Anyone that purchased The Dark Below, the first expansion for Bungie’s Destiny, will already recognise Morla Gorrondona – although perhaps not by her face.
The voice actress plays Eris Morn, the former Guardian that offers players new bounties and gear. Unlike many of the other vendors at the Tower, the game’s central hub, Eris has a detailed backstory revealed through dialogue performed by Gorrondona.
Develop caught up with the experienced actress to find out more about the process of bringing such a character to life, as well as the full extent of her involvement with one of last year’s biggest games.
How did you get started in voice acting?
My earliest memories of recording go back to elementary school when I would spend time creating characters, practicing accents and catching it all on my Panasonic Slimline cassette recorder.
I did plays throughout school, earned a BFA in Theatre Arts, and although Voice Diction class was my favorite, I was certain I wanted a career in live theatre. Even as I began landing consistent work doing voice overs for commercials, I still had my heart set on the stage.
It wasn’t until I was re-introduced to games did I understand how far they had come since my early obsession with the NES. I shifted my focus and began pursuing voice acting as a career – and things started to fall into place.
How closely do you work with developers? What role do they play in your work?
Relationships vary from developer to developer and title to title, but more often than not it is through the developer that I get the basic backstory of the character, the direction they want the character to go and the context of each mission. Sometimes they want lots of input and are open to interpretation, sometimes they require something specific. Most of the time it is a nice middle ground.
I have worked directly with publishers, but mostly it’s the developer who makes the final call on casting, provides inspiration and directs throughout the entire process.
How did you come to work on Destiny with Bungie?
Interestingly enough I began working with Bungie via the sound design team. Stephen Hodde and Jay Weinland brought me in to help create a vocal identity for the Hive. So a lot of the screams and screeches you hear in the game are me.
When Bungie began their search for Eris, they wanted someone who had an intimate understanding of the Hive. That’s when they called me and it just clicked.
How does Eris differ from previous characters you have portrayed?
Eris is pretty exposed. She doesn’t conceal much about her experiences and how they altered her life. She’s single-minded and emotionally raw.
As the story progresses, she becomes increasingly possessed by the Guardian’s missions and the possibility of exacting revenge. It was stirring and electrifying to be in that headspace.
Eris is pretty exposed. She doesn’t conceal much about her experiences and how they altered her life. She’s single-minded and emotionally raw. It was stirring and electrifying to be in that headspace.
How does the game differ from others you have worked on?
When I was cast, I understood the recording schedule would be more long-term than other projects. With Eris, the sessions were intense and productive but spaced out as the script was crafted and refined. This was great because it allowed me to time to recover vocally, but it also meant I had to recall the character’s voice after having stepped away from it for a few days.
Where did you begin in finding the voice of Eris? What's the process?
Matt Case, Ryan Ellis, C Paul Johnson and the entire team at Bungie had such a clear vision for who they wanted Eris to be. When we were in the auditioning process, they did a fantastic job of articulating the direction and tone.
Their description conjured some pretty compelling images for me and I was able able to draw from my personal life experiences to evoke strong, meaningful and comparable emotions.
How do you develop a character when you only have voice and no direct control over facial emotions?
My education and early professional acting background is in theatre. That’s where I learned how to delve deep into a character and develop the most minute details of her personality. There is so much time available when working on a stage production – it’s really a luxury. I also worked in improv, which trained my brain to make decisive but not obvious choices within seconds.
I think these two opposing ways of thinking and creating led me to the ability to make personal character choices that have a robust backstory and emotional heft relatively quickly. This comes in handy working in games, where time is a precious commodity.
In regards to facial expressions, I just go with it. I’m sure I make some pretty interesting faces in the booth but it helps me emote so I don’t hold back. When I’m doing performance capture it’s essential for there to be a face/voice connection.
What other Destiny characters have you voiced? Are you working with Bungie on future expansions?
Within the Hive, I voice the Wizards and the Thrall among others. I’m also the voice of Omnigul.
Working with Bungie has been remarkable and Eris is such a satisfying character to play. We’ll see what happens in the future.
What other games projects have you worked on? What characters will people best know you for?
Some of my favorite games that I’ve worked on are Crackdown 2; inFamous 2, where I got the chance to showcase my New Orleans roots and a variety of Southern accents; BioShock 2, in which I can be heard in various audio diaries; Iron Man 2; Resistance: Burning Skies; and the upcoming Halo: Spartan Strike.
Not every dev has the time or budget for extensive voice acting but there are a few strategies that may be easily implemented like having a clear vision of the character and only having one person giving direction to the actor – things can get confusing otherwise.
What has been the most enjoyable project and why?
Other than Destiny? I’ve been so fortunate to work with some incredible teams on exciting titles.
Each title was memorable for different reasons: Crackdown 2 because I got to work with Kristofor Mellroth, Kevin McMullan and Chip Beaman for the first time. Infamous 2 because I got to flaunt my accent chops and work with Hope Dippel-Pavlich and the team at Sucker Punch. BioShock 2 because BioShock is what go me interested in working in games in the first place, and Michael Kamper and Michael Csurics are very passionate about what they do. Halo was a dream come true because it's Halo.
What has been the least enjoyable and why?
There have been a few unfortunate sessions – but really very few. It usually has something to do with an inexperienced director not understanding the process, having too many people trying to give conflicting direction, or someone trying to give direction who doesn’t really care. Once I was in a long-distance session and the director kept talking to his dog. True story. But even those are beneficial in the long run, if for no other reason than to learn what to stay away from.
What advice do you have for developers on how they work with voice actors? Is there anything they can improve on?
There are some brilliant practices that are starting to be implemented which just a few years ago would have been considered pie in the sky. Table reads, which give the actor access to the script ahead of time, allows the narrative design team to hear how others interpret what’s written, giving them time to make adjustments before the session and it also assists the actor in character development. Another example is group or ensemble recording sessions, which go far in eliciting genuine responses from actors and an overall sense of unity and cohesion.
Not every dev has the time or budget for those types of practices but there are a few strategies that may be easily implemented like: having a clear vision of the character while allowing room for what spontaneity the actor can bring to the session. Only having one person giving direction to the actor – things can get confusing otherwise.
Also, make sure the person giving direction understands the dynamic well. David Henry at Bungie was really great with this. He always kept things light, on track and phrased things in such a way so I immediately understood what the team was going for. I guess trust is the word I’m looking for here. If you don’t have someone on staff who can do this (and seriously, not everyone can), bring in an outside director.
What advice do you have for anyone that wishes to enter voice acting? What must they bear in mind beforehand?
Go for it! It’s interesting, challenging, creative and exciting work. But it is work – and it’s more than simply possessing the ability to talk.
Work on your craft every day. Network, go to conferences, join professional communities like the Game Audio Network Guild (www.audiogang.org). Audition like mad. Invest in a home studio. And if you want to work in games specifically, know your industry and play video games.