The Making of The Churnwalker – The Language, Acting, and Technology behind the Voice of Darkness

The Churnwalker

The Churn is a destructive, cyclical force in the Vainglory universe. When it grows out of control, no human can live inside it. It kills or infects anyone who comes into contact with it. One enterprising explorer entered the Churn wearing an environmentally-sealed suit and charted this unknown world – but became a monster in the process.
The Churnwalker is a horror straight from your nightmares. Early in his development, we decided that any words he spoke in-game would diminish his scariness. We thought about just having him make scary noises, but I grabbed the opportunity to construct a new language.
The Churn language needed to be a workable language, because I wanted to use it in the Churnwalker’s written story, but also to be accessible in some way to our players. I began by choosing sounds and rhythms that sounded frightening to me, then decided on a conjugation structure. From there it was mostly a matter of following the verbs. I spent a few weeks muttering this creepy language to myself at my desk, freaking out the unfortunate people who sit near me at work.
From the beginning, I wanted Roger Jackson for the role. I knew he’d take what I’d constructed and make it his own. I went into the recording with trepidation that quickly diminished when Roger entered the booth. My weird language rolled out of him as though he’d been speaking it forever! The Dehumaniser added a whole new layer of fun and inspiration to the process, allowing Roger to hear his voice transformed in real time.
– Sarah Arellano


Teaser Trailers

 A series or trailers were created to tease the release of the much anticipated new character.  In this one, you can hear the voice of the explorer become more and more corrupted by the “Churn” as the scene progresses.  You can learn more about VainGlory at the publisher’s website, Super Evil Megacorp.
Meet the Churnwalker, an explorer and cartographer who went too deep into a jungle, called the Churn, and became a monster. We’ve created a pure horror movie monster here: dragging chains, painful hook attacks, an alien monster look, and we’re topping it off with the creepiest voiceover we’ve ever attempted – in a brand new, constructed language.
Some inspiration:


Hero Spotlight

The People

Actor: Roger Jackson

Writers/Producers: Sarah Arellano and Jay Osipa (SEMC)

Creative Director: Dale Crowley (Somatone)

Recording Engineer/Vocal Processing: Michael Brinkman (Somatone)

Sound designer: Dan Johnson (Somatone)

The Language – “All Secrets are Worth Knowing”

 “All secrets are worth knowing” is the Churnwalker’s personal motto. Even if the secret can kill you, or make you into a monster.

The Actor

There was never any question who was going to voice the Churnwalker. Normally, we would send out a new character to dozens of actors (via their agencies) to read for this part.  However, we know that Roger was perfect for this role, so we sent it to him directly. We never looked back.  Here is a video interview with Roger:

Some will recognize Roger as the voice on the phone in the Scream movies. Others will recognize him as the voice of Mojo Jojo of Powerpuff fame. Roger has been the voice of some of your favorite characters over the years, and you may not even realize it. Check out his Imdb profile here to see what we mean:

The Voice


The Recording

We recorded the vocal audio here at Somatone, in Emeryville, California. Sarah Arellano and Jason Osipa from SuperEvilMegeCorp, produced, Dale Crowley, of Somatone, directed, and Michael Brinkman, of Somatone, was the Recording Engineer.

While Roger Jackson was in the booth, we ran the Krotos Dehumaniser2 plugin on an aux bus so that everyone in the studio, including the actor, could hear the effect the plugin was creating, and the actor could work with it in real-time. This gave Roger total control over the final product, by allowing him to play off of the effected voice, and create the sounds that he felt worked for this character. But in the end, what we had was a clean, raw version of his recording, that we could tweak, and play with, to bring out the Churn.

Roger gave us a lot to work with, both in terms of great acting, and in setting the sound/tone of the character overall. Some of the best ideas for the direction of the Churnwalker’s voice, came from playing around in the booth, and letting Roger go wild. From creating creepy noises, to delivering spine-chilling lines, (and spitting Wu-Tang verses between takes)

Roger created a character that fans are going to LOVE. In terms of playing VainGlory, it will be just as much fun to be killed by the Churnwalker, as it will be to BE the Churnwalker! Thanks to GREAT writing and character development, The Churnwalker is set to be one of the coolest characters in MOBA games today!

The Tech

Michael Brinkman handled all of the vocal processing for the Churnwalker character at Somatone. The project involved several layers of the same audio file being processed in different ways simultaneously. First, we started with the raw line of dialogue, then ran it through the Krotos Dehumaiser2 plugin, and came up with our own customized preset that included just 2 nodes. One for granular synthesis, and one for pitch shifting. This gave a really dark, sinister feeling to the voice, but also kept it clear and recognizable.

Next, we took a copy of the same clean line of dialogue, and did a little modern day backmasking. First, reversing the audio with the standard reverse plugin in ProTools Audio Suite. Then we added a decent amount of reverb with Truverb, and bounced that out as a new audio file. Once finished with the reverb, we again reversed the file using the same audio suite reverse plugin. The final product was a line of dialogue where each word begins in a reverb tail before developing into the word. This is a common effect in horror films for ghostly and/or evil characters.

The third layer was something that Roger did on the fly in the vocal booth. We all decided we loved it, so we added it to the character. It was a sound similar to the chittering of the Predator from the movies. With a little reverb that included some glittery artifacts, we ended up with a nice effect that made you wonder what kind of mouth the Churnwalker is speaking with under that mask.

The fourth and final layer of the Churnwalker’s voice, is the Churn itself. The tear in reality. The break in known existence that allows the Churnwalker to move freely among us. For this, we chose a set of samples of thunder that were really deeply rumbling, and sat mostly in the midrange, with a big notch in the area of the vocal EQ so the words were still clear, and understandable. Each line of dialogue for the Churnwalker had to be hand laid and edited with both the Predator clicks and the churn breaks, line by line. A process we believe was definitely worth it in the end.

The Result

 The resulting voice is one that fits the Churnwalker character in every way. The evil is well represented. The “not-of-this-realm” vibe is well represented. There is character in every line the Churnwalker delivers, whether he is taunting your character, killing your character, or dying himself. Roger Jackson and the rest of the crew made the Churnwalker one to remember. This will be a character you might want to only fight during the day… with the lights on. You’ve been warned.


Demystifying the Voice-over Process

Ultimately, the right voice actors strengthen gamers’ relationship to game universe.

As a voice-over producer, a lot of what I do is carry the client through the voice-over process, from casting and script preparation, recording and directing our talent, to mastering and delivering files on time.

It is highly beneficial to work on the voice-over for a game as soon as concepting and writing have begun– an integral approach that is equally true for the casual mobile titles, as it is to AAA console experiences.

Since dialogue is one of the most effective tools for connecting players to a game and its universe, having the right talent in the booth and directors in the control room make all the difference.

What is most important to any voice director is capturing the right feeling and emotion from every actor in their studio. It’s all about ensuring that context is properly portrayed, and that every line informs the gamer of what they need to know, strengthening their relationship to a games universe.

Calling Central Casting:!
When a rough script for a new project is submitted, I ramp up into the casting process. Depending on the scope of the game, I submit casting documents to talent agencies and private contractors. In its simplest form, a casting document contains all the information for a needed character, any voice references, sample art, and several test lines for the actors to read. After receiving our first round of auditions back, we shortlist the most qualified voices, and submit them back to the game’s producers and directors to review and choose. We cast in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver, and have access to studios and contractors all over the US.

Record, Master, Edit for Sonic Perfection:
After a project has been through casting, and the roles have been filled, we schedule actors in one of our studios to come in and record. Game producers and directors often attend the sessions– if not in person, then connected and listening via Skype. Even if a client has little to no experience working with dialog or actors in their games, having their input and presence at the sessions is extremely helpful for both me, as the director, and the actors.

One of the last phases of the voice-over process is editing and mastering. During a session, we make notes about which takes we liked the best, and which performances were most authentic. These all go to our editor, who cleans and processes the files, removes vocal clicks and imperfections, and masters them to be played back in game. Commonly in video games, a single line may play multiple times, and in those cases, it’s not uncommon for us to deliver five or six versions of line to avoid becoming repetitive. After our dialog has been through editorial, it goes back to the developer, and is finally implemented in game.

Strengthening Players’ Relationship to Game through Sound:
What is most important to any voice director is capturing the right feeling and emotion from every actor in their studio. It’s all about ensuring that context is properly portrayed, and that every line informs the gamer of what they need to know, strengthening their relationship to a game’s universe. Working with such an experienced team, as at SomaTone, simplifies and streamlines the process and consistently yields great sounding game dialogue.

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