Lani Minella interview by GameSpot (June 30, 2000)

From Sonic Retro

The following is an interview with Lani Minella, a voice actress that voiced Rouge the Bat early on.

The Interview

GameSpot: What are some of your favorite characters that you've "voiced" throughout your career? What are some of the most recognizable?

Lani Minella: My favorite voices are probably a result of a fun script just as much as the ones where I get to be a ferocious, nasty demon or conniving creature. A senile old granny gets away with saying a lot of funny stuff. I think in the game world the most recognized ones from already released games are: the Witch and Peg Leg Boy in Diablo 1, the drop-ship pilot and Zerg Queen in Starcraft, Nettie in Shadowman, the expletives in Unreal and the sequels, plus those in Everquest.

GameSpot: In your opinion, which current games have the most impressive voice work, other than the ones you've worked on?

Lani Minella: I wish I had time to hear more of them and play them, but I have to say that bad voices are more obvious to me than good ones are generally. It's the script that should get more blame. Of course, it is also a matter of what your taste appreciates, whether it's realism or sensationalism. I think the worst acting is someone botching an accent or dying by going through the vowel sounds, "AAAY, EEEE, OH, etc."

GameSpot: What types of characters or games are you most interested in doing voice work for? Conversely, what types of characters or games are you least interested in being involved with?

Lani Minella: I like good scripts with dialogue written for spoken word as opposed to stilted text. Given a bit of leeway, a good actor or good director can add "hmms," "pffts," or even hock a loogey to make something more conversational and exciting. I especially enjoy wit and a bit of smart-ass thrown in. Obviously, the Sims are not as crazy or wild as shooters; RPGs can be more mythical and magical, and the sports ones are less caricature than the toon-based kid stuff. Every genre has its bennies. I think translating the already finished Japanese games into American English can lead to a bad rap because it ends up like watching Bonanza in Spanish. Sometimes Hoss doesn't play well with Antonio Banderas' voice. Plus, Japanese takes longer to say than the translation. This coupled with Japan's tendency for melodramatic pauses between lines can make for a "fish-out-of-water" bit of shovelware, which may do the original game injustice or simply bore people used to the Indiana Jones fast-paced action and dialogue.

GameSpot: What are the differences between voicing games and doing voice work for other media, such as TV?

Lani Minella: No acting school for TV or film teaches you how to sound differently when you're hit by a grenade or a rocket launcher. Even Xena or Hercules can't pull off such amazing stunts with as much guts and gore. There are few voice actors in Hollywood that have to perfect the 1.2- second action-specific deaths or taunts that games employ. Ever watched a sports show with as much vocal cacophony or violence as you can get in a game? OK, WWF comes close, but we have to give more output than even the toughest football linemen. They claim not to have to trash talk, and they have a tough time faking it for a computer game. Microphone technique is a lot different too. TV shows are often recorded with boom mikes, and sometimes dialogue gets looped in later. Many game voices are recorded in little hot sound booths, closed mike with plenty of throat scorching screams. Technique is important, and it's harder not to distort and sound real, while pretending to jump off a cliff into an acid lake.

Learning how to act for TV, you are taught not to emote much or make exaggerated facial movements, as they look goofy on screen. It's just the opposite when getting your throat slashed, your butt kicked, or being boiled in hot lava. It's all about getting the maximum excitement and pizzazz to the voice instead of casually spewing verbiage with little emotion. If everyone recorded game voices like those on the X-files, we'd put Nytol out of business .

GameSpot: Describe how you're presented with the material for a particular game you're involved with. Do you watch actual scenes in a complete, or near-complete, game when doing the voice work? Or are you given storyboards where you have to use your imagination more in judging how the characters' physical emotions will look in the final product? What's the level of set-up you're presented with?

Lani Minella: Oh, so you think we get a lot of lead-time and prep? That's not quite how it works. This of course varies from game to game, but generally we get the script at the very last minute - sometimes right as we are stepping up to the mike. Not too many companies provide video or FMVs, and we are happy to get line drawings of characters if possible. Some of the character descriptions crack me up. They will say something like, "A cross between Bud Bundy from Married With Children and Dean Kain from Superman."

Sometimes we have no idea why we are saying the lines, and we give a few different types of takes to cover a range of possibilities.

Examples: "But, why?" "There's something here!" "Who are you?" "Not again!" One wonders if we are supposed to be afraid, excited, curious, or even weary. That's why it really helps to get the script before the session. The real clincher is how many people specify who they want the voices to sound like (famous actors). I recently was asked to cast Danger Girl voices, and the list of requests for the lead voice read like: Ashley Judd, Elizabeth Shue, Mary Stuart Masterson, Charlize Theron, or Cameron Diaz. These girls really don't have recognizable voices, and this proved challenging. The dialogue replacement of English over Japanese is when you generally see the cut scenes and are asked to loop the voice to picture.

GameSpot: Do you have any specific strange stories about voicing games? What games have really stood out in your mind?

Lani Minella: There are plenty of cool stories. Like the times when doing the Duke Nukem our ad-libs were put in the games - "I'm gonna rip yer head off and sh*_t down yer neck" - was actually animated and put in the game. Also Duke and the girls (me) often get playful to the extreme. More fun came when I was asked to do totally made-up savage insect attacks for Entomorph: Plague of the Darkfall, the Zerg queen for Starcraft, demons and creatures in a totally scary and/or deep voice, or short animal vocalizations for tons of different animals in Furfighters.

I get a kick out of Blizzard games and really enjoy the funny lines that happen when you continually click on a character like the Starcraft drop-ship pilot: "If you're gonna hurl chunks, use the vomit bag in front of you," or "In the event of a water landing, you too can be used as a floatation device."

One of the stranger moments was when I was in Seattle recording Ophelia and Gabriella for Blood 2. I did a series of screams, deaths, etc. until I was dripping wet with heat and lack of oxygen in the booth. I had to crawl out on my hands and knees and noticed a lot of drop-jawed expressions along with some frustration.

I heard, "Whoa! That was so impressive, now we will probably have to bring back the male talent to match your performance." It felt good, and I do tout myself as the best expletive giver and coach around.

GameSpot: Some of the most recent games you've voiced have been Blizzard's Diablo II, Konami's The Mummy, Sonic Shuffle, Drakan: Order of the Flame, SSI's Pools Of Radiance: Myth Drannor, and Fox Interactive's Alien Resurrection. What were your experiences with them? What voices did you do for them?

Lani Minella: I'm the demons in Diablo 2 (Andariel, Blood Raven, Countess, and Rogues). This game took a lot of trouble to not sound cartoony, but I think the demons will be fun after some processing. The Mummy took a lot of trouble to extract dialogue from the movie to do sound-alike casting and performances. I think we did a good job and the game has potential for a broad audience, as it's geared for very little gore. We even had to edit "You have more balls than brains," by replacing "balls" with "guts." Speaking ancient Egyptian was indeed a new thrill.

Sonic Shuffle was a meeting of the Japanese and Americans with exuberance, and the usual fun and joking around with the cast of Sonic Adventure. Dr. Robotnik's voice is low and gravelly. So I always throw in a few stray lines for him to say which the actor says quite seriously.

Pools of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor was a tad awkward when delivering eleven-speak, but I was glad to do five characters. They made sure the writers were there, and a very nice woman with a degree in rhetoric directed me. It was a pleasant experiences done in seriousness. So, I found the need to crack people up and break the tedium. It worked.

Alien Res astounds me, as I was Sigourney Weaver in her most Prozac state of emoting (true to the flick). I was told Sigourney refused to let her image be killed on screen, and at the last E3 I heard that they had revamped the game for the umpteenth time, practically eliminating most of the speech. Wish I could have done the acid-tongued Alien or something.

GameSpot: Are you a game player yourself? If so, what's your favorite game? And what's your favorite game that you've voiced?

Lani Minella: I wish I had more time to play games, but because I need to work so much to procure new projects, I tend to gravitate toward ones that are shooters or where I can use cheat codes to advance through the levels faster. I enjoyed Starcraft and got motion-sick playing Blood 2, but there is something good to be said about most games if you look hard enough. I have a hard time getting copies of stuff I've worked on, but I am open to try anything.

GameSpot: Do you feel like the voice actor sometimes gets blamed for poor choices on the part of the producer or a badly written script? And can you make suggestions for script changes, or are you often stuck to what's on the page?

Lani Minella: Oh yeah, there's the real problemo! Like, sometimes, the scripts suck big-time, and we gag our way through. Many of the voices chosen for certain parts would not be my logical choice, but you go with what the client wants. It's amazing when the client thinks the talent ought to look like who they are portraying, or sound like a hottie that they like the looks of. Geesh, Pamela Anderson's voice is definitely not babe-a-licious.

Actors get blamed all the time for what they read, but no one thinks about that. When doing overdubbing of English you have to add a lot of padding because English takes less time to say than Japanese. So you have to make "I dont know" last 7.3 seconds. It ends up being rewritten like, "It is my duty to tell you, that, at this time, because of the situation, I do not know the answer to your question."

I'm not trying to diss all writers, but many times the script and the voicing are the last darn thing anyone messes with and it shows. So many people can't write for the spoken word, or write lines so corny or dry not even Patrick Stewart could make them great. As a good director, I try and add nuances, lead-in breaths, vocalizations - or I may rewrite as I go, if allowed. Many times I line-read other actors and show them ways to create a whole new dimension to their voice.

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