David Collins on The Force Unleashed II
David Collins is the lead sound designer and voice director at LucasArts, and has a wealth of experience when it comes to voice acting in video games. I pick his brains about his work on The Force Unleashed and its upcoming sequel, and discover that, despite the so-called rivalry, Star Wars can take a bit of inspiration of Star Trek - in odd ways.
In your role you're obviously working with a lot of people involved at all kinds of levels with the Star Wars series. What kind of a challenge is it to bring the Star Wars feel to a video game?
You know, it starts with the writing, and we're really lucky that Haden Blackman is such a good writer and really is passionate about Star Wars. I mean, we all are. I think the key is to be very passionate about what makes something feel like Star Wars. We're also very lucky to have Sam Witwer, who is the actor who plays Starkiller. He sets the tone in terms of actors that are really passionate about Star Wars as well. We have a lot of conversations about what makes something Star Wars-ish. How much of this character is like Luke Skywalker? How much of this character is like Hans Solo? How much of this character is like a Sith assassin? Talking about these kind of balances are really key. The first thing that we did was we sat everyone down to do a table read after we got through the audition process - this was the beginning of 2007 - and we just had a lot of discussions about tone and how things would come out, and it worked really well. Finding the right actors is really important. They say 90 per cent of directing is casting, good casting - you know, roughly. It really is about collaborating with the right people and the right talent.
Is it unusual for a video game to go through such an extensive casting process?
Yes and no. All video games have to go through a casting process, and certainly when games cast the right actors it's just a match made in heaven. I could rattle off a million games where I think, "Oh God, thank goodness that they had this actor or that actor in this part because it makes such a huge difference." What is unique about The Force Unleashed is that we actually did more than a voice capture; we did a likeness capture. In the case of our primary characters - Juno Eclipse, Starkiller, General Kota, even Maris Brood from the first game - we did that, and did some likenesses of some other people as well. In that regard it was very unique to me. A big part of Sam getting cast was that he had the right look, and that's why it's his likeness in the game. Casting is very important to any creative project, and we definitely took it very seriously.
So with that reading with all the actors round the table, do you use the same process when you record? Do the actors record their lines with each other or do they do their lines on their own?
It depends on what phase we're in the game. For the most part we had them record together, particularly for the big story moments in the game they were together. When it comes to bringing in someone from pick-ups, you know, there's a lot of auxiliary dialogue - I hate to even call it auxiliary dialogue because it's incredibly important dramatically, but it's mechanical in a certain sense in that you're not performing a scene, you're going down a list, a script. In other words, I need 10 really great sounds of you getting hit by a blaster. I need 15 great sounds of you getting force ripped and hanging off a ledge - that kind of stuff. You have to go through thousands and thousands of those. Those aren't necessarily recorded with all the actors working together because it just doesn't make sense. You have to find actors skilled in that regard as well. But when it comes to the big story beats, yeah, they did it together. And you can hear it, and I'm actually really proud of that in The Force Unleashed 2. You can really hear when Kota and Starkiller are talking, you can hear the overlap, you can hear them reacting to each other, which is nice.
Talking of Starkiller, we've been introduced to his early story in The Force Unleashed 2 and all these difficult changes with his memories and so on. How did you try to bring that to his performance?
He's very frightened. He's been through hell and he doesn't know who he is. He is very careful about admitting these memories, these flashes to Vader. In fact, Vader notices it first because he mentions something about Kota and suddenly he's watching Starkiller have this vision. It was treated very seriously: it's tough, you know, he's kind of tortured now. It's a tough road for Starkiller in this one, but fortunately he's surrounded by people who believe in him and know him, and that helps out quite a bit.