Earlier this month game developer and Phoenix local Erin Robinson announced her very talented list of voice over artists for her game Gravity Ghost. The game follows the character Iona who embarks on a journey through the stars and has several interesting encounters along the way.
To the excitement of many the talented voice actress and star of the YouTube channel Hey Ash Whatcha Playin? Ashly Burch, was revealed to be the voice of the main character Iona in Robinsons post. In support of the game Burch agreed to sit down for an exclusive interview about her experiences in voice acting, and her role as Iona.
Jesse Tannous: How did you originally get involved in Gravity Ghost?
Ashly Burch: I met Erin a few years ago I think, and she showed me an early build of Gravity Ghost. I thought it looked great and really fun to play and I think maybe a year later she just asked if I’d be at all interested in voicing the main character. I said ‘yeah absolutely!’ So it was pretty simple, she just sort of asked me, and I said yes because Erin is great.
JT: How does Iona compare, personality wise, to some of your previous characters?
AB: I’ve played a lot of really peppy crazy girls in cartoons and in video games which is super fun, but Iona is a lot different. She has a context that makes her a little bit more subdued, a bit more suspicious maybe, a little bit more sarcastic. Most of the work that I do with voice acting is comedic, so it’s fun to be able to mix that with some dramatic elements. There are some bits at the end of Gravity Ghost that were really fun for me to record that are a bit more dramatic and dark.
Erin liked the sort of deadpan, fast humor that we do in Hey Ash, so we have a little bit of that for Iona, but Iona is more of a jaded teenager in some of the sections. I guess angsty is the correct word. She has gone through some things that have left her sort of angsty and unhappy, so that’s kind of where her personality comes from.
JT: What excited you about working on Gravity Ghost?
AB: The nice thing about Gravity Ghost that was really exciting for me was when we talked about it and decided that I would play several of the characters. It was fun for me to be able try to find different places for the voices to make them sound distinct. There are moments where two characters I’m voicing are talking to each other, which I think Gravity Ghost is the first time that’s happened with me. So there are a couple of scenes where all the characters that are speaking are me (laughs), so it was a really fun challenge for me to find the distinctions.
JT: Did you agree to this role to try and break away from running the risk of being type casted into those “peppy crazy girls,” you are somewhat known for?
AB: Actually, I’m not worried about that. I think a few of my most visible roles are crazy or peppy girls, but I’ve played a lot of characters who are soldiers, or fighters, or meditative characters, and a lot of this stuff hasn’t come out yet. If you look at the breath of work that I’ve done that’s been out, then it’s sort of just like a lot of crazy girls in it (laughs), but I’ve been very lucky to have had the opportunity to play a diverse cast of characters in the short time I’ve been a voice actor. Plus I really like playing crazy little girls it is fun (laughs), Tiny Tina is an incredibly fun character to play.
JT: Was this particular role challenging for you?
AB: I feel like I’m always being challenged by my voice acting roles, for multiple different reasons. I still get nervous every time I book a gig. I’m not in a place yet where I’m like ‘Oh this is just something I do now,’ I’m still in the nervous actor mode. Gravity Ghost was a fun challenge because I’m interacting with myself so seriously. There is a nervousness when you are working with a big studio or with a big animation project, but Erin and I are friends and when we were recording it felt really casual and fun so I got to play more. I got to try things that I might’ve been uncomfortable doing if I had been in a larger setting with a studio and producers looking at me.
JT: Do you think you’ll be more drawn to indie projects because of that more comfortable environment?
AB: I really love doing indie projects, I think the characters that are available in indie games especially, like a lot of the indie games I’ve done, have been really rich interesting characters for someone of my vocal range. I guess voice acting is just fun, (laughs) interesting to say…but it is.
JT: How did you get started in voice acting?
AB: I’ve always wanted to be a voice actor. Well I think at first I wanted to be a singer. Then in middle school I auditioned for a musical and I only really cared because I wanted to sing in it. I had to act as well as part of the audition and that was the first time I ever really acted, and I was like ‘Oh hey, this is fun, I like doing this.’ I can’t really remember the timeline exactly, but Metal Gear Solid was the first game I played where it made me realize that there are actors giving these characters voices. Even though I’d seen plenty of cartoons and played games with voice over before, somehow my child brain didn’t put that together. But in Metal Gear Solid when you are introduced to a character their character name comes up and their voice actor comes underneath it, and I was like ‘Oh wow, people do this for a living, cool!’
JT: How have you liked voice over work so far?
AB: It’s been amazing I’ve been really really lucky. My first gig was Borderlands 2, and arguably Tiny Tina is my most popular role although Sasha from Attack on Titan might be rivaling her. But it’s been really amazing. I’ve worked with some really amazing people and worked on some awesome projects. I know this all sounds like generic actor jargon (laughs) but especially in the last year I’ve been able to work on some really amazing projects.”
JT: Do you have a particularly memorable moment while in the studio?
AB: I was recently recording an Adventure Time episode, and I can’t remember the exact adjective in the script but it was supposed to be an exertion or a groan of some kind. I ended up making a noise that sounded like I was taking a dump. I finished, and I heard the other voice actors and my director laughing, and I was like, ‘I just sounded like I was trying to take a shit didn’t I?’
JT: What were some of the challenges transitioning from camera acting to voice acting?
AB: There are a few pretty fundamental differences. In voice acting, if you are doing game recording, for the most part you are going to be by yourself in a studio. Typically animations record with the cast together or at least some chunk of the cast together. With game voice acting you are constructing everything for yourself pretty much. You’re thinking about what the other characters could be doing, trying to imagine the scene, you’re constructing the entire environment for yourself.
On camera acting you’re in the space, you have a costume on, you are interacting with other actors, it’s more established that you’re there. Other differences, voice acting you don’t memorize, you just come in and read off a script, which I love now. Whenever I have to memorize now it is such a weird shift for me I’m like ‘Oh wait I have to know these words again?’
JT: What do you love about voice acting?
AB: The main thing I love is that it doesn’t matter what you look like. I mean for women and men, but especially women, with on camera acting you have to look a certain way. You have to present yourself as the most attractive version of yourself that you can be, and then you’re judged based on how attractive you are or if you are the right look for the character.
With voice acting it just matters what your voice can do. There are some things that I won’t get over other people because my register isn’t as deep as other people. So if someone wants a deep, dark, brooding villain voice then they are probably not going to pick me, but, I’ve been a soldier, I’ve been a bunch of little girls, all sorts of roles that I would not have been able to be with on camera context because I just don’t look the part.
JT: Any words of advice for those out there looking to break into voice acting?
AB: The main thing is always try to find different voices for yourself. If you’re in your car just driving somewhere you can try to start thinking about a voice you might want to do, like try a British accent. For a while I was listening to tapes of Scottish people just reading stuff just so I could try and get that accent down. I heard someone say that a really good way to do this, that I think is pretty clever, if you play games you can play one of the early RPGs where all the dialogue is just text and then go through and read the text and try to give each character a voice. So developing an arsenal of voices is important, and then early things like if you live near colleges or you have friends who are animators offer your services to them. Hop onto game maker forums or go where indie game developers are going because they could potentially need voice acting.
JT: Anything else?
AB: I know reels can be expensive but even if you construct one on your own if you don’t have enough money to get a more professional one while you’re getting started, as far as college animators go or young indie developers I don’t think they are going to care if you have the highest quality reel yet. So I think getting something together to showcase your voice is important. You can also watch cartoons and play games and just kinda listen, and try to see how the design of the character matches to the voice.
JT: You are known for your comedic personality and the humor you bring to many of your roles, but you are involved with some pretty interesting projects that focus on serious issues too, namely Take This, and How Games Saved My Life. Care to talk about them?
AB: I suffer from anxiety for as long as I can remember, so Take This is a non-profit and our goal is to increase awareness of mental health issues in the gaming industry and also provide resources. It’s something that is very close to my heart since I suffer from anxiety. About a year or two ago after we started Hey Ash I started becoming a lot more involved in the industry and in issues of gender representation and the presentation of other marginalized groups in the industry and in games. My interest and my investments in those things have only grown since then.
How Games Saved My Life, I started that mostly because at the time there was sort of another moral panic about video games happening. So I started it more as a counterpoint to the idea that games just create violent people. People submitted to it pretty frequently, but then they kind of died down, and I didn’t feel like going around asking people to submit things because it seemed counter to the purpose of the blog. So it has faded a little bit, but it’s nice because it’s a living document to all the ways in which gaming has helped people.
Ashly Burch seems to bring enthusiasm and dedication to all of the characters she voices. It’s possible that with the new experiences and freedom she encountered while recording this game, Gravity Ghost could become one of the young voice actor’s most memorable roles yet.