Thursday, May 23, 2019

Brianna Knickerbocker Interview: Recording for Shenmue 3

In February earlier this year, Brianna Knickerbocker was announced as the voice actor in English for one of the lead characters in Shenmue III (to be released August 27): Shenhua.
Brianna has extensive experience voicing characters in anime, video games, films, and TV series going back more than 10 years, as can be seen from the filmography on her IMDB page. Brianna was also awarded the title of Breakthrough Actress of the Year in the 2015 Anime Dub Awards held by Behind The Voice Actors, a voice-acting community site.

With the release of Shenmue III coming up in just a few months, it was the perfect time to take the opportunity to hold the very first interview with Brianna by the Shenmue community, and we were delighted to accept her offer. The questions in the interview were gathered from Shenmue fans across various social media fan sites and represent the topics you most wanted to hear about - perhaps you will spot your own submitted question!

And now, onto the interview with Brianna which starts below.


Q: We're excited to have this opportunity to learn about you and your role as Shenhua in Shenmue 3! To get started, could you tell us a little about your background and how you came to work in the voice acting field? 

Brianna Knickerbocker (BK): Randomly enough, I originally moved to LA to pursue fashion design. I remember crying in my car at lunch during a trial day at a fashion company. It was horrible, I hated every second. So I quit that same day! I went on Craigslist searching and searching for what I was going to do next and saw an acting gig, submitted, and booked it (it was just some random short film, but that's how I found acting). I signed up for an acting castings site where I could apply for more acting gigs, saw a voice over gig and applied thinking it would be fun. I booked it and it all took off from there!

Q: What is your favorite type of voice work? 

BK: I love drama, so Re:ZERO, video games, anything where I get to cry, scream, turn into a demon or all of the above:) I can’t lie, comedy is so fun too — Wiz in Konosuba and Charlotte in Fire Emblem and Filo in Rising of the Shield Hero — such a blast for me as well.

Q: Apart from acting, what kind of hobbies do you enjoy? Do you like to play video games? 

BK: I adore music. It's always been a big dream of mine to make my own music, and I'm finally doing that. So I work on my music a lot :)

I love playing video games. I’m particularly in love with first person survival horror games that you can play on coop like the Resident Evil series, Dead Island (1 and 2), Dying Light, all of those. (I love horror and zombies).


Q: How and when were you contacted about the possibility of playing Shenhua in the game? Were you approached, or did you apply through an audition process? 

BK: Bill Black (the director) emailed me asking me to audition for a video game and told me it was a huge huge role, 2400 lines. I had no idea what the game was or how highly anticipated this game was for fans.

I sent in my audition and on Thanksgiving morning Bill called me and told me I booked it. He went into detail about Shenmue and the game's history and what a big fan following it had. Needless to say, I was super excited!! I feel so grateful to be a part of this game series and voice Shenhua!

Preparing for the Role

Q: How much had you heard about Shenmue before you were asked to voice Shenhua? 

BK: I knew absolutely nothing. But after I booked it, Bill filled me in on all the details and background of the game.

Q: Once selected for the role, how much were you prepped on the history of Shenmue, the character of Shenhua and the overall story before recording began? 

BK: Bill went into great detail on the game’s history, story, and characters. He was a big help in really understanding the Shenmue universe and getting into character.

Shenmue III Studio Recording

At the recording studio. (Image from Brianna's Instagram:
Q: When creating Shenhua’s voice, what kind of direction was provided? Did you try to base it on one of the other existing voices of Shenhua in English or Japanese, or did you create it independently of those? 

BK: I definitely listened to the Japanese voice actress’s unique voice print and matched that, but the clients from Japan wanted me to take a very different direction from her acting. They wanted Shenhua to be much stronger than how the Japanese voice actress played her.

Q: That is fascinating to hear. What do you think might be the reason for being asked to play Shenhua more strongly in English than in Japanese? For example, English tends to be more direct than Japanese, so might it be related to making her character fit more naturally in English?

BK: I remember Yu being adamant that Shenhua be as strong and as capable as Ryo. And to not listen to the Japanese audio for direction, in Japanese she’s softer, more vulnerable and emotional. He didn’t want her to feel weak. I think he wanted Shenhua to be an equal teammate of Ryo.

Look at how strong Ryo is. Shenhua is supposed to be his ally in this epic journey. So she has to be just as strong, just as smart, just as quick and hold her weight.

You know I’ve noticed this trend in dubbing games into English: with the re-voicing of YsVIII (the first go around she was soft and feminine), with Crystar and with Shenmue 3. I think people want stronger female characters. We’re beyond the times of one-dimension damsels in distress needing rescuing. And I’m sure culturally there’s a difference. So games coming to the US are going to want to see bad ass female characters kicking ass and taking names.

Q:  If you could, would you be able to give a small preview of speaking in Shenhua’s voice? 

BK: I'm happy to give you guys a sneak peak:

Q: Did you find it hard to jump into the role of the character? What was the hardest part of the role? And what did you enjoy the most? 

BK: What I found most difficult was subduing vulnerability and emotion in her voice. She’s been brought up on a farm with just her father, so had this solely masculine influence in her isolated upbringing. Her farm animals were her friends. So she isn't super social or talkative, isn’t very emotional. So getting to this place where I’m strong, simple, less vulnerable when speaking in character, was something I had to work on channeling at first.

What I enjoyed most was getting to play such a unique character I’ve never gotten to voice before. I tend to voice very vulnerable feminine characters. It was also very fun getting to have over 2000 lines—so living with that character and story for a longer period (as an actor) is always a dream.

Q: Did you have any interaction with the game’s creator, Yu Suzuki? What were your impressions of meeting him? 

BK: I met Yu Suzuki during my very first session, where a few of the clients from Japan were present. He seemed very passionate about the game and the characters and equally passionate about the direction he wanted for Shenhua’s voice. He really emphasized he didn't want Shenhua to sound emotional or vulnerable. He really drilled in that he wanted Shenhua to sound strong. As I dialed in the voice and got her there, I remember Yu Suzuki being very happy with my Shenhua and that made me very happy. It really is such an honor to voice her.

Q: When you recorded lines for Shenhua speaking with Ryo or other characters, did you record them together with other voice actors in the studio, or by yourself? 

BK: Always by myself. But I got to meet Corey in between sessions which was fun!

At the recording studio. Left to right: Bill Black (director), Brianna Knickerbocker (voice actor), Katana Marshall (voice actor), Corey Marshall (voice actor) and Christopher Bevins (co-director). Image from the English Voice Recording Kickstarter Update.
Q: Did you record watching video footage of the game? Did you listen to the recording of the Japanese voice of Shenhua as a reference? 

BK: We would listen to the Japanese reference audio for timing purposes and watched all the videos once before recording.

Q: How did you find the direction process compared to direction for other projects you have worked on? 

BK: The direction process was so freeing here because Bill really trusted me once we dialed in Shenhua’s character, so kind of let me do my thing, act. So I was for the most part only doing one take per line and we kept moving at a fast pace. It felt very natural and improv-like, which I loved.

Q: Without giving away any specifics of the game, can you comment on whether you learned any interesting Chinese facts or traditions while reading the script? 

BK: I did but I can’t give any spoilers:)

Q: How many lines or pages of script did you have, and how long did your entire recording process take? 

BK: I had about 2400 lines. It took about a month of recording, a couple days every week.

Q: How did the size of your script for the role of Shenhua in this game compare to those for other roles of video game characters you have played in your career? 

BK: I’ve done the full range of smaller role/finish a game in one session thing to my previous record of approximately 1200 lines for Dana in Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana. I wrapped Crystar recently and that was just in line with Shenhua at 2400 lines, so that’s my new record to beat!

Career Advice

Q: What advice would you give to people who wish to pursue voice acting as a career? 

BK: Taking acting classes is a great start and learning what kinds of voiceover are out there and what you really want to do. But classes are #1, because I can’t say it enough—voice acting is absolutely plain and simple: acting.

Following Shenmue 3’s Release

Q: Do you plan to play Shenmue 3 at all once it is released? 

BK: I might! Or I’ll go on YouTube and watch gameplay. Sometimes I just enjoy watching a game being played:)

Q: Would you be interested in continuing to play Shenhua in the future, if additional games in the series are made? 

BK: I would absolutely love to voice Shenhua again!!

A Message to Fans

Q: Could you give a message to the Shenmue fans? 

BK: Thank you everyone for all of the love and support, I hope you all love what I brought to Shenhua. I post all my new role and con announcements on Twitter and Instagram.
Please stay in touch and let me know how you like the game when it comes out!! My fans mean the world to me, I couldn’t do what I love so very much without all of you. So thank you again, and I hope with all my heart you love my Shenhua and I did her justice!

Thank you very much for the interview today.

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  1. Awesome interview! Thanks so much to Brianna for doing this :) she seems like a super lovely person! I can't wait to hear her Shenhua, the game is really close now, it's exciting times ahead! :)

  2. I'm really loving her Shenhua voice!