The process for finding the perfect voice talent for the original historical characters that we introduce in History Adventures, World of Characters, is always fascinating. When designing the original characters, we always start by trying to answer the question: what is the spirit of the age, and who are the people who define it? We then composite together plausible historical characters–who are not famous, not kings or queens–but rather “real” people, living through extraordinary circumstances. Everything about our fictional non-fictional characters is rooted in historical research and plausibility. But then of course, it is empathetic projection and imagination that dusts off the pages of history, and brings these ancient people to life. And this is where casting the right voice talent becomes so key–finding the dramatic reading that will make the story jump off the page, to make the reader sense the beating heart of history. Within this multimedia digital learning product, it’s critical that students can not only see these amazing characters of history, but also hear their voices.
Revolutions & Industrialization
In our product, Revolutions & Industrialization, we have a mysterious character called Agent 355, a slave turned spy, who becomes a key member of General Washington’s shadowy Culper Spy Ring, and thereby decides to risk everything for the cause of revolution and the principle of freedom. For this character, we needed to find a voice that could convey a complex balance of quiet heroism, profound sensitivity, and genuine bravery in the face of grave danger. A woman truly inspired by these newly articulated ideals of individual liberty, her goals transcended self-interest, but were concerned with a deeper sense of human possibility. Next, we sought to find the voice of a social reformer called Thomas Brown who lived 150 years after Agent 355, at the dawn of the 20th century. He was a muckraking journalist, inspired by Upton Sinclair. For this character, we needed to find the voice of an ink-stained, coffee-swilling, sleep-deprived, morally driven crusader of sorts. A uniquely American character, with that sort of old timey Chicago accent that you can hear when you watch archival TV broadcasts of grainy, early 20th century, black and white Cubs games. You can hear an echo of this nostalgic mode of speaking in works like Boardwalk Empire and Road to Perdition. Thomas was an educated, street smart, city boy–balancing realism with a bold idealism–and willing to disguise himself as a janitor in order to infiltrate and expose the truth about the infamous Chicago meat packing district. He uncovers a world of filth, corruption and reckless disdain for human life that leads him to question what the future will bring.
Empires & Interconnections
For our new product that we’re currently developing, History Adventures, World of Characters, Empires & Interconnections, we’re trying to tell the story of the world over a vast, transformative period concerning the three centuries from 1450-1750. We begin this process by first trying to determine what are the major themes of the age, and where they are happening most intensely around the world. And then from there, our goal is to try to conjure and visualize characters at the crossroads of history–geographically, intellectually, culturally, and so on. Whose lives intersect profoundly with these broader themes of the age. During this period of colossal change, the world got smaller. The age of exploration, gunpowder, and international trade took hold. Epic empires expanded, and followed trade routes–as European nations battled to control as much of the world’s wealth as possible. The dark side of this explosion of wealth and consolidated power and influence, meant enslavement and ruin for many, as Europeans unknowingly brought diseases that killed millions and meanwhile initiated the gruesome, inhumane Atlantic Slave Trade. Some nations remained autonomous and isolated, such as the Tokugawa of Japan–but this took huge effort to throw off this tide of increasing global interconnectedness.
A World of Characters
We strive to identify a key question that will confront each of our major characters, to connect them thematically, and to the broader themes of the age. For Empires & Interconnections, we have developed 6 characters–each of whom confronts the question: how to deal with this tidal sweep of rising empires, will they fold into this interconnectedness, or will they somehow resist? We begin our journey in 1453, as Ioannina, a woman of Byzantine and Turkish ancestry, experiences the Ottoman Siege of Constantinople, led by Sultan Mehmed II. The battle hangs by a thread, but ultimately the ancient capital falls, heralding the final death knell of the Roman Empire, and the rise of the Islamic empires of the Middle East, whose control of this critical crossroads will push the emerging mercantile empires of Western Europe to search for a Western route to Asia. Our next character, Luis Felipe Gutierrez, is a Spanish adventurer, who dreams of achieving wealth and glory in the New World–while spreading the word of God–as Columbus, Cortez, and Pizarro had done before him. In the disease-stricken, war-torn mountains and jungles of Peru, he finds instead madness, confusion, and death. In 1619, we introduce William, a man forcibly brought to the new settlement of Jamestown in Virginia, by Portuguese Slave traders. Captured by English pirates in the Caribbean, William was sold along with 16 other Africans to the struggling Jamestown colony–and there he would be the first to confront an international slave trade that would last for centuries, and grip the lives of millions. On the other side of the world, in the Indian subcontinent, a Bengali tax collector must decide whether to remain loyal to the Mughal Emperor or side with the rapidly expanding British East India Company. We will find that our zamindar fails a moral test, and learns the true weather of his heart is villainy. In Tokugawa Japan, a young woman, Fuyuko, is a key advisor to the powerful warlord, Tokugawa, who strives to achieve the first Shogunate. She will advise Tokugawa on how to deal with these strange, fanatical European missionaries: should we grant clemency, or should we deal with them harshly, and with violence, to stamp out their looming threat.