Acting Out A Slice Of Life: An Interview With The Voice Director Of Catherine

By Ishaan . July 25, 2011 . 6:05pm

Catherine is due out this week in the U.S. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game is Atlus’ first high-definition project, and deals with a complicated love triangle intermingled with the supernatural. Catherine has a star-studded voice cast. Troy Baker plays the role of the lead, Vincent; Michelle Ruff takes on the role of his girlfriend, Katherine, and Laura Bailey is behind the voice of Catherine, his seductive new playmate.


For the English version of Catherine, Atlus USA went the extra mile to make the game feel more natural in a different language than the original Japanese, re-animating the characters’ lips in certain scenes to ensure they would look natural with English dialogue. This was required as the game’s voice-actors were given a fair amount of creative freedom with their lines.


Following our interview with Michelle Ruff, we got in touch with voice director, Valerie Arem, to ask about her experience directing the voices for Catherine, and how she interpreted the different characters.


Could you tell us what exactly a voice director does on a project such as this? What are your responsibilities?


Valerie Arem, PCB Productions: A voice director is responsible for taking what the developer wants from a title and any specific limitations for how the script is to be performed, (such as character limits on the lines, time limitations on the lines or whether or not the client wants to keep it close to the original performances) and communicating that with the actors.


Once the recording process has started, the director must keep a mental note of each actor’s performance in each scene to make sure it is appropriate with the other actors performances in that scene. All of the actors tend to record separately, so it is a lot to keep track of. But much like the captain of a ship, if you hire people who are good at their jobs, you just have to check in with them to keep things on track and point the ship in the right direction. I was so fortunate to work with the stellar cast that we had on this game! They made my job so much easier!


When you’re a voice director, you’re trying to understand and convey a vision that’s already in place, but at the same time, give it your own touch. How did you prepare for that in the case of Catherine? 


Catherine was such an interesting look into how guys and girls approach things differently. There were so many times where we would discuss the “guy approach” to a situation vs. the “girl approach” to the same situation.  So most of the preparation was just in familiarizing myself with the characters and where they were at in their relationships with each other. Then really looking at the two different ways to tackle each situation and discussing how the characters would react. It was a fascinating process.


What do you think the major differences between Catherine and Katherine are, aside from the more obvious ones like age, that you tried to express?


K-Katherine is a real woman. She has dreams and emotions and feelings that make her special and unique. She really wants Vincent to see her for that and love her for her uniqueness.  She is the strong one in their relationship and I think she is really hoping that Vincent will step up and finally be the strong one.


C-Catherine is the ultimate fantasy girl! She’s hot and only interested in Vincent (when she’s with Vincent).  I think she is what Vincent thinks he wants, but finds that she is all action and no talk! She doesn’t have much substance, but she makes up for it in looks by a mile.


Recording of different characters/actors is often done separately for a lot of videogame and anime dubs, and lines or scenes can be recorded out of sequence. As a director, how do you try to keep the overall vision clear in your head and how do you try to put yourself in the right mood or mindset for recording different scenes each day?


It’s a really tough job to remember how each of the actors delivered their lines for each scene. It’s really about being present and tuned in each and every second of the recording process. What I do is try to create a mental soundtrack for each of the scenes so I remember how intense each of the actors were when delivering their lines.


I can then use that to gauge the next actor’s performance and adjust it from there. It would be so ideal if we could do a giant cast record where everyone was in the room at the same time, but there are so many constraints to recording that way, that on a project of this size it would be impossible.


We understand that the Japanese version of the game was being recorded at the same time as the English version, so the original lines weren’t always available to get a feel for the scenes. How did this affect the recording process?


First, I have to say the team at Atlus was amazing to work with during these recordings; they had so many challenges and time constraints but were always right on top of things! The great thing about this title was that Atlus gave us a lot of room for interpretation.


We didn’t have the usual restrictions of adhering to the original Japanese performances or specific limitations with the number of alpha-numeric characters in each line (which you often have with text on screen games). We really were able to let the actors have some freedom in their choices, and with the dialogue and I think they did an amazing job!


How does music factor into the recording process? Do you listen to the different music tracks in advance and try to get a handle on each one, to help effectively convey the "feel" of the different scenes that use them?


I think the music is a really big cue on the mental status of the players in a scene. I loved the soundtrack in Catherine. At times it really added so much to a scene.


With a game like Catherine where you have situations and dilemmas that a lot of the audience will have personally experienced, there’s going to be a lot of people trying to relate to the game on some deeper level or read into it even at places the director/writer didn’t originally intend. How does that factor into the recording process?


This game was a more “real” if you will, in that many people find themselves in these difficult relationship situations. It really gave the actors a place to flex their acting muscles and take from their real life experiences.


Ms. Ruff told us that, for Catherine, you went with a more “real” style of delivery as opposed to an “anime” style. Could you elaborate on this and just what it involves a little more?


Again, the characters are, for the most part, very realistic and like people you would run in to in a bar or at your office. So the acting style tends to be more conversational and not too over the top. Obviously there are scenes in Catherine that are not realistic, LOL, but for the most part, it really is a “slice of life” style of performance. The difference is that we ask the actor to be a bit more vulnerable and pull from their real life experiences, and to give their character their emotions.


You’ve had a chance to interact with all three of the main cast many times by now. What do you think each of their strengths are?


For Troy, his strength is really in the delivery of a line, he has amazing comic timing and knows just how to deliver the line with the most impact. Laura is a one-take-wonder, I have never seen anything like her in a booth. She gets it right the first take every time. It’s just amazing to see.


And for Michelle, I think she is one of the most open actresses out there; she will be so honest with her performance and really delve into anyplace emotionally that you want/need to take her to. She is just so true to her craft. They were all three so much fun to work with and really made this process so easy for me (thanks guys!).


Aside from the main cast, what other Catherine characters fans should look out for, that you think are interesting and portrayed well by their actor?


Oh what a joy this entire cast was to work with…really the best of the best! Travis, Yuri and Liam as the friends of Vincent each gave their characters something unique and really made you believe the interactions between the four of them. The camaraderie was so natural between all of them! 


Erin [Fitzgerald] as Erica and as Trisha was so much fun to work with. She really had some challenges with the timings on the Trisha character, but was a champ and pulled it off! I wouldn’t change anything with the casting on this one, everyone was amazing and I really thought everyone was perfect for their roles.


Lastly, can you think of any funny outtakes or stories from the recording sessions?


The best ones I can think of are Troy trying to pull off that outrageous scream. We had a few laughs over the sheer ridiculousness of the length of that thing. Troy and I spent a lot of time together working on this project, so we would have days where things got a little silly! LOL.


And also the big fight scene between K-Katherine & C-Catherine, we got to improv  a lot of the dialogue on that, so some of the things they say are pretty choice!

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  • Champ W

    And the release date is today!

    Now we can realize the voice director’s thoughts and feelings at their fullest, in-game!!! XD

  • puchinri

    My friend and I were talking about Catherine just last night. It’s nice to see plenty of people excited for it. (I think I converted my friend though.)
    Maybe he’ll let me borrow it when he’s done.

    By the way, does the Asian ver have subs at all? And how likely is it for an Asian ver to have (EN) subs?

    • Aoshi00

      I don’t think it’s very likely since it’s not a big release like FF13.. most Asian ver is just the Jpn ver except it’s sold for cheaper..

      • puchinri

        I was kind of worried that might be the case. And yeah, that’s the only thing I really notice about them.

  • nyobzoo

    can’t wait to get this game but still don’t understand why Atlus don’t have Japanese voices also in their games :(

    • Because they know they will get your money anyway : you just said you’ll buy it new (since you can’t wait). The only way to have Atlus act like all decent RPG publishers (NISA, S-E, SEGA, and NINTENDO) is to buy the game used so that they don’t get your money.

      Vote with your wallet: no dual voice, no preorder, no cash for atlus: buy used only!

      • Hraesvelgr

        Yeah, don’t let small devs get any money by buying used over a small thing like Japanese voice overs!

      • I’m trying to figure out exactly what you mean by decent with that list you just posted there…..considering the quality ping pongs everywhere just between the first two.

        • SEGA : Yakuza, Resonance of fate have original VA
          Nintendo : Xenoblade has original VA
          Square Enix : SO4, FFXIII (Asian Ver.) have original VA with eng. subs
          NISA : all games have original VA with english subs

          Atlus : “Dual voiceovers are too complicated to do and no one cares about it anyway.”
          So yes those RPG publishers (i’m not talking about the devs) pay closer attention to what fans want and give us gamers choice between the original or the english VA.

          Now if you’re not tired of hearing Yuri Lowell, Liam and co. for the hundredth time in a mangaesque environment, that’s your problem, but you have to admit that Atlus is one of the last publisher to jump on the bandwagon of giving the players more choice so that they can enjoy the game the way they want. Atlus USA is infamous for their marketing choices. Their first localization of Persona is so awful they corrected it in the portable ver. Being are afraid of seeming too japanese is obviously not very good on the long run for the japanese videogame industry.

          You might also think that nobody cares about original VA but surveys show otherwise (one conducted by destructoid in february probably influenced nintendo’s choice for xenoblade).

          • I doubt a company that’s “too afraid of seeming Japanese” would include honorifics like -san, -tan and -senpai in their flagship series’ localization. It’s also rather unfair to point to Persona 1 in this day and age. Atlus then and Atlus now are two very different companies.

      • Heh, Nintendo.

  • z_merquise

    Nice interview. I really love reading “behind-the-scenes” interviews with games, animation and in comics. Thanks for posting this!

    Going out-of-topic here, but I also found that the voice actor Troy Baker can also sing well. He’s the male vocalist in the Shadows of the Damned theme song. Can’t post Youtube links right now but the theme song for that game is awesome!

  • Aoshi00

    It’s great that the actors given the freedom to improvise, otherwise it would be a waste of the funny Troy Baker :). I remember Michael McGaharn the actor who played Jansen in Lost Odyssey did a lot of funny ad lib too..  I guess it makes it a lot more work for the director when you don’t have everyone in the room at the same time..

    It’s cool the same VA is voicing Erica and Trisha (guess it’s the new name for Midnight Venus/Ishida Rue) just like the Jpn ver.. Minagawa Junko even voiced a 3rd char the menacing voice in the confession stand that asks you questions (which caused even more ambiguity), but in the Eng demo it’s by a guy..

    I kinda wanted to wait to get this after a price drop (since I’ve imported both ver and alrdy have the bonus soundtrack), but I’m very curious about the Eng. dub and will support them on day 1.. too bad Amazon doesn’t have any kind of pre-order credit even $10.. want to get the Love is Over LE but the items just aren’t that important to me and would take too much space..

  • IceRomancer

    What a great interview! Im actually more excited to hear the voice acting then play the actual game! Which says alot cuz I loved the gameplay! Can’t wait for this :D

  • Darkrise

    I find it very painful waiting for tomorrow…

    • At least your local game store didn’t call you a short while ago to inform you that your preorder is in the wrong country and you can expect it 3 days from now at the earliest.

  • Genjo

    Tomorrow is my BIG day i already pre-ordered the deluxe Edition of Catherine can’t wait to get my hands on the juicy Catherine Deluxe “love is over” Edition packages XD~~~ *cheers!*

  • Yeah, Vincent’s scream was down right awesome. I’m sure Michelle and Laura had a lot of fun with that fight scene as well. I can’t wait to chill with Yuri, Travis, and Liam at the Stray Sheep. That’s like a dream come true right there.

  • haqua

    Travis, Yuri, Liam, and Troy in the same game. /The same scenes/
    Words. Can not. Even describe. I’m still extremely happy about this. 

  • DanteJones

    Awesome interview! And the link to the previous video reminded me how long Troy can hold a scream like that, it’s insane. Can’t wait until tomorrow!!

  • I’d like to see Laura and Michelle legit go at each others’ throats during recording. That must have been something to write home about.

    • mikanko

      Unfortunately I think they were recorded separately.  That along with scripts written in game/anime dubs generally being a bit clunky sounding compared to how people normally talk to one another in English holds back most localizations. 

      Hoping for this to be different, but from what I’ve heard in trailers and the demo I’m kinda in a minority here and not entirely impressed.  Still way better than average, but my excitement for this game has waned heavily.

      • Barrylocke89

        Hopefully the fact that they recorded around the same time as the Japanese cast and weren’t forced to keep it “true to the original” leads for some leeway.

  • Phoenix_Apollo

    Lots of people are excited for this game. I hope it sells really well.

  • Xeahnort

    First off I have to say that “Catherine” has a good english VA, but it would be great if at least Atlus had given us the original japanese voice acting.

    • DanteJones

      Oh, there is no dual voice tracks? Damn I didn’t hear about that. ;(

      • no dual voice no day one purchase for me. I’ll buy it used in a couple of weeks and you won’t see a dime from my pocket Atlus. When NISA, Sega, Nintendo and Square-Enix are closer to the fans than you, you know you have a problem.

        • Yesshua

          Well, closer to some fans.  I’m a fan too, and I’d much rather Atlus deliver a high quality English dub than the original Japanese.

          Just remember that many fans have different tastes than you, m’kay?

        • Hraesvelgr

          Hahaha, you seriously think Sega, Nintendo and Square Enix are “close to the fans”.

        • You can always play the Japanese version… unless you don’t understand the language, in which case your complaint becomes rather silly.

        • Guest

          AH BOO HOO

  • vivaluis59

    It is now the 26th >:D

  • BGMcDF

    Why can’t I have more money? :(

  • Seriously? Just because you don’t have JPN va, you won’t buy it? I don’t know what to say anymore. 

  • Yesshua

    Hey Siliconera, good interview once again.  I don’t think I’d ever read an interview with a vocal director before.  I didn’t even know the job existed, so this was a fascinating new perspective.

    • Thanks! I’m glad we could provide you with something new. :)

  • PrinceHeir

    awesome stuff :D

    just got my Love is Over Edition.

    it’s soooo gorgeous O______O

    can’t wait to play this weekend.

    damn exams T___T

  • This is an awesome article.  I used to do some voicing for Dragonball Z in Calgary, Alberta and a few other little known anime series there. Would go down on a Saturday and do two looooong days and be back to my studio by Sunday night. Now gaming studios, film makers, etc. are honing everything out to home studios – saves them lots of bucks and they can direct you through skype! They used to lay down all of the voicing tracks first and then build the animation around that – it was much easier on the VA that way. LOL

    Thanks for the great article –

    Gary Connolly – President of North American Voice Actors Guild – Where it’s our goal to teach you how to be a voice actor without it costing an sarm and a leg!

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Bottom line:  ‘we got to improv a lot of the dialogue’.
    This is why it’s important to retain the Japanese track.

    • So you can listen to Moonspeak (lol jk) while reading the subtitle of the Improv Dialogue?

      • I know what you’re saying. I was playing Phantom Brave on the PSP the other day with the Japanese voice track and it was baffling to see just how much freedom NISA had taken with their ‘localisation’. One spoken Japanese word appeared as a whole phrase in the dialogue box. And no, it wasn’t kanji. It was so ridiculous I stopped playing it altogether. Why are companies adding and modifying text as they please?

        • What your are asking can be answered ,by the difference between Direct Translation (which make come off awkward to a Native English Speaker) and Localization, which is to adapt the text into how an [American, in this case] would have experienced reading/watching the line/scene if this was originally made in the US. Hence, changes in Idioms/jokes when possible. There is often a fine line, especially for those with a distinct Japanese Setting, but if something takes place internationally or in the US, I don’t mind heavier localization as it’ll make more sense (aka. Black Lagoon, Gunslinger Girl Localizations).

    • Guest

      You just don’t get it do you?

      Oh well, that’s ok…

  • Chris Lankford

    All the complainers can lick my nuts. Easily the best translation I’ve ever heard. My only complaint is that some lines seemed cut off too quickly by another line jumping in (maybe it was supposed to be interruption, but it wasn’t quite right if that was the case).
    The game’s dialogue was incredibly fluid and realistic. IMO, the translation and voiceover are the best elements of the game. This is how a game should be adapted.

  • PrinceHeir

    Catherine for the sexy and wild one, and Katherine for the classy and serious one.

    oh who to choose O_O

    just got my Love is Over Edition. love the box =)

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