I had the greatest honor to interview Tod Fennell the voice behind Taro from Kena: Bridge of Spirits. Tod Fennell is known for his roles in Assassin’s Creed III as Mason Weems and Far Cry New Dawn as Bean. This time around, he voices Taro from Kena: Bridge of Spirits, the latest game that was well received by fans and media alike.
In an exclusive interview with Tod, he gave us a behind the scenes experience on his voice acting work and for the first time ever, he gave us not one but two interesting information regarding himself and what’s to come.
Read the transcript of the interview below or check out the video for the full interview:
So first of all, tell us about yourself, tell us one thing about you that you have not shared with anyone publicly yet.
Tod: Something that I haven’t already shared? Oh, I’m a HUGE fan of Magic the Gathering. Yeah I’ve played when I was a kid, I started before Ice Age came out. I’ve been playing on and off for years and years and years.
And when I do play I get really really into it. I build five to six decks and I’m about to teach my son how to play. So I’m gonna bring out all the old cards and yeah I don’t think I’ve talked about that at all. I’m a super Magic the Gathering nerd.
And I look at the cards that I have traded before and I’m like “Oh man!” Like thousands and thousands of dollars worth of cards that I just traded and gave away.
How did you get involved with Kena: Bridge of Spirits, did you audition or how did you hear about it?
Tod: I was really fortunate that they were casting in Montreal. And that we had a recording studio here that was doing work for Ember Labs so I did an audition.
As voice actors, we get a lot of auditions for a lot of indie games that we just go in and we do. Most of them we never even hear about them, there’s small releases and maybe six people play the game and that’s it.
I did the audition and I was really struck by the depth of the characters and the storytelling and how deep the scenes were. But I thought okay it’s another indie game and I didn’t really keep track of it.
And then I started seeing it come out at Tribeca and all that. And I saw the reception and how excited people were and I was like “Aww this is incredible!” So yeah I auditioned like it’s a normal game.
We recorded it here in Montreal, I did and another actor as well, I think. And then some of the other cast were recorded in different parts of the world. And we recorded during the pandemic too so everything was remote. I was in studio with one audio technician and that was it. Everyone else was either in Los Angeles or in other parts of Montreal. They were all over the place.
It was all done with Zoom. But it was really cool, they gave us the time to get the performance that we needed. And to explore the characters and to brief and to really get to know my character Taro who he was in entirety before jumping in. It was very cool, it was a very fun experience.
Were there any challenges that you faced during the recording for the game?
Tod: Just the fact that it was a part of the pandemic where it was a big deal to leave your house. Like that’s where we were when I was recording. Just the anxiety of haven’t been out for a long time and then going to studio to record a big game.
But I think sometimes that helps. As actors, when we have a little anxiety about the performance. It just brings more to it. It brings more to the emotional rawness and being able to access your emotions and live in the moment. It helps that little bit of anxiety.
So how is it even going to work? When I get to the studio, there’s no one going to greet me there. They give me the code to get in. We were in the point where we’re in lockdown and there was no one allowed out at night. We had a curfew. So it was a very high tension part of the pandemic.
A lot of uncertainty going in. Who am I gonna be in there with? Am I gonna be alone? What are the rules now? Everything’s different. So yeah that was a challenge. But identifying with the character that was the easy part, that was fun!
So what was your inspiration in getting into character for Taro?
Tod: He has so much loss, he was charged of the responsibility of taking care of the two characters. And it wasn’t his fault at all. But he’s just racked with guilt and I know how that feels because we’ve all lost people that are close.
My mother passed away when I was 23. And it was too young for her and I was too young. And I did carry some guilt. Like what if I did this? What if I didn’t do this? What if I just had said this? or What if I helped through this way? What if we caught the cancer earlier?
You do tend to think about all the things and then you start to feel guilty. It’s inevitable, even if you know rationally that you shouldn’t, you do feel guilty. And so that was easy to identify with. His feelings of guilt and anger towards what happened but then to be able to let it go. To realize that it’s not your fault that these things just happen. And that’s how I was able to identify more with that character.
Did you have any idea on how big the game would become?
Tod: No, I had no idea! I really thought it was just going to be an indie game that don’t go anywhere. And when it was in the game spotlight at the Tribeca Festival that’s when I saw the reception. That was the first time I saw the music, how they were recording the music with local artists and traditional musicians.
I was like “Oh man, this is special!” They’re taking a very unique approach to making a video game and a high attention to detail. It’s a story from the heart, it’s not there to shock, it’s not violence for the sake of violence either. It’s a very heartfelt story.
I had no idea but then I started to get hints. And I saw people on Twitter, on Instagram and Facebook, like talking about it and community groups and fans waiting. And then I saw fan art coming out. Oh wow! People really like this game, it’s so cool!
Would you say this is one of the biggest games you’ve been in?
Tod: Well I don’t want to put them against each other because they’re different studios. But I have been very fortunate enough to be in the Assassin’s Creed Series and the Far Cry Series which are also huge fan favorites. These are not just standalone games, they’re a series of games which has its own fan culture which is really cool.
It’s different. I find when people ask me “What do I like the most about being a voice actor or working in this industry?” What I like the most about it is that we get to do so many different things and work on so many different projects. We kind of bounce around.
And that’s what I love the most is because the more different things we get to do the more perspective you get and the more angles you see the world from. And I’m addicted to that.
I have a friend who is a police officer in Vancouver and he’s like “Come for a ride along” and I’m like “Yeah, let’s do it!” I just like to experience different things from a different perspective. So I think I learned something from all the games that I’ve been in.
How different is voice acting from other forms of media?
Tod: I’ve said this before but I will say it again but you can really zero in on the performance. You can even close your eyes and you don’t have to focus on anything else except what your voice sounds like and how it’s coming across. There’s less distraction when it’s voice acting.
Everyone is focusing on that one aspect of the performance. Whereas when you’re doing acting, you’re focusing on the lighting. You’re focusing on the wardrobe. You’re focusing on the shot, the angle of the camera. Did you hit your mark? How’s your makeup? There’s so many factors that your voice is not the only thing.
Whereas voice acting is the only thing everyone is focused on. You could all be sitting in a pitch black room. It doesn’t matter, it’s what it sounds like so I really like that.
Tod: I also do motion captures so that’s different because we do motion and voice at the same time. And what’s cool about that is again we don’t have to worry about the angle of the camera. The whole thing is being captured so you can place the camera in 3D space wherever you want it. As long as the performance is good and everything makes sense.
The biggest hurdle for motion capture is confidence in wearing those suits. If you go on a TV show and you’re playing the bad-ass villain, they get you that big leather coat, and the thing and the boots and the gun. So you can lean on that and use that to get into character.
This, you have to be that guy where you’re dressed in spandex. You look ridiculous! Yeah but you have to act, you have to move as if you’re confident and yeah it’s very different.
Are you currently working on video games that are coming out soon?
Tod: Yeah I have two in production right now but I can’t say what. Sorry!
What was the most memorable video game acting that you did?
Tod: Taro for sure is up there in the top three. The other one is Bean from Far Cry: New Dawn. He was like a very naive kid to like survive an apocalyptic scenario. We just laughed the whole session because the lines were funny. The whole purpose of this character is you want the player to say “How is this player alive in this environment?” That was the most fun I had in voice acting.
And then in Assassin’s Creed III also, I like that character. I hope they do a spin-off of that character because he was so cool. It was Mason Weems in Assassin’s Creed III. He helps you escape Bridewell prison. He’s a bit mysterious, he’s very passionate about George Washington and the cause. He was just a very cool character and I feel like there’s a room for a spin-off for him to make a comeback in the series. I would really like that, that would be cool.
If he made a comeback in Assasin’s Creed Infinity, that would be cool! Fingers crossed!
So you never had to interact with any of the characters in Kena?
Tod: I heard some of the performances but I didn’t know all the cast who was in it. I just met online the actor who plays Rusu today on Instagram. I guess you could also break this story, we decided today that we are going to do an autograph signing on Streamily. We’re gonna do an autograph of our characters on print and all that. I just met him today, his name is Alan Adelberg, he plays Rusu.
I don’t have the date yet but we would probably do it in the next few weeks or month or so. So it’s soon, something to look forward to.
What’s next for Tod?
Tod: I can’t say the games but there’s two that’s coming out. The other thing is, I’m writing a TV show that I wanna shoot. I decided to shoot it entirely on the iPhone. I just got the iPhone 13 Pro and I saw some of the movies that were shot on it for the Apple Event. I might try and shoot the entire pilot episode of the TV show on the phone for the show that I’m working on. It’s about a workplace comedy about space, about companies like SpaceX. And I’m having a baby!
Is it a boy or a girl?
Tod: I don’t know yet. With our first we wanted to know right away because we were so surprised. But now, we took the ultrasound at 20 weeks and it’s been an envelope in my car for 20 weeks and we haven’t looked at it. We wanted to, my mother-in-law wanted to see it, everyone wants to see it but we’re like nope, we want it to be a surprise.
Have you played the game Kena: Bridge of Spirits yourself?
Tod: No, but I have watched people play it. I said that in another preview, but I prefer watching people play my games than playing my games. I know what you’re supposed to do but I like watching other players interact with the game. Because they do stuff that I never would have thought of.
Like with Far Cry: New Dawn, I didn’t know you could hit the NPCs with a shovel. So you could just throw a shovel at them. So there was a challenge that like how many times you could hit Bean in the head with a shovel. So I was laughing and it was so funny.
But with Kena, have you seen that option where you can take pictures in game? That stuff is so cool because the gamers are creating content that we’ve never even seen before. You know they see it through their eyes, so I like to see that kind of stuff. That’s the coolest because you’re seeing what someone is doing with your creation.
How do you get to interact with the characters in the game?
Tod: Well fortunately you saw how my character Taro, he’s telling you a story. So it’s not as much of an interactive conversation as much as he’s telling you a story. So I know the story, I knew the context. I was briefed on the game, what the game is about. How the stories are like, so for me for that particular character it was easier because I had the chance to craft the story myself and the beats and the performance was up to me. I wasn’t playing off anyone else.
But yeah for some other games, we hear or they do a playback and they leave pauses and we can act. Sometimes we can do it where they’re remote and they’re recording in their setup and I’m recording with my setup but we can see each other. Like I did a podcast drama like that where it was done through a recording software, where I can see the other side like we can make eye contact and we can act off of each other. And it’s recording on my end and it’s recording on their end and it does a full render for the producers. And they get the full audio file. But ideally you want to be in the same room.