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Duty Bound

Call of Duty talent director Keith Arem on controversy, casting and Hollywood's new games model

Keith Arem's independent company PCB Production specialises in talent direction for video games, and has worked on triple-A titles including Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Black Ops, and THQ's Darkstalkers, Saint's Row and Red Faction games.

In his interview with Arem discusses how actors need to approach working in games and the differences from film, controversy during and after development and Hollywood's new and more realistic gaming model. Your session at GDC this year was focused on getting the best performance out of physical and voice actors for games - what is the secret to working those guys and getting the best out of them?
Keith Arem

Pre-production techniques are essential to going into sessions. The secret to a great performance is really keeping your talent engaged and part of the session. The more organised you are going in in terms of the development process - the script organisation and recording techniques - and then focusing on getting the most natural performance out of them to let them focus on what they do best.

Unfortunately games are very technical in ways the performances need to be and in the way they are delivered and implemented. Sometimes when actors are given a very narrow box to work in the performance can fall flat. We focus on allowing actors to do what they are accustomed to do - work off other actors and not be boxed in by technical limitations.

The amount of content we're generating is tremendous. Bringing in actors who aren't used to that and sustaining those performances is a real challenge. How does a games company get that Hollywood mindset, to understand cinematic techniques to improve acting and performance delivery in games?
Keith Arem

There's been an evolution in games over the past 10-15 years where initially people on the game team were doing the dialogue because they didn't have access to actors or even how to find them. Then came the first wave of actors doing voice work and animation actors, and the there was a lot of anime actors coming into the industry, followed by on-camera actors moving into the games industry. Now in the last 5-8 years there's been a larger movement to start attracting film actors and celebrities that bring a cinematic realism.

That change has highlighted a lot of differences between films and games. The amount of content recorded for a film and game is drastically different. A television show will have about 400 lines of dialogue and a whole film with have 1500-2000 lines of dialogue. With a game like Modern Warfare we had about 42,000 lines of dialogue. The amount of content we're generating is tremendous and bringing in film and television actors who aren't used to that amount of content and then sustaining those performances over that much time is a real challenge. One of things we've been focusing on is educating our actors as to how games work and how we want to maintain those performances. We're spending more time organising than we are recording and that can take away a lot of the performance if you're not organised. Why isn't a director role an in-house position, is it because it's a short part of the overall development period - could one director encompass all those animation, voice and performance roles?
Keith Arem

It's interesting because there are multiple positions within the game. I'm the talent or performance director, there's animation and design directors. There's directors for almost every department in games. The difference is when I'm directing a movie I'm the focal point, all departments channel into me. In games each of the departments oversees their aspect of the production and it's much more collaborative. When I'm directing a game I'm meeting with a writer, a design lead, an animation lead, studio head... I've got a lot of people talking. My role as a director is to channel all of those opinions into one voice for the talent. And then add my contribution, what I want to bring to the project as well. In-house it's usually very difficult to find someone who can embody all of those things and also work with talent, with actors, to focus on their best performance.

Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
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