Simon Peacock is a Kiwi actor and comedian who moved from Christchurch to Canada in the mid-‘90s and carved himself a niche working as a video game voice artist and voice director on franchises including Assassin's Creed, Outlast, Far Cry, Rainbow Six, and Deus Ex. Last week, he spoke to us about his career, and the reason he’s currently back in New Zealand: a stage production called Hamlet: The Video Game: The Stage Show that’s on this week in Christchurch.
Q: Did you play games as a kid?
Simon Peacock: I didn’t really play a lot of games as a kid to be honest. I came into gaming later in my late teens, which I think as far as my work in the games world goes has been has been a good thing. In the part of the industry I’m in – voice directing for motion capture – it meant I got a good grounding in the arts of being involved in theatre and performance, figuring that side of things out first. Getting into games and being able to put the two of them together without having had that singular focus from much younger [was valuable]. Otherwise, I think I would have pushed more towards a programming and coding sort of a deal.
Q: How did you get involved in the games industry? Was it something you aimed for or fell into?
Simon Peacock: It’s something I fell into to be honest. I started doing voice work in Montreal. It was a big animation hub for a long time. I was working on shows like The Wombles, Arthur the Aardvark, all these weird animated shows that went around the world to some degree. If you were four years old in 2001 you might recognise the voice…
Q: The first game I can find you credited on is Wizardry 8, for which you did some voice work. How did you land that job? What was the experience like?
Simon Peacock: Yeah that was very early – wow, I’d forgotten about that one! I just remember it being quite different from animation in that you didn’t have any script that gave you any sense of the plot whatsoever. It was ‘here’s your character’s lines, that’s all we’re giving you’, and ‘here’s your other 12 characters’ lines’. A lot of it is about getting bang for buck in the video game industry, and with the unionised actors in Montreal, it means you book them for either two or four hours. So there’s a lot of doubling up of roles, ‘cos if you’re booking someone for two hours and the role only has five lines, you wanna keep using them for as much of that two hours as you can.
Q: From there, you worked as a voice actor on Rainbow Six 3, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, among others. Was that all contract work? Does anything stand out from that time?
Simon Peacock: Yeah it was all freelance, and I wasn’t doing a lot of voices in video games at that stage. The voices I did do were fairly minor roles. The focus I had was pretty much on directing, and I always found it a bit of a conflict of interest if you cast yourself in a project – it’s a little odd! So the times I did do the voice it’s because someone on the production team decided I had to do the voice, Rainbow Six being an example. They suddenly decided having been in the studio with me for a few weeks that the helicopter pilot had to be a Kiwi – for no reason whatsoever, they just thought it would be a cool accent to throw in there. So, that sort of spontaneously happened. A pilot from the country that had pretty much scrapped its air force by then! I told them that and they were like, ‘Nah, we don’t care.’ He became a mercenary, ‘He’s freelancing!’ They found a way to justify it.
Q: What qualities make for a good voice actor?
Simon Peacock: I think the ultimate is flexibility – we record at a really fast rate. Animation you record maybe 125 lines. 200 lines a day is a good day of animation recording. Video games that’s like an hourly rate. When you get to things like barks – all those responses to a player action – 200 an hour is not uncommon anymore. You’ve got to be able to take a direction really quickly…
Q: Actors have headshots. What does a voice actor’s resume look like?
Simon Peacock: We very seldom look at a resume in this industry. Honestly, we don’t care what you’ve done before – if you’ve got the perfect voice, you pretty much are gonna get cast (well, you have to be able to act as well). So rather than resumes, we generally deal with voice demos. People have a two-minute demo tape of themselves doing whatever characters they think they’re strongest at, and any accents they can nail.
Q: How do you look after your voice?
Q: In general, how much direction is given to actors, and how much of a character do they create on their own? Is it ever a collaborative process?
Simon Peacock: It depends on the character they’re performing. If they’re coming in for one of the lead roles, there’s a lot more collaboration in that, and we’ll take a lot more time. The ones we’re recording at 200 lines an hour are the background characters: people fleshing out the open world, the merchants, the person on the street, the jester wandering around – those are the ones we’ll go through pretty quick…
Q: Some video games have pretty cheesy dialogue. Is it obvious when a line is going to be a clunker? What’s the worst line you’ve had to record?