When designing Starcalled, we knew that humans would be a rare if not extinct species within the universe, meaning that the show would have to be carried primarily by its alien characters. Deciding which species to include in the first season of Starcalled was a relatively simple process. Based on the identities of the central characters — Kron, Elona, Oddie, Rider, Corvan and Osborn — we were able to see which of the many alien races would already be introduced and included by necessity.
Beyond creating the characters, the bigger challenge we faced was creating vocal identities for the races and deciding how to portray them.
When approaching the colonials, it was understood that the primary series focus for the audience would be on this particular species — most of our show is about colonials and the galactic influence of the Colony.
We decided to go with a neutral cadenced, “natural” American accent for them, feeling that coordinating an alien voicing between 10+ people would not only be difficult to maintain across a range of acting experience, but potentially be profoundly irritating for 6+ hours of the show. Giving the colonials a “natural” accent gave the actors a lot of performance latitude to interpret their characters, and gave us the liberty to explore more alien options for the other characters and races without creating an additional emotional barrier between the audience and the colonials.
In-universe, we thought that since the colonials are the lens through which the audience views the world of Starcalled, that the concept would be that the audience is interpreting a “direct” translation from the universal translator probes the colonials use. Conceptually, the colonial voices we hear in the show are clear because we the audience are attuned to hearing translated colonial speech.
The Zaridians were more of an experiment — being utterly reptilian aliens, we tested a lot of voices that accurately conveyed the their bestial side, but failed to communicate the developmental sophistication of a space-faring species.
Eventually, we settled on an elevated American Southwestern accent. While such an accent always runs the risk of stretching into parody, we felt it was a nod to our home state of Texas and would quickly communicate that the zaridians were a roguish race of outlaws, mercenaries, and bounty hunters working on the fringe of a civilization.
In the studio, we encouraged actors to move their entire bodies in serpentine fashions, in order to inform their performances.
The development and emergence of virtual, artificial, and synthetic intelligence is a quiet thread which weaves through Starcalled.
Rider was always designed to be a unique character within the Starcalled universe, but needed a foil — a robotic frame of reference for her… less than robotic tendencies.
Larus, the mysteriously ubiquitous virtual interface, was recorded a single line at a time, modulated, then edited together to create a lifeless imitation of a voice. After recording the initial palette of lines for Larus, we wrote future episodes to either directly include the same Larus quotes or include only minimal changes to really emphasize the limited cognitive nature of the program.
Rider, on the other hand, was recorded in full sentences at a time to retain a nearly organic delivery to the lines, but with an added element of amelodic intonations in the performance. The end result gives Rider a sense of insurmountable emotional detachment with frightening glimpses of humanity somewhere deep within.
Knowing that the travorians would be a heavily modulated, easily identifiable species to voice, we decided to focus on getting a steady cadence, a consistent and purposeful musicality, and stoic brevity in the deliveries specifically to characterize Corvan as a pensive, reserved, but formidable character in the Starcalled roster.
It was important to keep the performances on the subtle side, so that Corvan’s more emotional moments would be more impactful, but also to prevent the effects from obfuscating the line deliveries too much.
And finally, we knew that the first human character we met would have to make an impact as they represented the most relatable species to the audience. In developing Osborn’s voice, we workshopped our way into a vaguely New England-y accent to give the suggestion of Osborn as an everyman with a limit and also to contrast his voice against the drawls of the zaridians.