Interview: Karen Dyer (Sheva from Resident Evil 5)


Dearest CrunchGear readers: I recently had the honor and privilege of speaking to Karen Dyer, who is not only the voice of Sheva Alomar, from Resident Evil 5, but who also did said character’s motion capture. I hope you enjoy it on this day, our day of freedom.

Obviously, “K” is for Karen, and “N” is for Nicholas. With that…

N: Well, first off congratulations. Resident Evil 5 was a big hit. It sold something like 4 million copies.

K: That’s what I hear!

N: Excellent. But before we get into the game, I just wanted to bring up something I saw on your bio. It says here you’re known for your circus skills, and I just wanted to say how that awesome that is. And I wanted to ask, where do you study that? Because I don’t know if your average community college offers that type of training.


K: You might get a juggling course, but maybe not everything that I do. I’ve actually been doing a bit of circus stuff for a while. I’ve been doing fire eating, breathing, twirling performance, stilts, juggling, walking ball, and aerial. It started off just kind of knowing the right people and hanging out with them, and then getting involved with different circus troupes and doing a little bit of circus myself. Now I’ve kind of created this alter ego, Eva La Dare, that I get to use as my sexy circus outlet, if you will. [Note: Here’s a video of Eva La Dare in action. I’d say it’s mildly NSFW because she’s eating fire in a sort of exotic dance setting.]

N: And how’s that working out? Is the circus business booming, or… I have no idea. That’s a world…

K: It is booming! And you know why? Well it’s just so damn interesting to look at, for one. You might have noticed Christina Aguileira had some circus stuff in her latest tour. T. Pain’s whole album was about being the ring leader, and I was actually on tour with T. Pain doing fire and stilts as my alter ego for his last tour; I just got off tour in February. And of course now Brittney is on tour with her Circus album. So it’s not doing too bad.

N: Alright, well. It was just something that like, wow, that’s sorta unusual. I don’t really read about that too often.

K: Anything that’s unusual and daring I’m usually into. It didn’t take me long to want to pick up a few skills. Someone would come along and say, “Hey do you want to eat some fire?” I’d be like, sure!

N: Who doesn’t!

K: Yeah, you know, willing. As long as you’re willing you’ll learn.

N: Excellent. All right, now I guess we can get to the reason why we’re here, Resident Evil 5. You’re the voice Sheva and you also did the motion capture, right?

K: That is correct, I did both. Quite a wild ride.

N: How did you first get involved with that? Who contacted whom? How does that even go about happening?

K: Well you know it’s funny. My experience with motion capture beforehand, I had only just done a couple of small games. Through a contact that I had worked with they recommended me to Capcom because they were having this search for someone who can handle the activities and the movement and the voice and everything that they needed for Sheva. And when I met with them I went through a series of tests. We did some green screen shoots, I went and got some training with guns and rifles because it was very important that I could do all the activity with my left hand. I’m a right-handed person and Sheva is left-handed. I had to make it look convincing. They made me jump through a couple of hoops and in the end they were happy with keeping me on. So I got the part!

N: And you did a good job, I would say. I mean I beat the game probably like three of four times. So, yeah, it was very convincing. So I wanted to know how long was that whole process, from the first day at the office till lights out, go home now. How long did that whole thing take?

K: I think it was a lot longer than most games. I was brought on in September of 2007. Up until that time they were still making the designs and the look of the characters, the background and the story. They’d been working on that since earlier in 2007. When I got brought in it was September of 2007. I went through a series of training with the green screen shoots. I don’t know how much you know about the background of how they developed this game, but we went through shooting the whole cinematic script on a green screen process that took the whole month of December 2007. So between September and December it was more about the training and getting familiar with the character. In December we did the green screen shoot, and then Capcom made their changes and decisions about what we would do for the next phase, which was the motion capture, which we started in January, which we did in phases throughout the year till about April. I started working on some of the voice earlier in that part of the year in 2008 and continued coming back for more voice sessions throughout the year all the way till about September, October of 2008. Between then and the game’s release there might have been a couple of pick-ups, not a lot. But yeah, a year, over the course of a year working on the same game which I hear is kind of unheard of. I feel like I’ve been totally spoiled by this whole experience.

N: Well it was a very big production. It doesn’t really get much bigger than that.

K: It was a huge production. Doing all the motion capture here in L.A. and using a film director in the Hollywood business. There was a lot of firsts for them.

N: Do you consider yourself a gamer at all, had you played any of the previous Resident Evil games? It’s one of the biggest franchises out there.

K: I haven’t played the earlier ones. I played Resident Evil 4 and really enjoyed that one. As far as games, I can’t say that I’m a hardcore gamer yet.

N: Oh, yet!

K: I say the word yet because now this has totally opened a whole new world to me and I’m attending a lot of my first conventions. I love the arcade games. I’m a big Time Crisis fan.

N: Oh, really?

K: Oh yeah. I love Time Crisis. Anything that I can actually use the prop in my hand I’m a big fan of. I’ve gotten used to—shooting real guns? That’s fun, you know? When I play Resident Evil 5 I get used to using my thumbs; I’m getting better. Especially with things like the Wii, the more interactive it is the more interested I’ve become. It’s opened a whole new world to me.

N: That’s actually tremendous. Now they’re developing all these motion controls, it’s supposed to be more immersive, this that and the third. I imagine more and more people will be gamers as the years go by.

K: Yeah, I can see it. It’s inevitable because everyone will want to be active in that way.

N: Yeah. Can you take us through the average day of production? Because you watch a documentary or whatever and you see Hollywood stars waking up at 4am to put on make-up and they’re working 17-hour days. Was it that arduous for you?

K: For me, I did have a pretty hectic schedule because I was in every scene. For me, and of course Ruben playing Chris Redfield, we probably had the bulk of the schedule to do. In the green screen shoot, we had the make-up call because we went through full make-up and full costumes for the green screen shoot. And the days were long. I would say at least 12-14 hours at the bulk of it, with the motion capture. My background, physically, has been mostly in dance and circus. I did sports in my school days and stuff; I’m pretty active. But I still had to get a lot of stunt training because I did my own stunts in the game.

N: That was going to be my next question. What type of training was involved? I imagine you’d have to be pretty physically fit to be jumping around all day doing motion capture.

K: Yeah, but I love the jumping around! I’m a pretty tough girl. At first, they were going to have a stunt double for me, but as we went through the process and they realized that I didn’t mind throwing myself around, I seemed to do it ok, they didn’t end up getting a double for me. All the training was basically on the set as we were going though it. When we would have the fight sequences come up, of course there would be a coordinator who was telling me how to do this, how to do that, how to make it look convincing. Within those long days they were very physical at the same time. As you can imagine, with all the gunplay—there was a lot of running away from zombies.

N: You’re not just sitting behind a desk all day…

K: No, it’s not a behind-the-desk job at all. So there is some truth to that, having the long days. The setups, too, especially in the motion capture process. They have to be so precise with the props and the set as far as spacing because it has to match when they put it in post-production, so there’s a lot of waiting between setups. You know, hurry up and wait.

N: I was literally just going to say that, hurry up and wait, but I didn’t want to sound…

K: Yeah, hurry up and wait. And when you’re not waiting you’re going full blast, no pun intended. But it was so much fun, because it really was like playtime. We had such a great cast and crew. The attitude was always fun, and everyone was focused on getting the game done and making it the best it could be, so it really was like playtime most of the time. It didn’t feel like work.

N: Are you now a licensed gun owner now, or did you get specific training?

K: I’m certified to use rifles and pistols. There’s another program that you go through that allows you to buy weapons. At the moment I’m not really interested in owning my own weapons. I have enough friends who have weapons that I can go the range. So I’m not owning any weapons at the moment, but I am certified to use them.

N: That’s awesome. I’m not a gun owner, but I’m not Mr. Anti-Gun, so it’s all sort of fascinating to me, the whole culture I guess. Now when I was playing the game, I just sort of classified Sheva’s accent as a sort of British accent. What did you base her voice on, is it just a generic British accent?

K: It went though a couple of changes. Her parents are from Africa, she was born there. She doesn’t grow up there, her parents die when she’s really young and she gets shipped to Europe where she spends most of her childhood. Capcom was trying to find this middle ground of what she would sound like. There was a lot more African in the beginning but she wasn’t there for most of her life so they decided to go with a more British accent. It’s funny because there’s still a hint of African in there, which you know makes sense if that’s the culture she’s from. So that’s how we came up with it.

N: Do you do other accents? Is voice talent another one of your skills, can you break into a French accent if you wanted to, or…

K: Probably not a French accent, no. My parents are Jamaican, so definitely there’s a Jamaican accent in me. I grew up in Miami so I can pull out a Spanish accent. As far as voice, this credit has been really great in getting more work and opening that door for me more. I really love doing voice-over and sometimes I’m just using my regular voice in doing narration in commercial and stuff like that. Yeah this game has opened so much opportunity for me in that area.

N: Is voice acting something where you need to know someone who knows someone, or can you literally just show up to auditions and suddenly you’re some big guy.

K: I’ve been an actress all my life, and I’ve always had an agent for theatrical and commercial work. I know other voice actors who got into the game really early but I’m finding out now that it is a clique to get into. There are specific voice agencies that handle most of the submissions for voice-over work. If you’re not with them you’re probably not hearing about the work going on. It’s very difficult to just show up at a voice-over audition because most of the time they’re just sent in by tape through the agency or online. It’s not like showing up at an audition, just showing up at a certain place. It takes a while to get into as far as getting representation. Some people have done it by credits with people they know. A lot of it is word of mouth, that definitely helps.

N: Ok, well now I know.

K: Why, are you starting a voice-over career?

N: No, no. My brother, he’s studying dramatic writing at college so now I’m being exposed to the Hollywood scene, maybe, the production side of it. It’s just sort of interesting. Now, I just wanted to touch on the supposed controversy. When you guys were working on the game, did you feel that Capcom was being racially insensitive by setting the game in Africa, and all that the entails. Was that ever a concern, or is this all just a bunch of bologna?

K: I’ve addressed this question from day one, as you can imagine. Yeah, it is a bunch of bologna. I find it funny because if the game was never set in Africa then you’d have people complaining about that. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. There was a huge uproar a E3 2007, where it was just the Chris Redfield character in the trailer. At that time the development of Sheva was not even done, and they had started developing that character, and I have all the notes to prove it, from early 2007, but you know Chris Redfield is an established character; they already know what he’s about. So by the time I came in September 2007 they still weren’t done with how she was going to look, she was still being created so there was no way of being done by that E3. Unfortunately when people didn’t see anything but Chris in Africa I guess it had a reaction that was not totally all the way positive. She wasn’t an afterthought. This is a co-op game, it takes a lot more time to just whip that together. It seems a little bit ridiculous to just do that as a type of reaction and say all of a sudden yeah let’s make it co-op.

N: Yeah, I just wanted to get a sort of behind-the-scenes perceptive on that. I just read those things and it’s like, why am I reading this? It’s just absurd.

K: The whole time I was on set there was nothing racial, you know? I did not feel—I cannot imagine that if I was being offended that I would have stayed for a whole year, you know? That I was being totally abused racially, why would I have stayed?

N: Ok, I have an answer now, thank you. Now you’ve worked on a number of different mediums like TV, film and stage. Do you have a favorite? If you could only do one for the rest of your live would you pick or do you like them all equally?

K: I love being diverse. I love having the variety. With all my little extra skills I never get a moment to be bored. It seems like every week I’m working on a different project. I love being challenged, I love having different things to do. Gosh, if I had to pick one I wouldn’t really want to. I would say at the top it would definitely be film because I also make my own films, I love to write and produce. It was my first love, getting into the business. Motion capture, especially with games and film and animation, has become a very close second because I’m finding that my skills come in handy on a lot of projects in that genre that would not totally play out on television and film. I have much more freedom in casting character wise to play different roles than I’d be able to play in television and film if you had to see my face or be a cetain body type. So I love the freedom in that. So those two would be my top.

N: Now, we are a tech site at CrunchGear, so I’m gonna ask you a few tech-related questions. Nothing too crazy.

K: I hope I can answer them!

N: No, it’s not like how to fix your printer or anything like that. It’s nothing that boring, I swear. What type of phone do you use?

K: I’m an iPhone girl!

N: Oh, you are! Do you have the new one?

K: I don’t yet, but I’m gonna get it. I’m really excited by it. I’m sick of looking at my phone now when that one’s out there.

N: Well, if you have an iPhone what’s your favorite app?

K: I’m so embarrassed to say this. It’s my Scrabble game.

N: Oh, there’s no shame in that.

K: I’m so addicted to this Scrabble game that I got an app for it. It’s that and my translator because I’m interested in different languages.

N: Well if you have an iPhone you must be a Mac fan right? Or do you not even care?

K: I’m a Mac girl! And I’m really happy to be one because I’m a new one, sorry Windows. I finally made the switch early this year and I have not looked back.

N: I’ve been using Mac for a few years now so I understand.

K: They’re awesome.

N: And I wanted to ask, do you know who John Biggs is?

K: John Biggs? Not by the name alone, should I?

N: No, you shouldn’t. I guess I have one more question. What’s next for you? What are you doing now and what are you looking forward to?

K: Well, you know in the video game world you really can’t talk too much, so I can’t talk about that.

N: Can you say what company it’s for?

K: I probably shouldn’t.

N: Meh, then don’t, no big deal. But it’s a game we now know!

K: Yeah I probably shouldn’t. You think you’re saying little and then all of a sudden [gasp!] you get that reaction somewhere. But I do work on that Robert Zemeckis film called Christmas Carol coming out this voice-over with Jim Carrey and I actually get to use my circus skills.

N: Tremendous. Ok well I don’t want to take up all you’re time so I’ll let you go now. Thanks for the chat.

K: Well I’m glad everyone enjoy the game, thank you!