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Hollywood Actors Getting in the Game

25 Sep, 2003 By: John Gaudiosi

Today's video games open up new opportunities for in-store displays, thanks to ‘A'-list Hollywood actors venturing into voice acting. This fall will see a large number of celebrities “performing” in video games, allowing rental chains to match a star's new game with both new and older video selections.

Electronic Arts (EA) has two blockbusters this fall: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (street Nov. 10, all platforms) and James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (street Nov. 17). Both of these games feature a “who's who” of voice talent, stars who've also lent their virtual selves to the game roles.

In the case of Return of the King, all the central players appear in the game, and eight characters are playable. Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Sean Astin (Sam) and John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) are all playable characters in the new game, which also incorporates more than 20 minutes of movie footage on the DVD as well as on-set interviews.

“We ‘cyberscan' our actors -- a process that scans their faces and bodies -- so that it's not just their voice but their likeness in most cases that we're using,” said Nick Earl, VP and GM of the EA Redwood Shores studio. “For some games, such as [Return of the King], we've used motion-capture data as well to capture the unique walks and actions of actors or stunt men just as we would in a sports game. Going forward, we'll see an increase in graphical realism and special effects, but, more importantly, an increase in the emotional depth and impact of gameplay.”

The new James Bond game was developed as if it were a movie. Bruce Feirstein, who penned Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and GoldenEye, wrote the game's script. Emmy Award-winning composer Sean Callery conducted the soundtrack with a 90-person orchestra at Fox Studios, and Mya co-wrote and sang an original Bond theme song, “Everything or Nothing.” The cast includes Bond regulars Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench and John Cleese, as well as ‘A'-list newcomers to the virtual cast -- Heidi Klum as bad girl Katya Nadanova, Willem Dafoe as megalomaniac Nikolai Diavolo and Shannon Elizabeth as virtual Bond girl Serena St. Germaine.

Other big names appearing in games this fall include Arnold Schwarzenegger in Atari's T3: Rise of the Machines (Nov. 11) and Jennifer Garner in Acclaim's Alias (Dec 2). Both games have new DVDs on store shelves to cross-promote.

“It's so much fun to sit in a booth and try to put everything into your voice that you would normally be doing on camera, particularly with a character that I know so well and love so much,” said Jennifer Garner.

Both Garner and Schwarzenegger were paid generously to provide their virtual characters with real voices and likenesses.

“Until recently there was not much negotiation for video game voice acting because game companies would hire voice actors and pay them scale (roughly $500 for 4 hours work), but with celebrity talent we're now dealing with six-figure paydays and points on the backend -- similar to a movie deal,” said Larry Hummel, co-head of the animation voiceover department at International Creative Management.

Activision was able to attract a noteworthy cast for this year's answer to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, True Crime: Streets of L.A. Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Michael Madsen, Russell Wong, Michelle Rodriguez, Ron Perlman, CCH Pounder, James Hong, Mako and Keone Young will bring depth to the game's story line, which involves an ex-cop going after a deadly gang in Los Angeles.

David Duchovny will appear in two upcoming games, Ubi Soft's XIII (Oct. 28), which also features the voice of rapper Eve, and The X-Files: Resist or Serve (Jan. 5), in which he co-stars with Gillian Anderson. In the first case, he provides just the voice of the character, since it's a first-person shooter. In the second, he provides voice and likeness in the first 3-D-rendered “X-Files” game (the previous PlayStation game was full-motion video).

The blending of Hollywood voice actors with interactive entertainment also will grow with the increasing graphics capabilities of consoles.

“In some cases there are excellent actors matched with appropriate roles (e.g. Duchovny in XIII); there are marquee attachments to certain properties (e.g. Jet Li in Rise to Honor); and there are celebrities producing their own games (e.g. Vin Diesel),” said Lev Chapelsky, president of Blindlight Media, which matches game companies with Hollywood talent. “We've seen an industry that came from Tony Hawk and Madden Football to one that is getting more and more saturated with celebrity involvement across the board.”

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