Special Guest Jonathan Klein Gives Insight into Zen’s Voice Acting
Published: July 10, 2012
At E3 this year, I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan Klein of New Generation Pictures. He has been the director of voice acting for Zen Studios since the Fantastic Four table, and I thought you’d all like to hear a bit about his experience working with us. I asked some of our forum members if they had any questions for Jonathan, and these are some of them. Enjoy!
Q: What is your favorite Marvel character?
A: Of all the Marvel characters in the comic books, I liked Tony Stark/Iron Man because he’s the modern Renaissance man who is corrupted by the trappings of human temptation and weakness. And that is what keeps him from being all-powerful. He can do so much, but whenever he gets too far ahead, he always seems to fall, usually by his own hand, yet his indomitable spirit always finds a way to bring him back up again for triumph and yet another fall. From alcohol, to ego, to stubbornness, just plain lack of humility, the man always finds a way to lose everything he’s built up, fall greatly and then he’ll start over again from scratch.
On the tables I like The Thing, mainly because my voice actor, Jack Callibrisi, really channeled his inner “Paul Frees” (the voice of The Thing from the 1967 Fantastic Four cartoon), which I was trying to go for.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote from a Marvel Pinball table?
A: My favorite quote from the game has got to be Konshu’s line when he’s picking on Moon Knight after a ball drain and then Moon Knight grabbing him “You would be so much better at this if you…Ugh!…Hey!…Rude!”
Q: How much time on average does it take to record all the lines for a single table?
A: Zen usually gives us several tables to work on at one time (usually 4), so it takes at least 1 to 2 eight-hour days to record everything with all the actors, depending on the amount of lines. We usually bring in each actor for about 2-4 hours to record all the lines for the game. But as I’m sure you can guess, some actors work on more than one table. Sometimes as the same character, other times not.
Q: Are there any particularly hilarious/silly/embarrassing/awesome out-takes from the recording sessions of these tables they would be willing to share with us?
A: There always are funny out-takes with any game I record, unfortunately none that I can share with you. I’m saving them for my blackmail tape to use on the voice actors 😉
Q: Did the actor who voiced Thanos on the Infinity Gauntlet also voice Killface on Frisky Dingo?
A: Not as far as I know. Thanos was voiced by Isaac C. Singleton Jr. You may know him better as the voice of Sagat, since Street Fighter IV.
Q: What do you look for when seeking voice actors? Or more specifically, how would you suggest someone get started in voice acting?
A: When I’m just looking for new actors to add to our roster of talent, I look at their background and experience. It’s called Voice Acting, emphasis on the word “Acting”. I know a lot of people who come up to me and say “I’ve got an interesting voice, I should do voice acting.” And my reply is to ask them how much acting they’ve done, and if they really haven’t, I always tell them to get a background in acting before pursuing voice acting. Some think voice acting is the same as voice-over. It isn’t. Voice over is being the narrator for a commercial, or film, or a DJ. It’s reading off the page in a clear and concise tone, without much emotional delivery or performance. The best way to describe voice acting is that it’s a specialty. Like there are general practitioner doctors and there are specialists, like a heart or a brain surgeon, or even psychiatrists. These are people who studied first to be a doctor and then studied years more on top of that to learn their specialty. Voice acting is a specialty of acting. You need to understand acting to get a basic idea of how to deliver a performance. But actors on stage and screen deliver their performance through body movements and facial expressions as much as their voice. Voice actors are limited to giving a performance by their voice alone. So it takes time and patience to turn your acting skills into voice acting skills. You would be amazed how many well-known film/TV actors, that I’ve worked with, who are great actors, but lousy voice actors. It’s hard for them to learn to deliver a performance and create a persona simply by their voice alone. They want to move around, express themselves through body language and facial expression. But the microphone doesn’t pick that up. So for them, it’s like being hog-tied to the microphone and then told to act. It can be frustrating. Voice acting is often an unappreciated art, and often underpaid. So I always tell someone who just wants to be a voice actor, that you better have something else to do until you get enough voice work to pay the bills (and then some extra $ for the slow times).
I find that a lot of great voice talent I work with have backgrounds in theater work and musical backgrounds. They seem to understand how to control their voices better to deliver a performance. Those with singing experience also do well. They always have great sense of timing when it comes to delivering lines. If you’re serious about becoming a voice actor, study acting first. Take an acting class, volunteer for community theater. Do something that lets you learn about creating a performance and taking direction. If you want to develop your voice acting skills on your own, radio plays are a great source of material. If you can find a group producing radio plays online to work with, great. But if you can’t, you can find old-time radio play scripts online and produce them yourself. Radio plays are all about creating characters and story telling with your voice alone. What you’ll need to do is get some like-minded friends and a microphone or two and start with and just have fun. Rehearse, record and listen to your work. It may not be easy at first, but you’ll be able to learn more about how to deliver a vocal performance, especially when working with others. Once you’ve decided to make a real commitment to being a voice actor, you have to move to where the work is. That means either Los Angeles, New York City or Dallas, Texas (these 3 areas employ the most voice actors), or Vancouver if you’re in Canada and London if you live in the UK. You can’t live somewhere else and just fly in to work if by chance you get hired. People don’t feel good about hiring a person who may not be able to easily travel to their studio. Eventually, after you’ve perfected your craft, you’ll make a voice demo that would be submitted to a company like mine or an agent to find work.
There are several good reference materials out there about voice acting. I believe Yuri Lowenthal wrote a book about voice acting and his experiences called “Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic.”
A few other actors who have written blogs about breaking into the business as well (Crispin Freeman comes to mind). My only advice is to be wary of any school or studio that says they can teach you to be a voice actor, with no acting experience necessary. They’ll happily take your money and show you the tools of the trade, but it will do nothing to actually give you a career in voice acting. Worse, they may try to sell you more expensive things to supposedly “help” your career. In truth, that’s more like Space Camp. Something to show you what it’s like, not necessarily how to do it in the real world.
Q: How did Zen approach you to do voice work for their games?
A: Our company, New Generation Pictures, was producing the voice acting for Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It was during that time that I had gotten to know Chris Baker, who is one of the main producers for video games at Marvel. Chris and I got along very well and he seemed happy with our voice work on MvC3 (I think). One day he asked if I would be interested working with another company on a different Marvel game. Of course, being a huge comic-book geek I never would hesitate at the chance. Chris introduced me to Zsolt Kigyossy at Zen Studios and after explaining to me that they were trying to improve the voice work on Marvel Pinball, I told them that I would be happy to help in any way I could. I discussed with Zsolt ideas of how we can make the voice work better without breaking the budget on recording. The rest of it, you’ve already heard in the games since Fantastic Four. I’m very appreciative for the opportunity to work with such great companies as Zen and Marvel. I’ve have a great working relationship with everybody at Zen. They’ve always been supportive of all of my ideas and Marvel has been a great help when it comes to giving us their input as to how they feel the voices should be. As someone who grew up reading (and continues to read) Marvel Comics, it’s been a lot fun.
Q: Have you played any of the pinball tables? If so, which one is your favorite?
I’ve played all the Marvel Tables that have already come out on the PS3. But I’m waiting for Zen Pinball 2 to come out before I start playing some of the other Zen tables I’ve worked on (like Sorcerer’s Lair & Epic Quest). I think I like the Fantastic Four table the best, simply because that’s the one I’m best at, for now. I also like the creative interactivity between the characters and the ball, that they’re not just action figure window dressing. I haven’t had a lot of play time on the Avengers Chronicles. Although, to be honest, even if I did, my scores are probably far lower than any of you here on the forums. In more basic terms, I suck. I need more time learning how to play these games. 🙂
We’d like to thank Jonathan for taking the time to answer these questions for us, and to thank the community members who contributed questions for this interview. If you have any more questions for Jonathan, please post them in the comments below!