Recording Voices for Hedgewars
As I have had a number of people firing me off private messages here, asking how I produce the voice packs, I figured I'd simply post my response here for all to see.
Before I begin my explanation, I'd like to go on record by saying I am by no means a professional at this sort of thing. Anything I relay here is stuff I have learnt through my own research and experience. If you are interested in contributing voiceover work to Hedgewars, don't be afraid to do your own research and experiment. While this work process works fine for me, you may find one that better suits you. With that all said, lets get to the good stuff!
Have I got the right stuff?
First thing you'll need before you even think about recording is a good quality microphone. A gaming headset simply will not do for decent quality recordings, the best thing you can do is to go out and buy a proper recording mic. For the early voicepacks, I used a Sony F-V220 which is decent for beginners, but it does not come with a stand, nor particularly good noise-cancelling to keep out background noise. This was sufficient for my early packs, but as I began to realise the voicepacks were going to be a regular investment on my part, I have since purchased a Blue Snowball recording microphone, which frankly offers superb quality if you want good bang for your buck. I also recommend purchasing or making yourself a pop filter, which will help to kill off the plosives that would normally crop up in recording.
Where should I be recording?
Any recording you do should be done in a quiet place where there is as little background noise as possible. If you can hear your brother watching TV in the room next door, chances are the microphone can too. You can reduce background noise to an extent when you're editing, but it's best for the quality of your recording if you don't have to.
Additionally you want to be recording in a space where there is as little reverb as possible. Recording in a small, tiled bathroom is a good way to have your voice bouncing back off the walls, but not so good if you want a clean recording. You may have noticed professional recording studios tend to have their walls lined with fabric to absorb the sound and kill off the reverb. Obviously if you're recording in your own home you're not likely to have this kind of room, so if you find your microphone is picking up the sound bouncing off your walls there is a trick I have learnt that helps to prevent this happening; recording from underneath a blanket.
Now while you will no doubt feel silly doing this, and you'll certainly look silly, I have found that recording under a blanket offers two advantages. First, it helps to eliminate undesirable background noise coming from around you, whether it's a TV running in another room, or even the air-conditioning in your room. Second, the blanket will absorb any sound you make, preventing it from bouncing back into your microphone as reverb. This works particularly well if the blanket you are using is a nice, thick one. For most this trick won't likely be necessary, but it is one worth keeping in mind if you simply don't have the ideal recording environment.
So how do you make all those funny voices?
I always try to perform all the voices myself. I feel that the less effects you need to use, the better your recording will be. In the case of Hedgewars however I do have to use certain effects in order to give it that high-pitched comical quality. I will explain how I do all this in detail, but first I must explain a couple of things about my work process with Hedgewars voices in particular.
First, you should try to exaggerate the defining characteristics of each voice as much as possible. This means making your accents as thick as you possibly can, making deep voices more guttural, and emphasizing those quirks in the character's speech. The reason to do this is simply because while these characteristics may sound over-done when recording, once the clip has been sped up it helps the lines to retain that distinctive sound that belongs to that voice and that voice alone.
The second point I have to make when recording for Hedgewars is that you may need to speak slower than you naturally would. During my early recordings I often found that the moment I sped them up they would become incomprehensible to the point where it just sounded like gibberish. This is obviously not the ideal situation, so for all my recordings I generally force myself to speak quite slowly and to properly annunciate the words. If you want to get a sense of just how slow I speak when recording, just listen to this.
Please note that with those two points, it doesn't necessarily have to apply to all voiceover work, but I do find that because Hedgewars voiceovers calls for pitch and speed adjustment, they are points worth taking into consideration when recording. If you're not sure about whether they should apply to you. Try recording a short line in the voice you intend to use, pitch-shift it up and see how it sounds. Don't be afraid to experiment!
Making a Hedgewars Voice Pack - The Process
Before I get into the steps, it bears mentioning that I do all my recordings in Adobe Audition. Now there are many perfectly servicable audio editing applications out there, some even that are free (such as Audacity), however I have found Audition to be the most comprehensive and user-friendly audio editing package around, so any further explanations will likely involve mention of features that are unique to Audition. That said most audio editing applications do still include the ability to speed up and pitch-shift sound files, so don't fret. Worst case scenario if you can't find the desired effects in the application you're using, you can easily download a trial of the Audition software and follow my steps along.
1. I'll first start by trying to imitate an accent or manner of speaking as best as I can. If you're not sure about how a voice should sound, it never hurts to see if you can find samples of a person who normally speaks in that particular fashion, or even to ask someone that does! For instance, for the cheese-rich Russian voice pack I spent a fair bit of time discussing the pronounciation of words with people who spoke the language. Take note of any distinct characteristics that make that accent identifiable.
2. I will write out a script for each voice pack. This consists of me looking at all the sound files I will need to record, and devising appropriate lines that at its core sends the same message but is unique to that character. Say for instance, the file Byebye.ogg is typically used when a hog is about to die. The standard hog voice simply fires this off with a "See ya!" This short and to-the-point kind of line suits the character well. If instead, we were to look at the British Gentleman voice, he speaks in a more polite and dignified fashion, opting instead to bid the player, "Farewell, good sir."
3. Once I feel confident that I have developed the feel of the character adequately, I will begin recording in Adobe Audition. I will usually make a first pass, performing only a few of the lines in the first recording. The purpose of this is so that I can make sure I have the feel of the character downpat and that there isn't any undesirable background noise being picked up by the microphone.
4. Provided there are no unusual distortions or background noise, and the volume level is good, I then use one of the Audition Time effects, the one called Stretch. This effect allows me to control the speed and pitch of sound playback to a level of my choosing. There are multiple modes in which this effect can work, but I always make a point of using the one called Resample. This makes it both raise the pitch and speed up the voice at the same time. You could just have it keep the tempo of your dialogue and raise the pitch, but this tends to result in undesirable distortions. I find the best setting to recreate that distinct Hedgewars voice is to set Stretch to a ratio of 60 or 70, depending on which sounds better for the voice I am trying to do. This ratio will speed up and pitch-shift the file to the point that it is 60-70% of its original length.
5. If after applying the Stretch effect the voice sounds good to me, I will then proceed to record all of the lines I have written out. It is possible to perform them all in one go, which is a good way to start, but I personally recommend taking the time to go through the file after you've recorded it with the Shift effect applied and make sure everything sounds good, and that your voice is not losing its character once sped up. It's also important to watch out for pops and clicks that happen during the speech. If I find any lines that don't seem quite right, whether it's me messing up the accent or some sort of distortion in the audio, I will stop and re-record that one line, doing multiple takes if necessary, until the quality is at a level that I'm happy with.
6. Once I'm happy with the recording, I will cut up all the lines into their respective sound files as Ogg Vorbis format, using a VBR (Variable Bit-Rate) setting of 128kbps. If you're not sure how the files should be arranged, I recommend investigating the sound folder in your Hedgewars directory. You want to be looking in Hedgewars 0.9.13/share/hedgewars/data/sounds/voices/ and you can see how all the files are named.
That's my workflow when producing the Hedgewars voice packs! Hopefully you guys didn't find it too confusing or boring! If you have any questions feel free to fire me off a private message and I'll do my best to answer them! Any budding voice actors who want to take a crack at making their own packs, be sure to send us your efforts! If it's good enough, who knows, it may just get featured in the game! :)