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Blizzcon 2013: Iconic Characters of Warcraft

Voice Actor Stage
The Voice Actor Stage is a new addition this year at BlizzCon, and I certainly hope it becomes a staple. I sat down for the 3:00 - 4:00 panel "Iconic Characters of Warcraft" which, as the name implies, featured the voice actors for several of the most influential WoW characters in the Mists of Pandaria expansion. Our esteemed guests were:
  • Keone Young, voice of Chen Stormstout
  • James Sie, voice of Taran Zhu
  • Patrick Seitz, voice of Garrosh Hellscream
  • Aaron Phillips, voice of Wrathion
  • Josh Keaton, voice of Anduin Wrynn
  • Laura Bailey, voice of Jaina Proudmoore
In addition, the panel was hosted by Andrea Toyias, Casting and Voice Over Director at Blizzard, and two writers whose names were announced but unfortunately not written on the projector.

Andrea hosted the panel by asking each of the actors, one by one, a series of questions about the characters they voiced -- how they saw that character, how they got into the appropriate headspace to play that character, and so on. Each answer was unique and very interesting. Keone Young spoke about how his experience growing up on Hawai'i, before and during its annexation by the United States, influenced the way he perceived the struggles of the pandaren people, and also how his knowledge of the Hawai'ian patois informed his development of Chen's unique accent.

James Sie discussed how with Taran Zhu, what he tried to do was find a balance between conveying Zhu's authority, passion, and gravity, but without letting him slip too much into outright anger, because of the desire to keep the Sha at bay. In particular, Sie emphasized how different a character Zhu is than the normal game characters he voices, because he's more nuanced. He's technically a "good guy", but he's not always on our side, and he's not always pleasant. He strove to give a gravity to the performance that reflected all of these facets of the character.

Patrick Seitz, Garrosh's voice actor, clearly has a lot of fun with it, and he said he enjoys playing Garrosh a great deal (though all that shouting does wreck his voice for a while after every session). Seitz emphasized that his biggest potential pitfall in playing Garrosh is the potential to make him sound two dimensional and generic, and he makes an effort to avoid that. Probably my favorite bit of trivia from the panel was that the Blizzard team brought Seitz and Sie in together to record the patch 5.4 trailer. Usually, character voices are recorded one at a time, and if there's a dialogue with another character involved, the actor just has to imagine what their speaking partner is saying. But Blizzard decided that patch 5.4 was important enough to ask both actors in at once, and the trailer was recorded that way. I think it shows, do you?

Aaroh Phillips is another actor who has a lot of fun with his character: Wrathion. He describes Wrathion as a mouthy brat and a petulant teenager, which frankly strikes me as rather accurate. But he also described the emphasis on Wrathion's mysteriousness, as well as his arrogance in the way he is determined to save Azeroth -- but on his terms. Phillips also discussed how fun it is to play a character like Wrathion, and apparently his favorite line is when he answers, "I'm two! In dragon years."

Probably one of the most interesting discussions of the panel was with Josh Keaton, Anduin's voice actor, because Keaton is a longtime WoW player. In fact, he used to play Horde, and one of his most surreal moments is thinking about the fact that he just thought of Anduin as "that kid I couldn't target in Stormwind" and now he's his voice. He describes Anduin as a moral compass in many ways, and how he realizes that, as royalty, Anduin has a lot of education, and a big-picture perspective, that is unique to the game particularly for such a young character. Given his heritage, there's a certain regal bearing to Anduin that needs to come through in the voice. Like Wrathion, Anduin is an adolescent, but he lacks some of Wrathion's brute arrogance. Both Keaton and Phillips described how much they enjoy the back-and-forth between the two characters. I hope that at some point Blizzard has the chance to bring them in to record together, similar to Sie and Seitz did for Taran Zhu and Garrosh.
Taran Zhu

The last voice actor they had in on the panel was Laura Bailey, who is also one of their longest-running voice actors. She's played Jaina for seven years, and she discussed a bit how the voice, along with the character, has evolved quite a bit in that time. Jaina's transformation over the course of Mists of Pandaria, in particular, has been some of her favorite Jaina voice work to do since she began working with Blizzard.

I really enjoyed listening in on this panel, and I hope that Blizzard considered it a success because I would love to see more voice actors discuss their work with Blizzard at future BlizzCons. I don't believe this year's panel was available on the BlizzCon live stream, which is a shame because a good part of the interest lies in listening to the actors do bits of their characters' voices during the panel -- impossible for me to recreate in text. This panel is a great first, though, and provided some fascinating insight into this aspect of Blizzard's game development.

Filed under: Blizzard, Interviews, BlizzCon

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