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


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!

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.