Arcane University: Voice Acting

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This is the main page of the Beyond Skyrim Arcane University Voice Acting tutorials.

Expectation[edit]

A Voice Actor will lend their voice and acting to characters of the game world, making them immersive, believable, and unique.
They must be able to provide clear, high quality audio files with minimal to no room echoes and a noise floor of preferably no higher than -60dbFS.
A voice actor must also be able to take critique and direction in stride from the Voice Acting lead of the project they're on, and be willing to make modifications to the performance if necessary.
To a lesser extent, the VA must also be capable of providing post processing if requested by the lead to ensure appropriate levels and dynamics. This is often done by the team's Audio lead, but it is a useful skill for the Actor.

A personal introduction by a teacher[edit]

Introduction[edit]

Voice acting is one of the most applied-for yet underestimated aspects of being in a mod. This page will endeavor to explain why and give you some clues on what it takes to become a voice actor for Beyond Skyrim.

Details of the Course

  • The foundation of voice acting - Acting
  • The foundation of a good recording - The Space
  • The tools of the trade - A guide of VA gear

First Steps[edit]

The most common misunderstanding about voice acting is that people think they will be just doing some impersonations on their cell phones or with a gaming headset mic. But the goal of Beyond Skyrim is to meet or exceed the quality provides by the base game of Skyrim, in an effort to feel like an extension of the world. That quality requires a little more effort and investment.

Voice acting is acting. There's no getting around that. If you come from a background of drama, reenactments, or role playing, then you've already got a handle. These and many other things are ideal for learning to put yourself into a character's shoes. Being able to successfully act is your starting point.
While getting your acting chops in order, you also have to realize that you are probably not going to get everything perfect in one take. Learning humility and being easy to work with is as valuable as having a voice like Morgan Freeman.

Your investment will not only include the learning and effort, but also:
A decent microphone setup (set aside about $300-500 for something good, the sky's the limit if you wanna go above and beyond)
Acoustic treatment (to make the room sound less like a bedroom and more like a studio)
And a digital audio workstation or DAW (the program you use for recording and manipulating the files).

Signals![edit]

"Okay! I got a Blue Yeti and"-
No no no... I hope you don't. The Blue Yeti is no longer a viable or affordable option for budget recording. There are several options out there by lesser known companies that sound better and cost less, and for the cost of the Yeti, younger but a few dollars away from a much higher quality setup.
USB mics, by a wide margin, sound like USB mics. They are marketed towards you exactly but have several technical and audible shortcomings that don't hold up to the levels we aspire to portray in Beyond Skyrim. To go into more technical detail on why USB mics should be avoided… They are designed to exist within an affordable price point around what the average streaming or hobbyist consumer can afford, and as a result, the components are as cheaply sourced and manufactured as possible. This means that the design is also the simplest design possible to get the job done, and it doesn't take into account the digital artifacts created by an amplification system and analog-digital converter (ADC) sitting so close to the small electret condenser diaphragm(s). All of this must also be powered by only +5vDC from the USB hub. Now, in order to get more juice to power a more complex and transparent converter, as well as to power the amplification circuitry in the mic, you need a good quality transformer to ramp that power up. But the designers eventually run out of the room. And we get the Blue Yeti.. and the Snowball… and so many other USB mics.
And that's just scratching the surface! But you don't need to rent expensive studio time by the hour for this either. I just recommend a decent, low noise XLR microphone and a decent, low noise audio interface. Now as mentioned, you could spend anywhere from $300-500 on this kind of setup and be set for life. It's more than a Yeti but worth it.
Now all this being considered, there are a couple of affordable USB mics out there that are superior in sound to the Yeti and Snowball. More details further inside

Investment![edit]

Ugh, that's so expensive! That depends. Do you plan on using your voice for more than just Beyond Skyrim? If so, that's a solid beginner's investment that you can continue to use throughout your entire professional career. Because we are a volunteer group, there's no pay here. But the experience you get can prepare you for a life of voice over! Myself, I'm an aspiring audio engineer and musician who uses his gear to record local musicians, and my wife is getting into ACX for audiobooks. So I'll be using my equipment a lot, and recommend that you think long and hard before committing to the investment. Because my example price range just covers the basic hardware. The next part introduces something that is likely as important as your equipment choice, if not more so.

Acoustic Treatment![edit]

This is how you make your room sound like a studio and NOT a bedroom. The reason your bedroom (or closet or den or office) sounds "bad" is because of room reflections that create a nasty echo or fluttering noise. These are the sound of your voice, bouncing off of hard surfaces at different strengths and distances away. To combat this, you need acoustic treatment. Acoustic treatment is usually made of some rigid, porous material that will slow down the energy of sound waves and keep them from reflecting in the room. Don't stock up on egg carton foam or anything. You need something thicker and denser. Basically, you need a material that will absorb, or at least reduce the reflections in the room. Preferably down to at LEAST 1,000hz. Your standard egg crate foam stops absorbing frequencies much higher than that. The spiky rigid stuff that sells for dozens of dollars per square foot is… okay. But it's better when placed on something much more full range. I'll link to a few of my favorite tutorials for making sound absorption panels out of either rigid fiberglass insulation (very dangerous), or mineral wool (slightly less dangerous). If you aren't comfortable making these, there are a few other options. You can use the spiky foam stuff, just get it thicker, and mount it with an inch or two distance between it and the wall to maximize their effectiveness. You can also get by with some layers of heavier quilted moving blankets. But as your voice gets louder for things like combat barks or angry dialogue, you'll start noticing more heavy reflections from the lower and middle frequencies of your voice showing up in the recording. So this stuff with soundproof my room? No, it's for sound treatment. Treatment cuts down on echoes. Soundproofing (or more accurately, sound isolation) is there to eliminate the sound itself from moving in or out of the room. That's incredibly work-intensive and expensive. Don't worry about that unless your noise situation is dire enough to need it. If that is the case and you're pursuing a life dream of voice acting, and you've already got steady work with it, there is a web forum you should go to for designing yourself a custom, isolated vocal booth. Every room is different, every voice is different and each person's needs are different. What works for one person isn't likely to work for another. But it is all based around the same principle and as long as you get familiarized with the hows and whys, you'll be able to set something up that will work for you.

Each of these sections will go into a cut and dry explanation of what is needed from you personally as a voice actor, and what is recommended for equipment and sound treatment.

General Workflow[edit]

Voice Acting & Recording[edit]

Recording Equipment[edit]

Mastering[edit]

For music, you have a choice of quality - 192kbit XWM, or WAV's that have not been re-encoded. There's a huge quality difference between either choice and vanilla music, easily perceptible and borne out by ABX (blind comparison) testing - I had 99.95% confidence results that I could correctly identify each file (100% accuracy). I'll be putting up some comparison files at some point.

My own ABX testing of the 192kbit XWM vs the WAV's gives results below statistical significance (74% confidence), though obviously this may vary according to your own ears and audio equipment, so the files are there if you want them. If in doubt, just go for the 192kbit XWM's, they are a huge improvement over vanilla and do not use the extra 3GB of space needed for the WAV's.

The voices only come as one encoding option, 192kbit XWM's - WAV's would both be far too large (25-30GB) and couldn't be packed into .fuz files with lipsync data. Again, ABX testing against the vanilla files gave 99.95% confidence of the perceptible difference between vanilla and the mod. These have been carefully level matched to within 0.2dB of the original vanilla voices - so they will fit fine with any mod-added voices based on vanilla volumes. 1dB is generally regarded as the limit of perceptible volume difference for humans, so any difference should be imperceptible.

The original Vanilla files are 44.1kHz at 48kbit XWM files. UHDAP's files are 48kHz 192kbit XWM files. WAV Music is lossless PCM conversion from the PS4 AT9 compression (so not re-compressed in any way)

Implementation[edit]

Asset-specific Tutorials[edit]

Tool-specific Guidelines and Links[edit]