Rachael Messer is a well-versed actress who uses her voice to breathe life into many of the characters we see, hear, and play in video games. One of her latest projects is an adventure-platformer which released last week, called Forgotton Anne.
Intrigued by the game as well as the crucial role that Rachael played in its making and recent success, we decided to ask the talented artist a few questions. In our interview, we discuss how to prepare for a role, remedies for a hurting voice, advice for those new to the field, and the solitary nature of the work.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hey there, My name is Rachael Messer and I’m a professional voice actress focusing in video games and anime. I’ve also done some on camera work including the Disney Channel’s show, Polaris primetime.
How did you get involved in voice acting? What was your first job?
I was a theatre performance major in college and it was about my 3rd year into my degree, I realized I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do after college. I was talking with another actor debating on what to do when he mentioned “You should do voice acting! You make a lot of weird voices.”
Which I chose to take as a compliment, went home, and…googled voice acting auditions. At the time, there was a site called Voice Acting Alliance, which has recently shut down after years of being a pretty big hub for indie voice overs. I found that site and started auditioning for things right away.
I was absolutely terrible, looking back! I didn’t have a microphone, so I used the recorder built into my phone and would find a semi quiet place to record. I couldn’t edit lines, the audio was terrible! But, I auditioned my heart out. Within the first week, I got a really small paying job as an announcer for some films. It was $10 I think.
But I must have auditioned for 75 things that first week and only got that. I’m really happy about the fact that I didn’t pay attention to how many auditions I didn’t book. I see a lot of voice actors starting out who get bogged down by their ratio of booking to not. I was just having fun so I didn’t care if I didn’t book it. I didn’t really expect to. So, without that self-pressure, I could have more fun and focus on that fun instead.
What are some of the video games you’ve voiced characters for?
I’ve voiced 250 + video game characters. To keep it short since I tend to ramble, some of the more recognizable ones are:
- Comba in Warframe
- Teacher in Yandere Simulator
- Moji, Infernal Series, and Dire Wolf Tyra in Paladins
- Rebecca Lansing in System Shock
- Iro in Crush Crush
- All voices in Epistory
For more, you can check out my website, www.rachaelmesser.com.
How did you get involved with Forgotton Anne?
I was actually contacted by a team member through my website and asked if I’d be interested in auditioning for Anne. We chatted over email for a few weeks. I would send samples of some lines and they would send feedback and I would change things accordingly. After probably a month or so, I was delighted to hear I had gotten the part!
How did you prepare for the roles of Anne & Tink?
I chatted with some of the team members via skype for a few hours just about the character of Anne and the story. Then before every scene, the director would normally give me a breakdown of what was happening or would happen in the game. Some of that was included in the script, but it was really helpful to hear from the director himself. It also helped me get into the characters’ mindset and understand what was going on, along with bringing the world to life and making everything feel more real. Similar to when you hear someone read a story aloud, you get caught up in it.
How did you decide what these characters should sound like? Was it up to you to create their voices or was it a collaboration between you and others?
It was a little of both actually. With both characters, I would be given some descriptive words and ideas of what they wanted. Tink was a much more feel style character. They said they wanted her to sound more gruff than Anne and jaded, and I kind of took that and really had fun with it!
Anne we worked on for a while because she is such a huge part of the story and the main character, both myself and everyone on the dev team wanted to make sure she sounded just right. I could tell from the start how invested in the game the dev team was, how much love and work was being poured into the game and I started off wanting to make sure I gave them what they were looking for and doing the role justice.
But the beautiful thing about this game and a story like Forgotton Anne is that I quickly became attached to Anne. Maybe part of that was because, as an actor, I needed to understand and justify her choices. But I felt she was incredibly relatable. As well as the story being very deep and touching on issues rarely dealt with in gaming.
There were often sections where Anne had to make hard choices, choices where there was no obvious “Right” answer. She dealt with self-doubt, guilt, and a real identity struggle that I think many of us go through at one point or another.
I really adore when games tackle issues like that. I was very proud to be a part of a game that I think at its core, many people can relate to. It was an honor to be a part of a project bringing to light issues not normally addressed. The more we address them, the less alone people currently dealing with things like these will feel.
How long did it take to do all of the voice work for Anne/Tink?
Tink was pretty quick, relatively. I think we recorded her for maybe 30 minutes.
With Anne, we started recording in early 2016, maybe late ‘15. We worked in 2-3 hour chunks. At first, once every few months. Then in 2017, we did 2-3 hours at least once a month for about 6-8 months. We would go over scenes multiple times so the team had multiple reads to choose from.
Is voice acting as lonely an experience as we hear it is? Were you able to work with other actors/actresses on Forgotton Anne?
I wasn’t able to work with the other actors in this game, though I do know them.
With some games, the actors will get online together and record the lines from their ends while communicating over skype or some similar app, and the director will give feedback. So in cases like that, you actually can work with the other actor. But most of the time, you are recording on your own.
With Forgotton Anne, I worked with the director and he would read the opposite lines and I would react to them. It was a really fun experience! You really have to trust the director and it takes a lot on their part to make sure things match up in those situations.
About 90% of my work though, I’m actually just recording on my own time. I’ll be given a script and just record my lines, meaning I’ll have to imagine how the other lines might be said and react to them that way. The other 9.99% of game work goes similar to Forgotton Anne where you get to work with the director. And, then that very small .01% is with other actors.
It’s not very lonely too often. At least, it doesn’t feel so to me personally. I love being able to take the time to listen back to what I did and sometimes find myself thinking of new ways to say lines later on, and enjoy having the option to come back in and record multiple new takes.
Do you warm up/exercise your voice in some way before going into a sound booth to record?
I will sing and sometimes do diction warm ups depending on the day and the characters. Sometimes, when I’m recording later in the day, my voice has warmed up naturally throughout the day because my speech pattern goes all over my range and I make a lot of weird voices during the day.
But if a session is early in the morning, I will do some vocal warm ups. I actually have a video on my YouTube channel with some sample vocal warm ups and what I like to do most of the time.
What do you do when you have to work but your voice isn’t 100%? Do you have any homemade remedies?
Rest is the most important thing when your voice is messed up. You can always run the risk of vocal damage, but when your voice is already having issues, the chances of doing damage goes up significantly. So rest for sure!
Hot tea or a warm bath can help as well. I also love to suck on breath mints or cough drops deepening on how bad my voice is feeling. The only tricky part is some cough drops contain numbing agents which can trick you into believing you are all better. When in reality, you just don’t feel it.
Never push your voice. Once damage is done to your voice, it can easily become permanent and forever change how your voice sounds, your range, and even cause pain while talking. So, when in doubt, sit it out for a few days and take care of yourself.
What do you love about voice acting?
I really adore the freedom for creativity! I’m not limited by gender or age when it comes to voice acting, so it opens up a lot more roles, more challenges, and fun opportunities.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to become a voice actor/actress? What does someone new to the process need to know upfront?
Patience is your best friend. Be patient with yourself and have fun! I see a lot of new voice actors burn themselves out because they put an incredible amount of pressure on themselves to start booking roles immediately! Or, they feel they aren’t getting enough roles.
I focused on the fun of voice acting at the start and I think if I hadn’t, I also would have burned out and gotten discouraged. Just be patient, takes classes, focus on growing your acting abilities, and keep working at it! As long as you are growing and having fun, the roles will come.
If an actor/actress wants to work in the video game industry, do you feel it’s a necessity and/or advantage to know how to speak Japanese?
I learned Japanese in college. I took it because the language sounds absolutely beautiful to me. However, with voice acting, I’ve only had to record in Japanese a handful of times. I have been in a couple of Japanese video games and for the game I’m recording tomorrow, half my lines are in Japanese.
So, while not necessary, it is an advantage in some cases because it opens me up to roles I would not have been able to get otherwise.
Is it important for voice actors/actresses to have a manager?
Not at all. Most of the time, managers either charge or take a percent based off your work. But, I’ve learned, if you master the art of scheduling, you can do everything yourself pretty easily.
What projects are you working on right now? Anything video game related?
I actually recorded for a game yesterday and am recording another today and another tomorrow. However, most of my projects are under NDA’s (Non Disclosure Agreements) which means I can’t say anything about them until they’ve been either released to the public, or the company has released the VO to the public.
So, with the game I recorded yesterday, I will have to wait 3 weeks to let you know. The game tomorrow is also under NDA.
But I’m working on a video game later today that I can talk about called “Shift Quantum” which will be out on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam, May 29th!
If you want to keep up to date with other projects I’m working on, I post them all the time on my twitter @Rachaelmesser and I will certainly be posting about the other two games soon.
A big thanks to Ms. Messer for taking the time to answer our questions and giving us insight into the daily life of a voice actress.
You can also find her on Facebook, where, like on Twitter, she talks about her latest projects as well as advertises classes that she teaches. To book Rachael for work, it’s best to contact her through her website.
Picture Sources: Rachael Messer, ThroughLine Games, rojo photography