3rd Aug 2021 | Open Movie | Sprite Fright
Note: the clips below contain spoilers.
Sprite Fright is Blender’s new Open Movie, now in production.
Hjalti Hjálmarsson is Sprite Fright’s co-director. He’s worked on several Open Movie projects, including co-directing duties for Agent 327: Operation Barbershop, and animation director for both Caminandes: Llamigos and Spring. In this post, Hjalti explains what he’s learned about directing voice talent on Sprite Fright.
It’s best to come prepared. While other forms of acting allow for improvisation, voice acting benefits from a clear brief -- so you can make the most of limited studio time.
Hjalti says, “Unless the actor is on the crew working with you, it’s good if you have a set-up where you can record your own scratch dialogue. Scratch dialogue is when you get anybody at the studio to deliver the lines. It allows you to flesh out a lot of ideas while you’re still in the animatic or layout stage.”
Which is preferable to the alternative: hitting the studio with a vague plan. Often, this results in re-recording until the actor loses both motivation and an understanding of their character. “The talent gets fed up,” Hjalti says. “Because the dialogue keeps shifting so much. A temporary scratch pass of the whole film allows you to evolve your ideas during the editing phase, and during the layout phase. Of course, at some point you need the final voices.”
Still, even this level of preparedness doesn’t guarantee the perfect outcome. “You need to calculate that it’s not going to be one and done,” Hjalti says. “You’re going to have a nice recording session, but there will always be a couple of lines that are missing, something you can’t foresee. For example, your actor delivered ten screams, but it turns out that ‘Oh man, none of those screams fit exactly what we need.’ Or maybe there was an audio problem. So your schedule should always include the likelihood that your actor comes in for a second round. And that is the best case scenario.”
For an actor, voiceovers can be difficult. They’re a minimal kind of performance, without the physical aspect of a live-action gig. This is doubly true when you’re making an action-driven short film in which each actor gets one or two lines. As a result, actors are understandably tempted to overcompensate and push every scrap of dialogue.
Hjalti says, “You have to be really careful about that because it starts slowing the pace. You have to be super mindful of the speed that a line has to be delivered. Hopefully, you’ve already vetted those things in the layout and animatic stages. So when you’re in the studio with the voice actor, you can guide them.”
Nevertheless, directing is collaboration -- not dictating. “There’s a scenario where you can push it too far. Where you’re asking the actor to go faster and faster, because that’s what was originally decided. At some point there’s a breaking point, where they just sound like a machine gun. That’s when you back off.”
Or, conversely, lines are delivered too slowly. “That’s the more common problem,” Hjalti says. “It’s especially true for an action-packed film like Sprite Fright, which usually means quicker editing. Whereas if it were this slower, dialogue driven piece, then of course that gives the actor space. You can really cherry-pick the moments where it’s okay to push the lines a bit.”
Taking dialogue a line at a time can also help. “Sometimes it helps to split the dialogue into little chunks. Or you can do a pass on a paragraph, but you want to make sure it’s digestible. Some actors can work on an entire page at once, including the sixteen notes you just gave them. More often, though, it’s best to give them a little chunk, then listen to that chunk, then give notes, then go again.”