta gets released (hopefully shortly) I will be writing a warning message to all such modders. I'd like to name names but they're innumerable. It's best to accept that everyone will crap on you from a big height and leave you with the grunt work. Needless to say, a vast percentage of the work on BM is mine...and I hadn't intended it to be that way when I started.

    Thankfully, people like Koniption and Deeza have been around to keep things going and help with the skills I'm absolutely useless at. Koniption is a supreme modeller and I'd be happy to release BM just to get her the credit she deserves. I think we inspire one another and that sort of partnership (Deeza included) and passion for the mod is the only thing that's going to get you through, no matter how long it takes.

    Q7) Are you going to buy and mod for Skyrim? Planning on accepting requests?

    Eventually, maybe but I honestly haven't played any kind of game in years. I prefer books and films now but I'll no doubt not be able to avoid Bethesda's magnificence for long. I want to avoid modding, if at all possible, for now but I'd be happy to dip in, write stuff, voice stuff and so on, if it's needed. Black Marsh will be my swansong as far as modding is concerned. I'm not doing anymore as I really feel offended by some people's lack of commitment and other people getting all precious about stuff (seriously). I'd only work with people I knew I could rely on now.

    Having said that, I'd do requests if I happened to have the time...although that's rare these days.

    Can I end by announcing that the Black Marsh walkthrough / trailer should be released shortly? I'm not a great editor so it won't look very HD and special but the work is there for all to see and it's very considerable indeed. We were hoping to get the beta version released before Skyrim but that's now switched to Christmas or depends on whether I have the time to spare and others are available to help out. The amount of fresh, new stuff will probably alarm people's just a pity we couldn't do it before Skyrim stole our thunder!

Comments (6)