In this interview, we talked about the evolution of Jonah’s character, the MoCap process, Earl’s background, and more!
GameSided: Hi Earl! Let’s start by discussing your role in Rise Of The Tomb Raider. What can we expect from the character of Jonah Maiava this time around?
Earl Baylon: Well, without giving away too much, we’re gonna see more of who he was to Lara in the first game: someone on her side that’s fiercely loyal, “I’ll follow you anywhere, Little Bird,” and willing to take a leap of faith where everyone else had doubts… with a smidge of ass-kicking.
GS: You were involved in the motion capture process for the previous game in the series. How was the MoCap experience for Rise Of The Tomb Raider, and were there any alterations to how it was carried out?
EB: Working on the MoCap was great. Tons of fun. It was awesome to get to work with Camilla again, and all the great folks at Digital Domain, the studio where the MoCap scenes were recorded. What they did this time around was a little different from the previous game, not so much with regards to capturing our body movement, but our facial expressions.
The whole setup process was a bit more intense this time around. During Mocap sessions, we wear these helmets that have two arms coming down either side of our face, that are attached to the side of the MoCap helmet. At the end of those arms is attached any number of cameras, as well as a microphone that records all our dialogue.
What they did this time around was a little different from the previous game, not so much with regards to capturing our body movement, but our facial expressions.
In Tomb Raider 2013, there were only two cameras, and the footage was used as a reference for the artists when they animated our onscreen characters. For ROTTR, the camera count was increased to four, and we had all these dots on our faces, which allowed the team to actually capture the movement of our lips, eyebrows, cheeks, and all that jazz and map it to the characters. Higher fidelity.
GS: Voice actors are often isolated away from the rest of the acting crew. How does the voice recording process work for the Tomb Raider series, and how much of your time is spent alongside your fellow actors aside from the motion capture process?
EB: Well, basically all the Motion Capture stuff is done with everyone there. We all share space in this big MoCap volume, and run the scenes pretty much how you see them in game. So, everyone is there in the scene. It’s great because we get to work off each other’s energy, and we get to run the scenes through in completion. So, it’s a little more like theatre in that way, except you know, we’re wearing these tight, black adult onesies covered in reflective balls.
But, for things like pickups, rewrites, incidental lines, and ADR, we were in the recording booth by ourselves. Like all the journals that you can pick up in game, all those are recorded in the booth.
GS: How did you initially land the role of Jonah?
We all share space in this big MoCap volume, and run the scenes pretty much how you see them in game.
EB: Back in 2011, my agent sent me on this audition, and really none of us knew what it was. All the casting breakdown mentioned was the code name of the project at the time, that it was Motion Capture, and the type of character they were looking for was a large Pacific Islander with a giant teddy bear feel, haha. Usually, in the breakdowns, it’ll say what kind of project it is, whether it’s a commercial, TV, feature film, etc. But this one didn’t. So I pretty much went in blind and did my best. During the audition, I asked the auditors what kind of project it was. The man on the other side of the table, who ended up being Toby Gard, told me it was a video game. I was a game tester at the time, and I thought, “Cool. I wonder what it is,” but didn’t think anything much of it.
They brought me in to a callback, a few days later, which was pretty exciting, because you know… as you move further along in the audition process, things become more and more real. And I’ve always wanted to do voice work in video games, ever since using actual voices became a thing. A few days after, my agent emailed me with an NDA that I had to sign and return in case they wanted to book me. I looked at the letterhead and saw, “Crystal Dynamics” and under “A Square Enix Company.” Holy balls, I was excited. I knew those names. I had grown up with those names. Those were big names in my personal microcosm.
I looked at the letterhead and saw, “Crystal Dynamics” and under “A Square Enix Company.” Holy balls, I was excited.
I was actually backstage at one of my improv shows when I received the email from my agent that I had been booked on the project. When I saw the title, “Tomb Raider,” I just about lost it. I wanted to scream from every hilltop in a mile radius, but I had to do it very, very, quietly because I was backstage. But wow, it really was a dream come true to 1) have booked my first big game, and 2) to have that game be the reboot of one of the most storied franchises in video game history.
GS: Has the way in which you approach the character changed over time?
EB: Yes. Definitely. Ok. Let me tell you, for the first game most of my process was, “Please, don’t screw this up.” That’s kind of a hard place to work from. I couldn’t help it though, I was working on Tomb Raider! This time around, I felt a lot more grounded.
After having the experience of TR2013 under my belt, I felt more secure about what I wanted to do with Jonah. Much of that comes from having the backstory from the previous game, as well following along with the comics and gleaning more of his character from what I found there. And really, I think playing through TR2013 in its entirety, I got a better feel for his place in the group and in Lara’s life. So, I went in to ROTTR with that in mind, and I think it helped me immensely.
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Next: We discuss Earl's career, favorite games, and more on tight, adult onesies!