Words on Voices

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.

The Colonials

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

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 AI

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.

The Travorians

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.

The Humans

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.

Season 1 Production Underway


It must've been January 2016 when we finished the original pilot episode of Starcalled, a show idea which had been gestating by that point for several years prior. It was twenty-something minutes long and packed full of explosive sound effects and twenty-something minutes of bombastic music that I sort of stumbled through for a few weeks.

I'd never really composed music before that point, but I knew enough music theory and assumed I'd just sort of figure it out along the way. I've always held a very passionate love for film scores. As a kid, I would sit down and listen to the Batman Returns soundtrack on repeat, imagining all the sorts of adventures Batman would have as the music dictated. Because the music did dictate the story. And I think that's a lot of what drew me into that world -- the capacity of music to serve as a guide and story teller. What does it make us feel? What can it make us see? By the time I got my hands on the Star Wars soundtracks, it was over. I knew I wanted to be that kind of creator.

But years passed, and opportunities don't just show up. So I made my own through Starcalled.

Going into the first iteration of the story I knew two things: (1) the music was the spine of the series and (2) there wouldn't be a narrator. I knew there was no conceivable way any story I wrote or produced would have a narrator weighing down every scene with exposition or telling us how characters feel internally or whatever other problems were discussed then. Which was all fine, mostly. The problem with entrenching yourself firmly against including a narrator is you then commit yourself to having characters use dialogue to facilitate action and discovery or just losing the action entirely.

And when you're trying to make an action adventure show with spaceships and aliens doing cool action-y things in space? You course correct.

And so with the first pilot successfully on tape -- with decent music, sound effects, and most importantly no narrator -- we immediately hit a wall with production. I was frustrated with the scope of the concept and the execution. I had written 3 or 4 episodes ahead, but I wasn't happy with what was coming out. It just wasn't enough. So the entire series went on hold so it could get redeveloped into something else. Something more compelling. More sophisticated. More mature. The writing needed to be better. The music needed to be better.

Gradually, the entire project got shifted to the back burner as I struggled to find my way forward.

It wasn't until Daredevil first came out on Netflix that I had a revelation about the how of the show. Noting the irony of a blind audience not being able to fully access a show about a blind protagonist, they started rolling out audio description tracks. A narrator filling in the details by explaining action and reaction -- keeping the pace of a television show but letting the narration set the stage for the sound effects, the music, and the sound of acting. As a creator, it was a paradigm shift.

So, I added a narrator. To prime the audience for the action. To guide the audience through the music because I still knew one thing about Starcalled -- the music was the spine of the series.

As to the what of the show, it wasn't until I finally (read: with great reluctance, etc) started watching Game of Thrones that I realized what to do with the story: take the characters back to the real starts of the journeys and let them grow into the characters I actually want them to be. That the story eventually needs them to be. It took a couple of years of reflecting and growing apart from the project, but it was necessary and important.

And, now, that brings us here. The new iteration -- revision if you like -- of Starcalled is progressing well into production on its first season. Out of five, hopefully.

Stay tuned. We'll talk again soon.

- Gabe