Part of the fun on Rune: Ragnarok has been going back through the original and deciding which elements move forward into Ragnarok. We’ve updated our lizards, ensured that you can beat your enemy to death with their own limb, and made it impossible to set down your mead stein in a polite Viking manner. Of all the things we’re bringing forward, one of the most enjoyable is working with Lee Ernst to voice Loki and Odin. Returning to his role as two of our most prominent gods, Lee brings years of experience, character, and range to his performance. After our first recording session with Lee, we asked him about the projects he’s done with us in the past and what he’s most excited to bring to Rune: Ragnarok.
Tell us a bit about your background and what got you interested in voice acting.
LE: I grew up in Wisconsin and have been a stage actor most of my life, working for major theater companies across the U.S. and abroad. I’ve always loved voice actors and mimics. As a kid, I learned and wrote voice routines and recorded them on an old reel-to-reel recorder just for fun.
When I became a professional actor, I started to get calls from agents and producers wanting me to voice radio and TV commercials. I secured a great agent and began my VO career. Although I’ve been “in the booth” hundreds of times, I didn’t do any video games until I auditioned for Human Head’s original Rune. I gave the audition everything I had, nearly bouncing off the walls reading the part of Loki, and when I was done, I had no expectation of getting the gig. I was thrilled when I found out that I had been cast as Loki, Odin, and about five other characters!
What projects have you worked on in the past?
LE: The original Rune, Blair Witch Volume II: The Legend of Coffin Rock, Dead Man’s Hand, Prey, and Lost Within.
Of all the characters you’ve portrayed, which one has been your favorite and why?
LE: I seem to play a lot of maniacal characters, and Loki is certainly one of my favorites, but I also like playing the oddball, small characters that show up here and there. The coolest thing for me though is to play two contrasting characters in the same game, and doubling up as Loki and Odin is a blast!
You’ve worked on nearly all of Human Head’s projects. What makes voicing video game characters enjoyable?
LE: Passion, creativity, and imagination – that’s what blows me away about the team at Human Head Studios. I remember seeing all the creatives at work when I voiced my first project with Human Head many years ago. I can’t express how exciting it was to see the process and artistry of so many people focused on creating a new world, and know that their work was going to engage the imaginations of gamers around the world. It was exciting that I was a small part of that team. That’s kind of a dream come true for me.
In the booth, I get to channel characters who are often extraordinary, but sometimes they’re just regular Joes sitting at a bar. What feeds me is the writing. Everything that is voiced is active and is designed to conjure a mood or provoke a reaction. The dialog is usually direct and often extreme, and it’s satisfying to engage vocally at that level. One thing I’ve always particularly loved is recording the ancillary sounds of a video game. Effort sounds, like little grunts when jumping, sounds of surprise, laughter, and of course death sounds, etc… it’s a kind of absurdly humorous exercise to be in a booth for an hour, hopping around, trying to make the greatest variety of noises I can imagine so that the editors have a long menu to choose from.
Which Human Head project or character have you enjoyed working on the most?
LE: I prefer not to choose favorites. Let me put it this way, when I get a call to do another project with Human Head, that’s the best day of my year.
In the original Rune, you voiced both Loki and Odin. How do you do to prepare to embody these characters?
LE: I’ve played a lot of Shakespearean roles, including many of the big ones: Hamlet, King Lear, Lago, Macbeth, Richard III, etc… and I also have a great affinity for mythology and epic storytelling. Consequently, voicing characters like Loki and Odin plays into my comfort zone. I feel I understand their struggles and intentions based on the heroic form of the narrative.
When I’m in the booth, I just try to be relaxed, focused, responsive to direction, and open to any emotional response the language might release into my reads. I try not to pre-bake my performance, and hopefully that allows acting moments to be infused with a kind of spontaneity.
What about Rune: Ragnarok is most exciting to you?
LE: It’s just great to know that Human Head is revisiting these characters and this world. I have only seen my lines at this point, but I’ve got a feeling that Rune: Ragnarok is going to be a knockout!
We know you’re voicing at least two of the gods in Rune: Ragnarok. How are your iterations of these characters different from others?
LE: Gods are inherently extraordinary, and it’s the responsibility of the talent to evoke that larger-than-life quality. Of course, there are technical ways to enhance the sound, but whether the character is human or superhuman, the primary goal when voicing is to connect, to convey the deepest needs and intentions of the character, and to have fun. After all, it’s a game, and games should be fun!
Are you playing any games right now?
LE: After years of embarrassment at the hands of my children, and even much younger members of my family, I’ve decided to leave the actual game playing to the experts.