In light of the recent release of Lost Planet 3, we thought it would be a good time to take a look behind the scenes by sitting down and talking with Bill Watterson, the voice actor and face model of the lead protagonist, Jim Peyton. It's a doozy though, so make sure you have enough time to read the entire thing, it's actually quite interesting throughout!
Game On: Alright, why don't you just start off with a quick summary of who you are and what you do?
GO: So you grew up in Ohio, was it? Cleveland?
BW: Yeah, Cleveland, Ohio, born and raised.
GO: How did you get your start, when did you begin pursuing your career?
BW: You know, I started in Rock 'n Roll, I played in rock bands in college and then right out of college I moved over to Europe and lived in Ireland for about four years playing in indie rock bands. Then I moved back to Cleveland got a bunch of guys together, at one point I was in four bands at one time and pretty much all four of them kind of fell apart...[Laughs]...one after another, and I was like “Well, what do I do now?” And you know, I love and miss being in a band, I still am in a band out here but, you know, pursuing that as a career I definitely missed it but I felt like that ship had sailed.
Luckily for me one of my old friends from Ireland was writing for Crank Yankers, remember that show? And he was looking for a roommate out in LA and I had visited LA, I had played at the Spaceland with one of my bands, and I just remember, I don't know if you've been to Los Angeles, but for me - especially coming from a place like Cleveland which is just always struggling, it's a really hard place, it's a very creative place, it feeds you creatively, but it's a very hard place to make a living creatively. And you know our sports teams can never turn a corner, the civil government can never turn a corner, the city always aspires to be more than it ever will be...and this is all said from a place of love. But then I came out to Los Angeles and I just felt this incredibly tangible sense of hope and possibility and everyone that I met was working on projects that I knew about and was a fan of and that's how they made their living. I wanted a piece of that, so when my friend said “Hey, I need a roommate in LA if you're looking for a change,” it was right when my entire life was blowing up in my face completely. [Laughs] So I said, “Yeah, yeah, I'm looking for a change all right!” I got in the car, drove across the country, that was almost ten years ago.
Since then I've done production work, I'd worked on set in Ohio, there's actually a surprising amount of productions taking place in Ohio, they did Avengers and Captain America 2: Winter Soldier and a lot of indie films and stuff like that. I was doing more [industrial video] and commercials, things like that, but I had a resumé as a Production Assistant working on set so I was able to get work in the film and TV industry right way as in within 48 hours of my car pulling in in Los Angeles I was all set.
And then it just wasn't hard to be working behind the camera. [I was] no longer in a band and no longer performing and thinking “Hmm, I wanna do what that guy is doing.” So I just started, I knew the world of set very well and I had a lot of great experience working on a season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the pilot for The Comeback on HBO, I did Unscripted on HBO, and a few indie features. So I really learned the chain of command and the world of set and then started taking some of that money I had made and started reinvesting in classes and head-shots and all the things, the tools, that an actor needs to get started. I got lucky kind of early, and I've been having just an incredible ride doing really, really fun, bizarre projects ever since.
GO: So I was looking at your IMDB page and it actually says your first experience voice acting was was L.A. Noire?
BW: Yeah! And that actually came roundabout because I was brought in just to do motion capture, not audio work, at the start there wasn't going to be much in terms of dialogue. But what started out as a “Hey can you come by and help us out?” turned into six days a week for three months of doing like a dozen characters a day, doing stunts, playing women, playing old men, and filling in for actors who's schedules didn't work out or for roles that hadn't been cast yet.
There was one day where I played an assassin, I played the guy that he shot, then I played the cop that shot the assassin. [Laughs] But it was great, that was just a clinic in motion capture, in the video game world, and in acting in general. They would just throw a script at me and be like, “Hey he couldn't be here today, we're shooting this scene next, you're officer whoever-the-hell.” And I'm like, “Okay! Oh my God, Officer Whoever-the-hell has like 20 lines and we're shooting in five minutes!?”
And working with great actors, there are so many recognizable faces in L.A. Noire, so many great character actors. Getting to sit down and do a scene with John Noble, Art Lafleur who's in Field of Dreams, to hear their stories over lunch and stuff, that's the good stuff.
GO: So is that how Capcom picked you for the job? Was it through your experience in L.A. Noire or was it more of a formal process?
BW: It definitely helped! It definitely helped! I submitted myself online but I made sure to mention that I had just wrapped L.A. Noire, which at the time was very buzz-worthy for its advanced use of technology. Then when I was first cast in [Lost Planet 3] the intention was not to do photo-realism of the actors the way they did in L.A. Noire and the way that we ended up doing in Lost Planet. The very first demo that we did the characters were, not quite anime, but they've got that exaggerated style of spiky hair and broad shoulders. It was really cool, it looked awesome, but there was a decision, to go with photo-realism and the full 360 motion capture experience where you're getting the face, vocal performance, and the physical performance all at the same time on a motion capture stage with all of the actors, the entire ensemble.
I just got very lucky in that regard, they've been out online, but they had these pre-visualizations, these character sketches of Jim Peyton, and I was like, “Oh, I look like that!” And the day that I went in Capcom was going back and forth, “We've got to cast someone new, who's going to be our lead?” Spark was sort of saying, “I don't know we really like Bill...'” And Spark convinced Capcom to have another look at me. I went into read on camera, the original monologue that had got me the job that day back in 2010, and that day I happened to have a full beard, I showed up wearing cowboy boots and some sort of blue-collar gear, you know, just jeans and a work-shirt or something. It just fit, it was just fortuitous.
GO: How much research did you do before you started all that, did you play the first two games, or did you just watch the cutscenes?
BW: I watched the cutscenes in Lost Planet 1 and I played some of Lost Planet 2. Then I just talked to the writers a lot about what everything meant and what was a reference to something that was going to become a big deal down the line - what were some of the seeds that were being planted for the story that's already been told. It's pretty impressive because you played Lost Planet 2 and you were like, “Wait a minute, I'm in a jungle? That doesn't make any sense.” But they make that make sense, and not in a way that feels written and not in a way that feels heavy handed. They thought in great detail about the ecosystem of this planet and how all of these things could exist together and how all of that is tied in to the Acrid. I mean I can't reveal [any details], I'd love to because I think it's a brilliant idea.
So much went into it and I think they really came up with a legend for this planet that justifies everything and doesn't feel like a retroactive fix. Especially as a prequel, it's really done it's job of saying, “This is the logic of this world, and how and why it works, and how and why everything that's come before fits in.” That's just a triumph or writing.
GO: Sort of going off that, do you game? Is it just something you do in your spare time or would you consider it a hobby?
BW: I just got the, well not just at this point, but I do have the PS3. I'm super fired up to give Uncharted 3 a spin; I figured that was a good way in for me. But I do wrestle with the controls; I've got to be honest. I came up with Atari 2600, I still have one, I remember playing ColecoVision and Intellivision, and then I remember going to SEGA and Nintendo. But at a certain point I just got out of games; I don't know if I joined a sports team or what. That's when I didn't have a girlfriend, so I don't know what I was doing, but I wasn't gaming. And when I came back to it I was like, “There's 15 thousand [games to play]! What do you want from me!?” [Laughs] I just remember feeling like I missed a crucial leap in technology and got left behind fast.
But I'm determined, I have enough friends who are gamers. I actually enjoy watching them play because of the visuals and the storytelling of the games. I've always been a huge fan of fantasy and adventure, putting yourself in someone else's shoes, I'm sure that's why I'm an actor. It's why I played with action figures as a kid, that's why I wrote and drew and read comics as a kid. I just love being able to go on an adventure and games are just so sophisticated now that you can just get lost in a world for 20 hours and just be someone else in a very visceral, emotional way. And that's just fascinating, I want a piece of that.
GO: It must be pretty strange then, to imagine that you go from consuming all this media with all these other people, these famous characters, and then all of a sudden you're one of them. So what's it like having your full likeness in the game? Is that strange to you?
BW: It's completely surreal. It's completely and utterly surreal. The first time I went in with Spark and saw the final product, a cutscene that had been completed, I couldn't stop laughing. It was so over the top, it was so bizarre. And it's strange, I've obviously seen myself in projects before but when you watch a film back it's always different than you think it's going to be and it's different than you remember. But there are all these visual triggers, like “Oh I remember wearing that shirt,” or “Oh yeah, I remember it was cloudy that day,” or “Oh I remember that house that we shot in that I'm seeing again.” It triggers your memory of it and it sort of makes sense in a way.
But when you're watching the cutscenes you're like, “I wasn't wearing that, it wasn't cold out, there wasn't a big machine there, that's not what the guy I was talking to looked like.” And yet, you're still hearing your voice and remembering the pattern of the dialogue and the music with the dialogue and you're seeing yourself. So it's much more bizarre than watching back anything I've filmed or watching a video tape of theater that I've done or something like that. It's much, much more bizarre because you don't have any of those visual triggers to ground you in it. It's just completely surreal.
Even still when I play L.A. Noire - more than half the time, when it goes to a cutscene - one of those guys is me and the head got replaced when they booked the actor. So I'm like, “God, this dialogue is so familiar. One of those bodies is mine!” It's a complete trip.
GO: How long does the entire process take? From the moment you stepped in the studio to the moment you turned off the mics for the final time?
BW: This one was very different. First I was involved in Spark's internal demo, which I don't think anyone but Capcom will ever see, and that was three years ago, 2010, when I submitted the monologue to be Jim. Then it took Capcom a while to say yes to what Spark wanted to do, then they took awhile to say yes to me as [Peyton].
And then our first order of business was doing a demo for E3, so we did a whole motion capture and voice over session just for the E3 demo which is not the game, and then we started making the game. So it's been three years, but we'd go into the mo-cap studio for two days and shoot 40/45 pages of script. Then three weeks later I'd come in and do some voice over in the booth - some of the more detached stuff where he's just wandering around by himself or just radioing back to base – then a month later we'd go in and do the next chapter, do two days of mo-cap, and then a few weeks later I'd come in again. You know it's very, very spread out! And I don't know if that was deliberate, if it was a money saving thing, if it was scheduling, or if the story kept evolving as Capcom and Spark were going back and forth on what direction it was going to take and how it was going to wrap up, climax, and all that.
GO: Hypothetically, if you could spend the rest of your career in one field, whether it be voice acting, production, what have you, what one would it be?
BW: That is a brutal, brutal question. That's a tough one to answer and kind of the bane of my existence because I'm always trying to figure that out and where to put my focus. I made a very conscious effort to put my focus into on camera acting a few years back and that's when my career really started to take off because I had that focus and I could funnel all my decisions into that goal.
I'll be honest, I'm working on a project now, I just finished a comedy pilot that I wrote, produced, and star in - it's about a band and the actors in the show will actually play instruments. Because I can't decide; I want to produce, I like acting, and I miss music everyday.
Obviously, this world of voice overs is a little newer for me. I've done some commercial voice over work and I was a DJ for years, so I'm familiar with the booth. But that's tough...I love this world of gaming, I love the kind of stories that are being told, I love motion capture. If it were just the voice over booth, I'd miss the physicality of performing, a lot. If someone said the rest of your career is going to be spent doing sci-fi action-adventure video games, I'd be like, “Great, great, where do I sign?” But I just booked a job as a bass player in a studio musician scene in Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys, so I'm still kind of combining it all.
GO: I know you're just getting back into gaming and all that, but what other franchises would you love to provide a voice for? Halo, Call of Duty, stuff like that.
BW: The Last of Us looks fascinating; the BioShock stuff just sounds like visionary storytelling. What is it? Limbo? That black and white, sort of animated title? That really appeals to me, that is such a distinct world. Anytime there's clear evidence of a voice, where someone has a take on a world.
That's what I loved about Lost Planet. That's why I actually found Jim easy to play, because there's a vision for his voice. It was on the page, it didn't take a lot of thought because you could sense a uniformity, an arch that made sense, that all fit into a tone. The game had a voice, every character had a voice. That kind of work is just a lot easier to do, and that's the kind of work that I'm a fan of as a consumer.
GO: Do you have anything you want to plug before I let you go?
BW: I co-host The SmodCo Smorning Show on Tuesday mornings with Kevin Smith's SmodCast Network. That's always a fun time, we have some great guests on that. I'm on Twitter and I don't overdo it, so I'm not annoying. I'm @BillTweeterson which is annoying, but what are you going to do? Bill Watterson was already taken. But yeah, this time next week I'll be working with Clint Eastwood, so take that! [Laughs] That's pretty exciting.
Game On would like to thank Bill for his time, for more on our opinion of the game, make sure to give our review a read! Don't forget to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to stay up to date on all of our news, interviews, reviews, previews, and more! We've got a lot of content in the works for you and we don't want you to miss it!