Interview: Meet Roger Craig Smith - Voice Actor for Sonic the Hedgehog / Chris Redfield
Posted by Orla Madden
A hedgehog's got to do what a hedgehog's got to do
Roger Craig Smith is a very talented man. He's done voice overs for a wide range of characters in top video games, but most would recognise him as the voice behind the modern Sonic the Hedgehog, and Chris Redfield in the more recent Resident Evil series of games, including Resident Evil: Revelations. Not only this, Smith also lends his voice to ladies man and top assassin, Ezio Auditore de Firenze, from Assassin's Creed 2 right up to Assassin's Creed: Revelations.
We were thrilled to get the chance to catch up with Roger; with his impressive catalogue of characters, you can imagine he's a very busy man.
Nintendo Life: Hello Roger! Thanks for taking the time out to chat with us here at Nintendo Life, we're huge fans. Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Roger Craig Smith: Hello! Thanks for having me! My name is Roger Craig Smith and I'm a voice actor from California. I work as a narrator for shows like Say Yes to the Dress on TLC and Yard Crashers on DIY Network; I voice the character of "Thomas" in Regular Show on Cartoon Network; recently appeared as "The Pulverizer" in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Nickelodeon; have done various voices for Out There on IFC; and will be voicing "Captain America" in the upcoming Avengers Assemble on Disney XD. Some of my video game roles include Sonic The Hedgehog, Chris Redfield from Resident Evil, and Ezio Auditore da Firenze from Assassin's Creed.
NL: Tell us how you began your career as a voice actor?
RCS: I started performing as a comedian in my early twenties and developed a number of little characters and voices in my act. Eventually, I had people asking me about voice over work after they'd see me perform on the standup stage. I finally realized I wasn't hearing too much from people wanting to know where I'd be performing my comedy next, but more about who represented me for voice over. So, I started looking into training classes in SoCal and took a few different courses. Then, I started pounding the pavement in Orange County (my local area) and finally bugged enough people for a long enough period of time that they gave me a shot behind the mic. From there, it was just learning, making mistakes, learning some more, and trying to keep branching out for other VO opportunities.
NL: You're currently the voice for SEGA's blue mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, appearing in Sonic Colours (Sonic Colors in North America) for the Wii and DS. What were your first thoughts on being approached by SEGA to be the new voice behind Sonic?
RCS: Well, I was never really approached by Sega, as much as it was I simply showed up to an audition. The process usually has the actors far removed from the folks that actually make decisions in the industry. As such, I had simply been heading out to various auditions and callbacks for the role of Sonic, but I didn't give it too much thought. Most VO folk tend to develop a thick skin when it comes to auditioning, because you face countless rejections on a daily basis. So, I was just happy to be called back by the casting director and to be in the running. In the end, it was my agent that called to congratulate and book me on my first Sonic session. At that point, I was cautiously optimistic, as it's difficult to celebrate certain roles until you see the game on a shelf, or hear it on TV, etc… Even after you've booked a role, it's sometimes very easy to have something change in the process and they might recast you.
NL: How did you decide upon the particular voice for Sonic? Did you take inspiration from previous voice actors such as Jaleel White and Jason Griffith, or maybe even the Japanese VA, Jun'ichi Kanemaru?
RCS: This is an area where the process is very collaborative. I go in and perform what I think the casting director is looking for, based on how I would do it. Often, you receive notes from the director, who is receiving notes from the producer, who might be receiving notes from a developer…and it can go on from there. So, we worked as a group to sort of define what they wanted the character to sound like, with me just being the set of vocal chords providing the performance. We worked over a number of sessions to develop the sound of Sonic. As far as inspiration goes, they played us references of all the previous actors to show where the character had been in previous interpretations, and then we molded the version you hear today.
It's never lost on me what it means to represent something as iconic as Sonic the Hedgehog. This is a world-famous character and represents much more than just a video game.
NL: How does the voice acting process work? Are group scenes recorded together? And how does the "getting hit/losing rings" voice work get done?
RCS: Sadly, we rarely get a chance to work together as voice actors in video games. Typically, they record us all separately, so they can record each line cleanly. Then, they go in and take all the parts from all the actors and piece them together to form the group dialogue scenes. Every now and then we'll get a chance to record as a group, but it's rare. All those "getting hit/losing rings" sounds tend to be recorded toward the end of a recording session. Depending on the type of game, those efforts and screams can be pretty rough on the voice, so they usually like to record them at the end. You might do hundreds of versions of vocal sounds for a game and you can come out a little hoarse afterward. That doesn't help if you still have to record dialogue for your character. Nobody wants to hear a hoarse Sonic or Chris Redfield. That just doesn't sound very tough...
NL: Do you feel any extra pressure when voicing game characters with a history and as passionate a fanbase as Sonic the Hedgehog?
RCS: Yes and no. It's never lost on me what it means to represent something as iconic as Sonic the Hedgehog. This is a world-famous character and represents much more than just a video game. That being said, I'd probably seize up and not be able to perform if I dwelled on what fans might think of my performance during the sessions. I always want to do the best work possible, so I'll speak up if I feel something seems out of character or awkward. But, I'm there to be the best voice actor I can for that director and that client, so I try to focus only on the small number of people in the control room of a studio and delivering the performance they're asking of me. If I dwelled on the millions of people that might hear my voice and how they might hate me or dislike what I'm doing---or wanna burn me at the stake for ruining their beloved character---or take me into the town square and stone me because I don't sound like what they think the character should sound like---or whether some troll on the internet is gonna make a video cursing my name---or how I might single-handedly destroy the character with my terrible performance---or…Yeah, I try to just focus on doing a good job in the recording booth and entertaining the folks in the control room.
NL: Were you a big Sonic the Hedgehog fan before you actually voiced the character himself?
RCS: I played Sonic games on Sega Genesis when I was growing up, so I knew the games from back then and was always amazed at the speed. At the time I began voicing Sonic, I think the last games I had played were on the Xbox 360. I wasn't all too familiar with what had been happening with the character around the time I got the chance to audition. So, it's been great getting to revisit a piece of my childhood and start to not only enjoy the Sonic games, but to be a voice in them, too!
NL: Did you get the chance to meet Yuji Naka (former head of Sonic Team and lead programmer of the original Sonic the Hedgehog)? Did he ever make a swift visit to the studio while recording was in process for the Sonic titles you were involved in?
Sonic's a ton of fun, because he's just so cool. He's always got an answer for everything and nothing phases him.
RCS: This is going to sound terrible, but I'm honestly not sure. Sometimes the atmosphere at a recording session can be hectic, with lots of folks coming and going. You'll be in the middle of a session and someone will walk into the control booth and wave to you through the glass, then walk out. I might have met the President of the United States at one point and wouldn't have known it, as the glass usually has bad glare and I'm wearing headphones connected only to my voice and the director's. Usually there is a representative of the game company at the sessions, but sometimes that individual changes from game to game. So, I wish I could say for certain that I did meet him, but I don't think so. I'd like to think that I'd remember if I had met the man responsible for creating the character. But then, I'm a bit of a dork and would likely not realize who the individual was until long after the moment had passed. I stick my foot in my mouth quite frequently with the "nice to meet you" when I've met the person twice before...
NL: You've voiced so many video game characters; have you any personal favourites which you've enjoyed doing the most?
RCS: Sonic's a ton of fun, because he's just so cool. He's always got an answer for everything and nothing phases him. Plus, he's got some corny jokes and is a bit cocky---so it's fun to go in and play around with his lines. Ezio Auditore da Firenze will always be one of my favorites, as well. That was such an incredible opportunity to play a character through so many stages of his life. I'll likely never get another chance like that in my career, so I really enjoyed getting to voice Ezio.
NL: Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what are your favourite games?
RCS: I feel like I'd be lying if I said anything other than I WAS a gamer. I only say this because I haven't fired up my Xbox in way too long. I've played some Mario on the Wii U and dabbled in some Angry Birds, but I haven't felt like a "gamer" for a long time. It was once a nightly event for me. But, I've gotten busy with work (which is the greatest problem to have in life) and I've had to really make sure I'm getting plenty of rest. So, those late-night gaming sessions until 3am seemed to be dying off in the last couple years. So, I'll have to turn in my man-card and my "gamer" status and call myself that terrible phrase…a "casual gamer." Ugh, my 13 year-old-self would be so disappointed in me right now...
NL: Are you currently working on any voice roles at the moment?
RCS: I AM! BUT, and this is the worst part about my job---I can't talk about any of them! If you keep up with me on Facebook and Twitter (@rogercraigsmith), I usually do a good job of shamelessly self-promoting projects once they've been released by the folks that own the rights. But, before those moments happen, I have to remain tight-lipped. I will say that 2013 looks to be a very significant year for me and I'm really excited about a number of projects being announced. So, stay tuned!
NL: With your experience through the years, have you any advice for people interested in voice acting as a career?
RCS: Well, I'm not sure I'd want to say that you should pursue it as a "career," as much as you should try to keep improving and nail that next audition. Keep your focus more immediate and not too far-out. I guess that comes from always having to feed the machine of auditions, submissions, callbacks, etc---regardless of if you're booking a lot of work or not. So, if you think you're going to have a career in this business, you might not be able to survive those storms of rejection in the early periods of your journey. Of course, some of you out there might be perfect for it and book your first job and fly right by me as you skyrocket toward success, leaving me in a cloud of dust.
So, I guess my advice would be summed up as, "go for it, good luck, and keep at it." That, and, don't listen to a word of advice from me. Confusing? Yeah. Hmmmm…Lemme try this: Take a class in commercial voice acting to learn the basic ropes and then read Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt's book, Voice-Over Voice Actor: What it's Like Behind the Mic. It's an excellent and thorough resource for getting started in VO. In all seriousness, it doesn't matter what I tell you; if you've got the drive and passion to make this your career, you'll find a way. And it'll be different from everyone else's story on how they got started in VO.
Truthfully, I hate answering this question. I feel like someday the industry's gonna wake up and find out I have no clue what I'm doing. I feel so lucky to be in this industry and I love my job immensely. The job comes with stresses and it's challenging, but I don't really feel like I work a day in my life. So, I feel pretentious giving "advice" when I feel like I'm the lucky nerd that somehow got invited to this party by mistake. My high-school drama teacher told me "the path is never linear," and even if she borrowed that from someone else, it's pretty much true. I started out as a class-clown and goofball in junior high, then wanted to be a rock star (real original), didn't graduate college until age 27, majored in screenwriting, performed as a standup comic, then wound up in a dream job as a voice actor. Not once along the way had I truly planned on having a career in VO. But, once the phone started ringing and those bookings started happening, I was thrilled for the opportunity and have vowed to ride the wave for as long as I can. I can only wish for more success for you if this industry is your pursuit. It's an awesome job!
NL: Roger, thank you so much for chatting with us, all the best for the future!
RCS: My Pleasure! Thanks for asking me to be a part of this and thanks to all the gamers out there that support these projects! You guys rule!