Yuri Lowenthal has had a fantastic career, bringing some of the most interesting and exciting characters to life. From the work he did on Insomniac’s Spider-Man as Peter Parker, to his recent role as Prince Adam on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, even if you don’t know his name, if you have played a game or watched an animated show in the past five years, you have heard his voice.
But despite his amazing voice acting career, he is also a lover of bringing love action to life. One of the most notable and unique projects he has worked on is with Orbital Redux. This special science fiction show was filmed in real time, giving viewers a live experience rarely done in the medium. The series also pushed the limit on interactivity, allowing aspects to be changed by the viewers, making for a truly unique experience. Now with Orbital Redux on a new network, and easier than ever to dive into, CGMagazine sat down with Yuri Lowenthal about his career, this special role, and what’s next.
CGMagazine: How did you get involved and why do you want to be part of the show?
Yuri Lowenthal: I’ve been working with Steven Calcote for many years. He called me up one day and said, I want to talk to you about something. So, he came over and said, “I’m building a spaceship and I want you to be the pilot. So, here’s my pitch.” And I said you don’t have to do the pitch. I’ll stop you right there. I’m in, what you just said was enough for me to begin. He already had the concept for the show and was already writing it.
I don’t remember exactly how far along he was in the writing of it. At that point, he was done with all eight episodes because I remember getting scripts fairly shortly after that. When he pitched me this idea of a sci-fi show that we would perform live, like a play. And not only the performance but all the effects, all the edits were all in real-time, all the music was being performed live on stage. At the same time, it terrified me. And I have found that generally when things seem exciting and terrifying, it’s probably a good direction to go. So that’s all I needed.
CGMagazine: How was the process compared to other sci-fi shows?
Yuri Lowenthal: It was the highest tightrope that I’ve ever walked before professionally. It involved a lot of troubleshooting and rehearsal. So, we try to figure things out for the episode, then we’d rehearse the episode for an entire day before the shoot day, and we’d have a couple of days off to troubleshoot anything that we needed to work on.
Then on the day of the show, we would start in the morning, we would just keep running it and running it and working the kinks out. And then the last one would be live. It involved an intense amount of preparation, Director Steven complicated matters with every episode. He would add something like after we just nailed it down the last episode, we would do it again. Here’s what I want to do next weekend, or next week, that’s different, harder than we did the last week before. So, he would be presented with new challenges every week, which was always frustrating and terrifying at the moment but ultimately rewarding.
CGMagazine: How did you manage the editing and all that process when you’re doing something live, was it done in one take?
Yuri Lowenthal: The editing was all rehearsed as well, we had generally about 10 cameras working at once, half of those cameras were with human operators. And the set was built in a way where it was the interior of a spaceship and the monitors, which were all functioning monitors, the set itself was built out of old aircraft parts and submarine panels, along with things that the director, Steven, was able to source throughout the world. Sometimes, probably with questionable legality but everything was wired up so that it worked.
So as an actor, it was a dream. To have a fully functioning set, with knobs and dials and things that worked on the ship. But the monitors could swing open, and allow a camera to poke in. And when they were going to cut to the camera opposite, they would just close the monitor and hide again. So, when you’re coming at it from the reverse, it just looked like a monitor, you couldn’t tell that there was a camera a second ago, that’s what the rehearsal was for.
It was a ballet of all of these cameras working in tandem. And then I can only imagine, I was never in the control room area during the show because I was always on set. It’s probably like those guys who edit the Oscars too. Now luckily, they’ve had some time to rehearse that. Some of the cameras were Steadicam, there was one day that we had a camera on a big techno crane. He kept upping the ante every time.
We knew that if we ran into a problem in the middle of the show, we just had to deal with it and keep going. It was complicated. Also, one of the selling points to the original network, who aired at Legendary Digital had a short-lived platform called ‘Project alpha’, which is sort of their streaming, they’re trying to put together to streaming things in through their ‘twitch’ platform. And one of the things that helped sell the show to them was an element of interactivity, which meant that people who were watching the show in the chat could offer up suggestions and sometimes make story decisions.
So, we would have to prepare branching storylines for certain elements of the story. It was all story based, it was all scripted. And it was all generally going to the same place in the end. But occasionally the audience would get a choice and in a couple of instances just to throw things at us to improve with. So, it was exciting.
CGMagazine: Do you feel that experimentation of filmmaking has a history in the sci-fi genre, and do you think we’re going to see more shows to take advantage of these kinds of elements?
Yuri Lowenthal: I can only imagine. I’m trying to think of other shows you brought up Twilight Zone and failsafe, it was redone by Clooney, that was still a genre piece. I think the genre does lend itself to innovation. And people taking chances and risks. I think with the way things are going, with more interactivity and people liking more choice and their story and the ability to find a way to, now in these days of bingeing, finished episode to get an audience to tune in at a certain time.
This will become more popular. We would love to continue doing it. So, we’re hoping because what we did, we ended up taking all the footage while it was live, we were recording on that and we cut together the best possible version from the different angles and remastered the music. We looked at the episodes and said if they stand on their own, we’ll look for a home for this and more people can see it. Because if you weren’t on project Alpha before, you didn’t get a chance to see the show.
It was originally broadcast in 2018. If it relied on the gimmick, we’ll let it be what it was, and we watch the episodes, if you didn’t know it was live beforehand, you wouldn’t know. The edits were great, and it sounded great and everything. The camera work was great. So, we found a new home and now anybody can watch it. And of course, we’re hoping that if a lot of people watch it, maybe somebody will step up and say, ‘hey, that crazy thing that you guys were doing sounds exciting. Would you like to do a season two or a different show but in the same vein?’, we would say yes.
CGMagazine: I just want to touch on your career in general. What is your passion and what is the thing that draws you the most?
Yuri Lowenthal: I love acting and while I have done stuff on stage, TV, film, video games and animation, I would love to keep doing all of those different things, they lead me differently. But voice acting has been the majority of my success in this career. I would continue, I’m a big genre guy, I love sci-fi, fantasy and horror and I would love to keep exploring all of those things in every way I can. I love making movies, my wife and I have a production company. And that’s what we do.
We make web series and films and real scrappy things that we can skip the budgets, I love that type of filmmaking and storytelling. But I also love where I’ve gotten to in my video game career because when I first started, everything was still animated, there wasn’t a lot of motion capture, there were a lot of the actors to come in and use their body and their face as well.
So now with the way technology has gone, a lot of the video game work that I do now also requires an element of, you come in and let’s act these scenes out, at least for the cinematics we’re going to do all the work that we did on Spider-Man, for example, all the cinematics were shot like a movie or performed like a play with me opposite other actors, which is not the way we normally record our voice stuff for games and animation.
And for animation, sometimes you get a bunch of actors in a room at the same time, I love being in the room at the same time with all the other creative directors and writers, the tech people and the rest of the cast and I love the group cooperation and family element of creating stories this way. So, it’s been nice, it’s come full circle to that.
So, I don’t think that I could ever choose one, a lot of people are like, now that your voice-over career is taking off, you just want to do that. I’m like because a certain part of me atrophies, I’m not doing that other stuff. I haven’t done a live stage performance if you don’t count Orbital Redux. Since my son was born five years ago, it’s hard to put aside that massive amount of time for rehearsal and all but I missed that. I’d like to just keep doing it forever. And I like writing too, storytelling at large.
CGMagazine: What is it about that genre that allows you to push the boundaries?
Yuri Lowenthal: I grew up loving genre stuff and I continue to love it because the stories can be so fantastical and there are few roles about the world. I think in every story, there should be rules to the world but at the very beginning, you can create those roles to make almost anything possible. I think one of the exciting things about storytelling in the genre is you can explore a lot of real-world topics and real-world concerns in a way that is not beating people over the head with a message or something that you’re trying to address.
Because when they look at it, they’re like, this isn’t real. So, I think it allows their mind to stay open in a way that if we were coming in and this was a story about a guy, and he’s trying to adopt this kid, and you immediately are in the real world, I get this enough in the real world it probably isn’t going to be fun.
And so, your mind closes down a little bit. But if it’s in space, it’s about a creature chasing you, always bringing your minds open in a way that it hits you without feeling like a lesson or feeling like you’re learning something or feeling like you’re being emotionally hit. I don’t know if that’s what attracted me to that since I was a kid. But as an adult, I’ve learned that’s part of it, that can be the thing.
CGMagazine: What is your pitch to get people to watch Orbital Redux, and why is it important to dive into it?
Yuri Lowenthal: I love this show because it is at its heart, it is a sci-fi drama, an exploration of a world that is close to us, it’s only this far in the future. But it’s brought alive by the characters, it is a character-driven piece. It’s got all the trappings of the sci-fi you love. It’s got explosions, near-death stuff, space adventure but at the heart of it are these fascinating characters. And because of the way we had to shoot it, you’re trapped there with them, but trapped in a good way. So that’s one of the things that drew me most to it.
I think when I hear people talk about the show, who have seen it, who didn’t know us before it, who didn’t know about the process of it, that’s the thing that they love, they fall in love with the characters and the characters make them want to keep going and want to see those characters. When we first started the show and nobody knew anything about the show, people would tune in probably to see us fuck up and to see things go wrong.
And then when they realized that they had some power over it, you could tell from their choices, that they were trying to make it harder for us because they wanted to see us, interestingly, not all people are evil. But as the show progressed and as they fell in love with the characters, their choices changed, and you could see that happening. They were trying to help us. So, I think that’s a testament to the show, in the beginning, they just wanted to see us crash. And because of the characters by the end of it, they were trying to help us in every way they could and that was fascinating to me.
CGMagazine: If people want to know more about your work, where should they dive into and what are some of your favourite projects?
Yuri Lowenthal: I would say, please watch Orbital Redux, it’s on Dust, it’s a sci-fi channel. You may already have the Dust app on your smart TV and not even know, you can download the app, or you can just go to watchdust.tv and look for Orbital Redux. So that’s it as far as watching the show and I think we’re going to be releasing some content about the behind the scenes how we did it. But besides that, there are a lot of video games out there. A lot of stuff that my wife and I created, which you can learn more about our production company; is called Monkey Kingdom productions.
You can go to ‘monkeykingdomproductions.com’. We have a web series called Shelf Life that we did several years ago. That is a live-action Toy Story but for adults, it is super fun. We produced a show a couple of years ago called Whatta Lark, it’s about a woman, a female children’s book writer who befriends a drag queen and the adventures that they go on. It’s super cool.
I’m just trying to get people to watch Orbital Redux these days, but there’s plenty of stuff in the pipeline. There’s a lot of cartoons coming out. There’s a new He-Man show coming out on Netflix that I got to play He-Man for, which is just crazy, me saying that out loud. DOTA: Dragon’s Blood is also a Netflix animated show that I think came out and there are lots more on the way. So, stay tuned. I’m tweeting about stuff at @YuriLowenthal. You should be able to find it there.