Assassins Creed: Odyssey has taken the video game world by storm this past month as players are able to live out the story of a true Greek hero. Not to mention that this hero can be either a male or female and they can both form relationships with NPCs (non playable characters) throughout the game. This world is vast and full of remarkable scenery that brings the beauty of Greece to life.
Assassins Creed: Odyssey is not only visually appealing, but features one of the best story lines this year. Choices you make in game effect later portions and players can unlock hidden treasures while exploring additional content outside of the main storyline. Some of the best hidden content is the additional dialogue you can partake in with NPC you might not have seen.
We got to discuss what it was like working on this project with Alexios himself, Michael Antonakos. We discussed acting at a young age, his time in the motion capture suit and his upcoming projects that you should keep a look out for.
Julia Roth: What attracted you to theater and acting at such a young age? Did you have any family in the arts as well?
Michael Antonakos: My initial introduction to arts and the theatre was in grade two. I auditioned for the play of Little Red Ridding Hood and I wanted to play the wolf, but I ended up gravitating towards the role of Little Red’s Grandmother. So, I asked if I could audition for that part instead. The teacher thought it was funny, so she let me. I was up against a few girls for the role and knew it wasn’t likely I’d get it, but I felt like I knew how to play her. I went home and prayed to the heavens to “Please grant me the role.” I look back now and think how amusing that is…a 7-year-old praying to play the part of a Grandma in a school play. But low and behold, the teacher cast me and that became my debut role in life. My mother came to the show and kept looking for me the whole time – I didn’t tell her what role I was playing. When the curtain call came, I removed my bonnet and spectacles and she fell back in shock. She still reminds me of it. Long story short, I think the moment it connected for me as something I loved was the moment I heard the audience roaring with laughter after a joke I had made, there was this feeling, a rush, and tingles all over. I was taken aback by it, I had no idea I could do that to people. I could make them laugh, I could make them cry, I could give something that would touch people’s hearts, and that was it, I was hooked.
My mother was a ballet dancer and choreographer in Montreal as a young woman, she always encouraged me and was my rock, even though sometimes I think she would have loved me to become a Doctor or Lawyer just so I wouldn’t have to deal with so much rejection and instability. But I owe her a lot. My little sister (Sofia Diana Antonakos) is an Opera Singer in New York, and she’s the reason I can sing, and my step father would perform with the Rocky Mountain Shakespeare Company during my early teens. That was my introduction to Classical Theatre, it was a whole new world, and a whole new language. I loved it. I joined the shows doing little parts and helping the troupe with promotions through-out Lake Louise, Alberta. I was always fortunate to have a life influenced by the arts around me, but I also know I sought it out everywhere I could.
I don’t know if my family ever thought it was possible for me to succeed at this profession, it is one of the toughest to pursue. But…persistence is an impressive force, it’s like waves crashing against a boulder, eventually the rock will erode and break over time. You just have to keep pounding its surface till it breaks.
JR: Do you feel that you had more opportunities in Canada to pursue acting and theater then you would have had if you were raised in Greece?
MA: Yes, yes and yes. I love Greece, but I was just there for a visit and I talked to a few actors while I was there. I asked them how it was like for them. It’s a tough biz anywhere, but when you have very little economy and most actors get cast by the people they know, it’s very challenging for most to get a foot in the door. To add to that, there isn’t as much financial support when you do get to work, so you struggle either way. I hope they get a shift in the way things are happening, and the economy comes back. I think there are a lot of talented artists in Greece that deserve some spotlight and time to shine. I don’t think I would have nearly the success or variety in training if I had been raised there. I also would have had to overcome my accent for international markets, if I was raised with Greek as my native tongue, and that can be much harder to do.
JR: Was there a specific genre you enjoyed more than the others?
MA: I love comedy and it takes an incredible amount of skill, timing and energy to do it right. There is always something alive in it. But I think Drama has always called to me, I love the focus and deep work you have to do on yourself, the self reflection and imagination work you have to explore within your own psyche to find the truth in it. Comedy lightens the soul while drama can make you explore it.
JR: Do you feel the skills that you learned while acting at a young age helped you break into the video game voice over and motion capture world?
MA: Absolutely. Every little bit counts as they say! Any experience helps you get better at what you do, and you add a little more to your tool box, as well as to your confidence. So I can only imagine that what I did at a young age helped me get to where I am now.
JR: What major changes are you happy to see in the motion capture world from you start with Lord of the Rings: The Third Age to your latest project Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey?
MA: The equipment in the studios have changed. When I started they didn’t have helmet camera’s capturing your facial movement, they had you sitting in a chair with these gummy dots they had to put on your face. You’d have to sit in a chair with cameras all around you, and they’d capture all your facial movements over a couple hours of making every gesture possible. It was exhausting on your face.
The suits we wear have also improved and there are now more markers (the glowing balls) placed on the body, capturing more of the skeletal movements than before. The part that I am most happy about is the changes to the capturing sensors/camera’s placed around the acting volume. They used to be bright red, like the light’s in a laser pointer. After a day or two of being in that room you would get headaches and your eyes would feel really tired. Now they have gotten rid of those lights but added LED lights to your helmet/facial cameras, so you gain one and lose one! But I’d take the LED lights over the red ones any day!
JR: How does it feel taking over the lead role of such a beloved series? Was it overwhelming knowing they would be listening to you the entire game?
MA: Very overwhelming! I was a bit surprised when it all happened. It’s a very intimidating position to be dropped in. You’re not just creating a new character, you’re creating one that is a part of a huge Assassin’s Creed history, and people will have very strong opinions about you. I’m honoured to say the least. If Ubisoft felt confident enough to allow me the opportunity to spearhead this thing with Melissanthi (Mahut), then I have to trust that I was the right guy for the job. Now looking back, I think it is one of the biggest gifts I could have asked for. So, thank you Ubisoft.
JR: Do you feel that Assassin’s: Creed Odyssey brings the beauty of Greece to life within a video game?
MA: Better than I could have ever imagined. It’s truly a sight to see. To me the game is worth the price just to walk through and enjoy the history and architecture. It’s phenomenal what they’ve done. You can see so many of the ancient sites rebuilt. Travel to different islands on your own ship of the period called a Trireme, explore the world of the time, go to the Olympics, see a classical play in the ancient theatre. It’s so immersive.
JR: Players are going to be able to choose which protagonist they lead through the story. Did you and Melissanthi Mahut work at the same time to bring the story to life or were they in different sessions?
MA: For the motion capture elements of the game, yes. We did all of that together. We would craft the scenes together and go over all the scripts before we even went to do rehearsals. We make a great team. Thankfully we saw the scenes very similarly, even when it wasn’t necessarily the way it was written, and the writing team was very supportive and open to our suggestions. I wish we could have done the whole game like that. The voice record was a different experience, Melissanthi recorded primarily out of London and I recorded out of Toronto. We had different voice directors and one of us would record first and the then the other would follow a few days later. We would switch every couple of weeks. The company was very good at giving us both a chance to take the lead. But it was hard because we couldn’t be in the same room working on it together, and to me that made a difference in the quality of our performances. But it all worked out in the end.
JR: Were there any notable moments in game, a scene or bit of dialogue, that really stuck out to you?
MA: Too many to count! We’ve been doing this for the last year and half and are still going! I love how her, and I are so similar and yet so different when you play the game. It’s like there is something for everyone. She’s smooth and witty and I’m brash and sarcastic. But we both wanted to have the same capacity of love, pain, and humour with the roles and that stands out to me no matter who you choose. My favourite scene is the goat scene with the town thug called the ‘Cyclops’, I laugh every time I watch it.
JR: How was is working with Ubisoft? What has been the best experience when creating Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey?
MA: Ubisoft is an incredible company. It’s huge! There are studios all over the world and each studio hires hundreds, if not thousands of workers. It blew me away. Very committed to making great games and treating their actors well. I have to say one of the best experiences they gave me was when Melissanthi and I were first hired. They flew us out to Quebec City to meet the game team, the writers, and most importantly each other. They allowed us a chance to get to know on another and bond as people and as the characters. They are brother and sister in the game, so it really had to feel natural and like family. I am still so grateful for that, because that was the foundation we built before we went to work on the game.
JR: What future projects are you working on that we can expect to see within the next year?
MA: Well I’m currently making my own short film, and plan on making many more as I work towards features. We have an Indiegogo campaign going right now actually! It’s called Art: An Unexpected Vocation, and it’s a really special project to me. It has to do with mental illness and the personal struggle when pursuing one’s dreams.
Other than that, I’m working on this game for a while longer as we make the DLC’s (downloadable content) that will release through 2019. So, I’m still busy thankfully.
And lastly, I’m writing some Greek Epic’s of my own with my writing partner, we’ll keep you posted!
We cannot wait to see what Michael Antonakos has in store with his upcoming projects and we wish him only the best of luck. He is a inspiring member of the voice-over community and was such pleasure to speak with. If you haven’t gotten a chance to try out Assassins Creed: Odyssey, what are you waiting for?!
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