Lani Minella interview by Josh AKA Knuckles Echidna (April 21, 2001)

From Sonic Retro

This is an interview conducted by Josh AKA Knuckles Echidna with Lani Minella for his website The Floating Island.

The Interview

Josh: Could you please explain who you are and what you do, for the fans who don't know?

Lani Minella: I cast, direct, write and do voice acting for computer games as well as TV, film and radio.

Josh: How did you get involved in being a voice artist and participating in video game titles?

Lani Minella: After college, I started out doing morning drive radio for an alternative station, then produced talk shows and was later referred to GTE, who was pitching a laser disc presentation involving Fern Gully (the movie). I'm a really good mimic, so after hearing me do all the sound-alikes for the movie voices, they referred me to their Children's CD-Rom division where I did hundreds of voices and even helped write a lot of scripts. I asked if anyone knew other companies doing cd-roms (that was 1992) and I was steered toward doing my own investigative work at the Consumer Electronics Shows in Vegas; then I did the Computer Game Developers Shows and the Electronic Entertainment Expos, always trying to drum up biz cards to cold call people later. It was a long and hard hill to climb, but now I am pretty well known so people are calling me more than I call them. It doesn't mean I can rest though. I will be attending E3 again in May this year.

Josh: Which game do you think was the most difficult to do voicing or directing on?

Lani Minella: The games with the most stilted scripts get us actors blamed for a bad performance. After all, besides whatever I can do to direct some conversationality in the dialogue, if it is poorly written and I don't get permission to rewrite or improvise, it is hard to pull off a good acting job with "See Spot Run" types of lines or lines not written for spoken word. Then it sounds like someone reading from a novel. Sometimes the producers ask for sound-alikes of stars whose voices are nondescript or not right for the part. Like Cameron Diaz or Matthew Broderick. Once I had someone ask for a combo of Bud Bundy from Married With Children and Dean Cain from Superman. The same company asked for a voice that combined Peter Lorre with Daffy Duck. Now that is what I call difficult. When it comes to games which are translated from Japanese to English, the style, language timing differences and choices of voices are in a totally separate universe than other types of games.

Josh: Any game(s) you particularly enjoy personally or character role wise?

Lani Minella: I like coming up with new characters and new ways to die, attack or be attacked. It is so amazing to see what the animators and modelers do with our voices. That's why I want to do cartoons.

Josh: What's an estimated sum of the salary that voice artists make?

Lani Minella: Voice actors are not on salary. We are independent contractors. No health benefits, we pay our own social security, state, & federal taxes, and get this----I pay an additional self-employment tax too. What Uncle Sam gets from me is more than many people make in a year. If you think about $100-$300 an hour average for VOs, remember that those jobs are few and far between and sometimes we wait over a month to get paid for one performance. We may only work on hour and who knows how many total hours in a month. You never know what awaits. I try to make life easier for my talent. They may have to audition or send samples of pertinent examples for a project, but I am the one finding the jobs, directing and paying them (many times out of my own pocket until I hope to get paid by the client).

Josh: Since my site is Sonic the Hedgehog oriented, I'd like to ask a few questions about Sonic the Hedgehog games for Dreamcast. How did you get involved with "Sonic" projects?

Lani Minella: By attending the trade shows, contacting the producers, proving we could do the job by doing spec auditions and castings, etc. Besides Sonic Adv 1 & 2, we did Maken X, D2, Sonic Shuffle.......for Sega directly. Other Dreamcast titles are Blue Stinger, Illbleed and the games ported over to Dreamcast from the PC or other consoles.

Josh: What were your main positions in the game(s)? Including character voices you've done?

Lani Minella: If you are only talking Sonic games I'd be hard-pressed to think of all the different roles, but I know that I directed and cast Adventure, voicing some minor roles along the way. Shuffle had me as Illumina (was there a Lumina as well? I think I remember I did both); In Adv 2, I voiced Rouge, the Bat Girl and Omo Chao, the help agent, along with some other parts here and there. I apologize for not remembering more, but after 300+ games, it's hard to even know which ones end up in the actual games.

Josh: I've read previously that you've also given advice on different ways a voice actor could express a feeling in their roles? To whom have you given this help to and what was the outcome?

Lani Minella: I give such direction to each and every actor I use. It is always a great outcome as I show talent ways to come up with things they never knew they had in them. It helps being an actor myself, and I've always felt that a good director can make a decent actor pretty darn good. I directed all the characters in the 3 Sonic games I mentioned. Sometimes, we looped to picture to put our voice over the Japanese. Other times I used a stopwatch to try and match the pre-existing timings.

Josh: I'm curious if you have a favorite Sonic the Hedgehog character or not, if so, why?

Lani Minella: Boy oh boy, they all have their good points. Obviously some are more charismatic than others, but they all have their place. What's your fave?

Josh: Ryan Drummond had told me a while back that everyone had just got done recording the voices and doing scenes for Sonic Adventure 2. Sega news, and as well as other game sources, indicate that the game is set on rivalry. Sonic Vs. Shadow, Tails Vs. Eggman, & Knuckles Vs. Rouge. Could you give us any detailed information about the game's storyline and what role each character plays?

Lani Minella: That kind of info should come from the developer or their marketing as I am not as much involved with the game play, as I am with the dialogue. Shadow is a more laid back version of Sonic, and Rouge is a sly spy with more than one side. There are other characters like the President, Marie, the Secretary, Robotnik's father, and more which all contribute to the storyline, which was pretty interesting. The cinematics are good with lots of action and great graphics to add to the intrigue..

Josh: Are there any new character appearances besides Rouge and Shadow?

Lani Minella: See the previous answer please. No new major characters, but the role Robotnik's father plays in the scheme of things is definitely not what you'd suspect. The dying Marie has a significant impact as well.

Josh: Any particular scenes that had to be taken out of the game for a certain purpose?

Lani Minella: That would be hard for me to know because once we supply the voice, we are out of the loop with the ultimate product content.

Josh: Have there been talks about any more Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Sega Dreamcast system? If so, will you continue to be a director and play voice roles?

Lani Minella: It would be nice to hope for more Sonic titles, but it doesn't look too likely so far. The game industry is always coming up with surprises though, and I will always be willing to help however I can.

Josh: Ryan also informed me that recording times lasted one LONG weekend. Was it the same for Sonic Adventure 2?

Lani Minella: Oh it was a lot longer. By the scope of the script, it should have taken about 12 eight hour days. Because they had people flying in from SF and Japan at different times, they asked that I get it done in 5 days. We worked 60 hours in five days and the Sega producers were suffering from exhaustion. I got carpal tunnel out of running the stopwatch so repeatedly for as little as .5 sec increments, and we did not stop for lunch. Stamina. I've learned that for sure, as I often had to read the lines for the actors exactly like I wanted them to say them. That meant I ended up reading and acting the whole script and then had to wait until the end to do Rouge. See? This is what is meant by being a good actor. We have to act fit and energetic even when totally fatigued. We have to sound healthy even when sick, and we have to give 100% even on days we don't feel like working at all. It's a lot more involved than just talking, and it is indeed an art of its own....quite different in the game industry than in commercials or on the screen. I'm not complaining. I've gotten used to it. I shouldn't expect it from others, but I guess I do. It builds character, so to speak. ;)~ And between myself and my ever-growing talent pool, we've got hundreds of characters just waiting to jump into the next exciting game!

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