MomoCon 2015: Halo Panel Evolved

During MomoConJessica Shea, Studio Operation PM for 343, led Steve Downes, voice of Master Chief, and Keith David, voice of The Arbiter, through a series of fan questions on what it is like to work on a pivotal franchise like Halo.

Shea lets the audience know that this was actually the first time that Downes and David have met face to face. Oftentimes, while recording the actors are in the studio alone and an assistant is reading the other lines in the script. David always asks who the actor in the conversation are and if they have already recorded. This way he listen for subtle nuances in their performance and adapt to the circumstances.

Downes would prefer to work with other actors in the studio, but admits that this rarely happens. The first time he worked alongside Jennifer Taylor, voice of Cortana, was during Halo 4. This helped him during some of the more emotional scenes that the Halo 4 script demanded and was one of his more enjoyable performances as he could explore the full range of emotion in Master Chief.

“Before Halo 4, Master Chief was always a shoot first, ask questions laster type of character. And he didn’t ask that many questions.” Downes insight brings a huge laugh from the crowd of fans. When Shea asks if Downes knew Halo would be a success he responds in earnest that he had no idea. “Bungie had no idea. Microsoft didn’t know. We didn’t realize that Halo would be a paradigm shift in the the Industry.” In fact, when doing the voice for Master Chief, Downes didn’t even see a character model, just a brief description – big, in a suit and badass.

When Shea asks David why he took the role of Arbiter he quickly responds “I was offered a job.” Which causes the entire audience to laugh at the blunt honesty in his approach.

Jessica Shea, Steve Downes and Keith David

Jessica Shea, Steve Downes and Keith David

Regarding the evolution of the characters throughout the franchise, Shea asks how this impacts the performance. David responds that you need to trust the director to help make the character come to life. As an actor, you hope that the character grows and that is reflected in their appearance and through the writing.

Downes is honest and says that the look of Master Chief doesn’t impact his performance. The largest change Downes felt Master Chief experienced  was deciding to work alongside the Arbiter – It was the first time Master Chief was becoming a more complicated character than just a soldier. Obviously, this evolution continued in Halo 4 as the relationship with Cortana changed and brought out new emotions in Master Chief.

Shea asks if the actors are able to maintain anonymity in public or if their voices give them away. Downes admits that he is rarely recognized and can blend into the crowd. “Thats the beauty of voiceover and radio – you can be there when you want to be and hide when you want.” David’s Arbiter performance is closer to his normal speaking voice so he does run into situations where he starts to talk and fans will look up shocked and call out “OMG, you’re the Arbiter.”

Official_E3_2013_Halo_Teaser_for_the_Xbox_One (1)

Downes favorite MC line “Get me a weapon.”

Shea, taking questions from Twitter fans, asks the best way to get started and improve vocal talents. Downes offers that theater and improv groups are a great way to train. David emphatically states that voice work is acting. You are acting with your entire body in the studio and that your performance should come from observations of life. David offers that the theater is the one true place where we explore what it means to be human and encourages everyone to attend local performances.

A fan from the audience asks David what it was like when Arbiter is betrayed by those he was sworn to protect. David indicates that the stories are a metaphor for life. You must face disappointments and bring the experiences from your personal world into the character. An actor might not have the exact same situation, but something similar has happened to them in their own life. You then work with director to decide how much emotion you will bring into the performance. “In any situation, it matters what you says, and what you don’t.”

One of the final questions comes from a fan who shares that Master Chief has helped her through some personal struggles in her own life and is very thankful to Downes for his role. She asks if he has his Cortana chip, Downes pulls it from under his shirt and says “She is always with me.” During the conversation, the fan calls out being upset about everything that Master Chief went through in Halo 4 and Shea offers “We have to be true to the characters, even when it’s a painful story.”

For more coverage on Halo, voice acting experiences and the video game industry be sure to check out MomoCon coverage this year and attend next year!

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