As if yesterday’s 2000+ words wasn’t enough to describe the creative process behind Astro Academy, this supplemental (and short) segment is about the voice acting in the program. I wasn’t kidding when I said it felt like I was producing a live-action video game. It holds a very special place in my heart for a couple of reasons:
1) I am always awed by voice actors and their ability to convey nuance, emotion, and content with only their voices.
2) I got to bring in two very awesome and special people to be a part of my project.
Nearly every space adventure I can think of (off the top of my head, anyway) has the quintessential “transmission” that adds tension, moves the plot forward, or, usually, both. Luke found Leia’s holotransmission on R2. Commander Shepard receives orders from Admiral Hackett through the comm channels. Captain Picard talks to other ships and people through the viewscreen. You get pinged while passing through star systems by friends and foes alike in Privateer and Tachyon: The Fringe.
I had two opportunities to make some voice acting magic (the aliens and the call from High Command), but only took advantage of one— the shorter, less convoluted one. There were time constraints to consider, after all. An alien race that could speak clear, perfect English was another reason I made the transmissions from our antagonists text-only. Sure, I could have said that we had built-in audio translators, but it broke the immersion for me. We already live in a world where Google Translate exists, however, even if it’s a less-than-perfect translator. A computer translating data bytes into readable, coherent text isn’t a stretch for the imagination.
So, that left me with the urgent distress call from Fleet High Command, which serves as the transition from my “basic instruction” segment of the program to the “we’re going to go save the galaxy” quiz portion. It had to be plausible for a group of cadets to go save the galaxy, especially when a whole fleet of military and science vessels— not manned by a bunch of kids, mind you— in existence. I went with the trusty “last ship flying” situation, made known by some clever exposition: the transmission from High Command.
It takes place as the cadets are learning brief facts about our galaxy. This sets us up for two things: 1) We’re away from nearly everyone else because we’re above the plane of the galactic disc to get a good view of the galaxy; and 2) We’re able to pick up the incoming alien invaders, since they’re outside of the galaxy as well. It’s almost seamless and has an element of surprise since we were still in the “instruction” phase.
After the first menacing message from the aliens, there’s a sense of “What do we do now?!” The call from High Command answers that question specifically. It had to come from an outside source— not as a suggestion from me or any of the bridge crew— because it carried the weight someone high on the chain of command and, therefore, could not be questioned by anyone. Just ask anyone who’s played Mass Effect 2 or 3.
Here’s the exchange excerpted from the script/outline:
Commander speaks, worried.
“Captain, we’re receiving a transmission from High Command. It’s choppy— the enemy is trying to jam our communication signal— but I can get most of it.”
Captain speaks, trying to maintain calm.
“Go ahead and patch it through.”
High Admiral speaks through the crackling static, though the transmission is breaking up in several spots as she speaks. She is cool and calm, but dead serious with the gravitas of the situation.
“Captain, is that you? Come in, Astro Academy. This is High Admiral Warren.”
“This is Captain Estee, High Admiral. What’s the situation?”
“Invaders have our fleets locked down in all sectors. The Antioch is the only ship that hasn’t been caught by the enemy. You and your crew are our only hope to get our galaxy back from the enemy.
Captain, incredulous and disbelieving, pauses for a second and manages to respond.
“But ma’am, I have a ship full of cadets here. We’re on an Astro Academy assignment.”
High Admiral replies firmly, but not sharply. She’s not angry— just under a lot of stress.
“Consider yourselves under a new mission. Do what it takes to push the invaders back, Captain.”
Captain straightens and salutes.
“Yes, ma’am. We won’t let you down.”
” I have faith that you and your students will not fail us. High Admiral, out.” (transmission end with appropriate static and signal noise)
For the role of High Admiral, I had a lot of options. I could use Twitter to my advantage and, on a whim, I gave it a shot but had no replies. Instead, I enlisted the help of a someone whom I knew— from a lot of experience— would deliver on something that was seriously silly.
My very good friend from high school, Krissy, has been my partner-in-crime for all sorts of things like “Follies of Denmark,” a parody of the second act from Hamlet, and “Cyclops: The Musical,” a parody of the events from Odysseus’ meeting with the cyclops. Like I said: seriously silly. And these were things we did for a grade in high school. If anyone could pull off the dead-serious-for-kids role of the High Admiral, it was Krissy. Her boyfriend, Francis, is in a band and has all sorts of sound recording equipment and software. His engineering genius made the final product possible.
Because we’re 2300 miles apart, I had to include a lot of direction and cues in the script itself. Once again, technology came to our assistance, utilizing email, Facebook, and Dropbox to transfer files and communicate. I offered to do a live direction and playthrough over the phone , but three time zones and busy schedules eliminated that possibility. With my text-only voice direction to guide her, Krissy nailed the lines.
It probably helped that we’d worked on so many things together over the years and knew the tiny nuances of how the other would say a certain line. Krissy is also no stranger to fantasy/sci-fi genres, anime, or video games; she knew the mood and tone. There are many reasons why this gal and I have been friends since freshman year of high school, after all.
The role was a whole whopping four or five lines, but it was the essential part that bridged the two very different segments of the program together. Such a seemingly small detail made the immersion complete. Without Krissy and Francis’ help, I don’t think the scenario would have been as seamless or as plausible.
Okay, I think I’m absolutely done; this is the last you’ll hear of Astro Academy. Below is a list of fonts and programs that made everything possible.
– GIMP Image Manipulation Software
– Microsoft PowerPoint
– Microsoft Word
– Slideshow Remote for iPad
– “Across the Stars” font via Dafont
– “Anderson Supercar” font via Dafont
– “Orbitron” font via The League of Moveable Type