Ratchet & Clank’s Voice Actors Discuss Road From PlayStation 2 To Film
This interview was originally published on April 12, 2016 around the release of Ratchet & Clank on PlayStation 4. With the release of the Ratchet & Clank film today, we decided it would be a good time to revisit it.
David Kaye has been providing the voice of Clank since the original game. James Arnold Taylor started playing Ratchet since the sequel. We spoke to the voice-actor veterans about the process of recording a new game and a film at the same time, got their best Liam Neeson, David Spade, and Michael J. Fox impressions (on tape), and asked Taylor about the infamous laugh of one of his other famous roles – Tidus from Final Fantasy X.
Game Informer: How did the audition process for the original game work?
David Kaye (Clank): Well, I received a paragraph. I don't even know if there was a drawing at all or anything. It was just a paragraph, no name on the project. Just a description of what they wanted the character to be: He's a little robot and they wanted him to have a personality, but they didn't want him to be too robotic.
I sort of fooled around with some voices and started to come up with some things. I wanted to be a little robotic, so I didn't do contractions, and it sort of... [in Clank’s voice] it sort of ended up here. I know when I'm on with the character because my head starts doing this [David tilts his head from side to side] all the time.
Is Clank's voice modified?
Kaye (Clank): It's always sort of [in Clank’s voice] been in here. My head starts going like this and that's when I know the voice is on. If I'm in and tired and my head's not moving, the audio engineer will call me on it and say, "Your head's not moving! It's not quite there." And then I'll start doing that and for whatever reason that seems to bring a mechanical feel to it.
When did you first see concept art of Clank? What was your reaction when you first got a look at the character?
Kaye (Clank): I can't remember. I remember the first session at Warner Bros., and of course I'm always excited; you go in, there's the tower. All I can think of is Yakko, Wakko and Dot. [Laughs] And I remember the big sound stage. It was the first time I've worked in a large sound stage. I'm used to a studio, a box, and this was this large sound stage.
I think that was the first time they showed me a picture of him. I'd never really seen it until that point I don't believe. Of course, James and I didn't really know. I had no idea what this was going to even look like. No clue. To me it was just sort of a script that reminded me of a cartoon at the time and that's all. So back in, what was it, 2000?
And you became Ratchet for the second game, James?
James Arnold Taylor (Ratchet): Yeah, and I've been him ever since. But Mikey Kelley is a dear friend and a wonderful actor. He played Michelangelo in the Ninja Turtles movie with me back in '07. He was the voice of Ratchet originally, and then they decided to change the direction, as it happens with characters sometimes. They were looking for something a little different. So I went out to Insomniac in Burbank. They had just built a studio, and there were a few people from Insomniac there. They just had me read through. What they were looking for was just variations in the lines. Trying to find the character. They had a sense that the game was going to go for more than just these two games. They knew after the success of the first game, "Ok, we want to take this farther," So they were thinking in the long term for the voice.
So I went in, read, I remember that. I still remember driving through their little parking structure and thinking, "Ah, this is pretty cool, this would be great." But you know, voice actors, we don't get any special treatment. David will certainly back me up on this. How many times do I have to audition for my role as Fred Flintstone or Spider-Man or whoever? You always have to audition to keep your roles. There's no loyalty when it comes to that. In fact, it's tough enough to get your name on the poster – oh, wait, did I say that? [Laughs]
I noticed that.
Taylor (Ratchet): [Laughs] So. Went in, did that. I knew within a week that I got the part, and I was very excited about it. David and I did not actually meet until the fourth game.
Kaye (Clank): We met at some screening at 21st Century Fox.
Taylor (Ratchet): I remember, I was leaving and they go, "Oh, David's coming in!" and I'm like, "Are you kidding me?" We'd gone this long and I can't even remember, it was like four or five games we'd done and never been in the studio together. And of course, David is this big, rugged tall guy. And I'm like 5'4''. It's the opposite! I'm like Clank, he's like Ratchet. [Laughs] It was great. They took pictures and I was like, "Can I get an apple box to stand on here?"
Kaye (Clank): Somebody said, "Hey, get on his back!" I go, "No."
Taylor (Ratchet): Yeah, not gonna’ happen. [laughs]
Do you still record separately?
Taylor (Ratchet): We recorded together for the movie. We always record separate for the games.
How different was it working on the game than it was to work on the film? The characters are functionally the same; it's not a separate Ratchet & Clank universe, correct?
Taylor (Ratchet): No, they use the same art and everything.
Kaye (Clank): It was basically the same, except I got a chance to work with James for the first time. That was cool. It felt more like a cartoon, like animation. Roughly, it was the same sort of thing, but the fact that it was a feature film, it was different. My nerves were a little, you know, because it's like, "We're doing a film now." A game is just as important but you hear that word "film," and in my head it's like, "OK, we gotta make sure..." Once I took a few minutes to relax it was just like doing the game.
Taylor (Ratchet): Yeah, and we had Jim Ward who was of course Captain Quark, who's an amazing performer, the three of us were in the room together, which, again, is unheard of for a video game. All three of us do so much animation work so we're used to this kind of an environment.
They put me in the separate booth, and they put David and Jim in the big booth in front of me. So we could all see each other, but my voice was isolated. Because David and I had so many lines together, that gave them the ability to isolate the lines if they needed to, in case we stepped on each other.
So technically I was in another room, but we could see each other, we were together. We were taking pictures of each other and posting them and stuff, because people knew it was happening.
Was the general character direction the same?
Taylor (Ratchet): It was the same but it was different, I think David would agree, because we had Andrea Romano directing us and she is, by far, the biggest name in voice acting and just an amazing director. She comes on and directs films and big shows. She directed the first few sessions of the movie, and in the games we've always had TJ Fixman, who's the writer, a brilliant writer, does an amazing job with that. He's directed us, and he knows the characters so well. So TJ was there with Andrea, and he was able to help get her to the right places because she's taking it from a completely different view. She's read the script for the movie, but the game is more foreign, and TJ knows the ins and outs of these characters. So it was a completely different environment, but it was also exactly the same.
It's good to hear Insomniac was there recording with you guys. It sounds like it wasn't just a situation of the rights being handing off; they were heavily involved?
Taylor (Ratchet): They were.
Kaye (Clank): Yeah, I was in touch with them and kept in touch. It's the first time my name has been on a film. It was the responsibility because our names are finally on a poster, the responsibility got to me a bit, so I always checked in with some folks over there. They'd been so good to me over the years. I'd always reach out and say thanks, you know, "This is so cool."
Taylor (Ratchet): I think that's also the reason we're here. They knew the importance of keeping the characters, at least the main characters, the voices people know. Ratchet & Clank is worldwide. You get fan mail from all over the world; places you'd never expect: Sweden, England, Italy, Japan, and here, obviously.
People know the American voices. They know these voices. We've done 15 games, something like that. There's a lot there. If you were to pull it out and put, like, David Spade as Ratchet and Ashton Kutcher as Clank, you'd hear the difference.
That was one of my concerns as a fan of the games, that they would recast. Was that a fear for you, as well? I'm sure they contacted you before auditioning started.
Taylor (Ratchet): Yeah, they called us beforehand. They were very nice to call us and talk to us and say, "This is what we're doing, what we're planning, but we want to keep it like the game, using the same art, same models, and of course, you guys." So I think there was a half second we were worried, but we got over it pretty quick.
Kaye (Clank): It's funny, I hear it more and more these days, and my son, who's engaged and very active online as a gamer – much to the chagrin of my wife and myself sometimes – he will complain about how things sound or if they change something, even though he knows I'm in the business. People seem to be more in tune with the v/o actors in games and it does seem to make a difference in games. In the gamer world, it's important to keep that continuity. It can throw players off. People don't want the stunt-cast. That was the biggest thing on Twitter when the movie was announced, it was, "Ah, they kept the original cast!" That was a big deal for everyone.
Taylor (Ratchet): It became a big deal when months later the trailer was released and our names weren't featured. They were in the second one, flashed for a second, but people were like, "Hey, hey, hey!" That's not a knock on anyone. I know that Hollywood's doing its thing, but I loved that the fans responded and said, "These guys are the stars of this! Where are their names?" It was fun. I was lighthearted about it, but I thought it was a very nice response from the fans, and it was huge. There are thousands and thousands of fans of this game all over the place.
I'm sure you followed the controversy around Metal Gear Solid V and how they brought in Keifer Sutherland to play Snake. That was a huge deal. That changed that character.
Taylor (Ratchet): Absolutely. He's going to put his own spin on it and change it. It's like when a TV show becomes a movie or a comic becomes a movie. It's critical to get that right. And if this is something people have known since 2001 or 2002, don't mess with it. [laughs]
For David and James' best impersonations, head to page two.
How close was the recording of the new game to the film? Were they simultaneous or separate?
Taylor (Ratchet): Pretty much simultaneous. It's been like a year since we've recorded everything. And the game, I want to say, we started recording a month of two after. And on that same note, though, it was interesting; I did know the first game. I watched it, played it. So I was curious to see how much the film and the new version of the game reflected the old one. I think it's been beautifully sculpted. It brings people in who don't know the games, because movies really do open up a whole new audience, they'll go, "Oh! I learned about these characters, I like these characters. I want to see more of them."
And the people who know them are going to go, "Oh, this is so cool." It's exciting because you're reliving these moments but it's beautiful on the big screen and 3D and everything.
Kaye (Clank): This was the first game I actually played all the way through, by the way.
The first Ratchet & Clank game?
Kaye (Clank): Yes. I sat down and played the whole thing through. I stayed up. I remember I had to wake up early to go to the airport for an appointment with Global Entry. I said, "Oh, it's a Friday night." I sat down at 7 p.m. and started playing. And at 7 a.m. in the morning I got to the very end of the game and I won and I woke my wife up and said, "I finished it!" And she really couldn't care less. I had two hours sleep before my appointment. But I was so thrilled I went from beginning to end and played the game. I really fell in love with the characters and the concepts in the game and I went, “Ah, this is what we're doing! This is awesome!” So I'm excited for the movie based on that.
So do you guys play a lot of games? Did you play the follow-up games after that?
Taylor (Ratchet): The problem I have is what David said. If I start to play them, I'll play all night. So I play, but I try to limit my time. In my house we used to have a full arcade, but now we just have one machine with Pac-Man and 28 games, Donkey Kong... I tend to just play that because I can play it in small increments.
But what I do like getting is all the little films, they make little films of all the games. We’ll get those and watch the cutscenes to get a good sense of what we've done. But also, I play them as much as I can. I'm just not that good at it anymore. I used to be great at games. What happened?
Where did Clank's laugh come from?
Kaye (Clank): I think it was Jackie, I believe. She asked, "What would his laugh sound like?" I said, "Jeez, I don't know, [Clank laugh]." People laughed and they call it a Scooby.
A Scooby? That's what Clank's laugh is called – a Scooby?
Taylor (Ratchet): Well, that is what it sounds like! Scooby-Doo's laugh.
Kaye (Clank): Yeah. So we'd do this Scooby like [in Clank’s Voice] "Yes, Ratchet! [laughs]" So that became a thing. But it came from Jackie just trying to figure Clank out.
Taylor (Ratchet): It's so appropriate, though. It totally fits. I don't know how else he'd laugh. The cool thing about it is that it's genuine. If a robot were to laugh, it'd be like "HA HA HA." But he actually genuinely laughs. It's awesome. I love that.
Kaye (Clank): Yeah. It just sort of came from his personality, he's got a bit of a personality but he's still a robot. It just comes from walking that line.
What is a Lombax?
Taylor (Ratchet): Well. A Lombax is like Highlander now. There can be only one! There's only one Lombax left we know of, and that's Ratchet.
A Lombax has to be in the feral cat family. He's got these wonderful big ears and his fur and coloring are like that of a tiger or a cheetah. So he's got some of those things but he's also got some human qualities. He's the perfect combination of cat and man! [laughs]
I don't know. He's a one of a kind. And I think that's awesome, I love that storyline. We're gonna’ find out more about that in the film, too.
From Ratchet & Clank specifically, what are the weirdest single lines you've had to do for those characters?
Taylor (Ratchet): Oh man. Thousands of lines, literally, through these years.
Kaye (Clank): There are some outtakes. I remember one morning when the Taken series had just started with Liam Neeson we were just riffing and joking and someone said, "Hey what would it be like if Clank did the voice of Liam Neeson?" So I went, [in Clank’s voice] "I don't know who you are, I don't know what you want, but I will find you and I will kill you." And we were riffing on that.
Taylor (Ratchet): For Ratchet, the funny thing is I've been very blessed to have a career doing so many different characters with so many different voices, but Ratchet's pretty much just my voice. It's rare that that happens. I'm really the straight man. You'd think Clank is the straight man, but it's Ratchet because he's always trying to be the hero.
Because it's my voice it's kind of blend of Michael J. Fox and David Spade, so sometimes they'll go, "Eh, go a little more Spade." But they're always walking this line. We don't want Ratchet to be too obnoxious. I think we did one segment where we thought, "How would David Spade do this?" Like, [in David Spade’s voice] "Oh, hey Clank. How's that working out for you? OK, yeah. Buh-bye." So we did take it that far one day and sort of made him a little obnoxious, but none of that made it into the game, thankfully.
The other side is that Michael J. Fox style, [in Michael J. Fox’s voice] "Oh wow, wait a second, Clank, you mean to tell me we're going through TIME? Oh man, this is heavy..." But for the most part I've got to play it straight. That's always the joke, they go, "You want a reference?" So we get into the studio again and they'll play you a reference so you can hear what you've been doing and sort of get into that character space, but for Ratchet I don't need it because it's just me.
Beyond Ratchet & Clank, what are you guys most known for?
Kaye (Clank): For me, my involvement in Transformers has been 20 years, in and out of that franchise. It started with Beast Wars, as Megatron, so I've been in and out of Megatron. Every convention I'm at, no matter where I'm at, people ask me to say [in Megatron’s voice] "Yes. Excellent." So that's Megatron. And then I was cast as Optimus in the animated series and began that.
Then, anime. I used to do anime a long time ago. Sesshōmaru was the character I did from InuYasha. They did 700 different episodes, and I don't think I've seen one all the way through. [Laughs] The scripts were giant. You'd go to your lines, do your lines, and leave. Never meet anyone. As far as talking about meeting James Taylor for the first time, we were doing a convention. A buddy of mine was taking me to the convention hall in a van. We did 10 years of that show, and I said, "Who's the girl over there?" He said "That's Kagome." I go, "Oh, so that's who I've been talking to for 10 years?" I had no idea who anyone was.
So those two shows are sort of a big deal. And the Avengers Assemble one now. But mostly, Megatron is what started me. That's always a big one.
Taylor (Ratchet): It's been multifold. The Star Wars stuff, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Clone Wars and being the voice of Obi-Wan for the last 13, 14 years has certainly opened all sorts of wonderful opportunities and doors. I do a lot of hosting at these conventions and such. I host this yearly event called Star Wars weekend at Disney World and Star Wars Celebration, the big one, I've gotten to host those. That's always wonderful.
But the very first game, the first thing that put me on the map, was a character by the name of Tidus in Final Fantasy X, the first Final Fantasy that had voices. To this day, I still get fan mail daily from people who are so affected by that game.
So Star Wars on the bigger stage, Obi-Wan, people are always asking me to do the voice, but Tidus, again, is really what started it. Which I'm so grateful for. Those are certainly big ones. And Ratchet! Ratchet & Clank. I'm always amazed at how often people's eyes bug out when they hear that.
Do fans of Final Fantasy X always ask you about Tidus' laugh?
Taylor (Ratchet): [Laugh] Yes. David gets the laugh for Clank, I get the laugh for Tidus. Once a week at least, I'll get an email.
What do you think of that scene? I’m sure you’ve seen it?
Taylor (Ratchet): I've seen it. In fact, I did it to picture when we did the whole thing. They had it there. So this laugh is just, "Be as awkward as you can." David probably doesn't know anything about this; it's this very awkward laugh as she's teaching this character how to laugh. So I was like, OK, it goes against everything we're trained to do as voice actors. And this laugh was just "HA. HA HA. HA HA HA."