Interview with Carlo Rota
(Basim/Loki in Assassin's Creed Valhalla)
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We are proud to release our interview with Carlo Rota, who provided the voice and mo-cap performances for Basim and Loki in Assassin's Creed Valhalla. This is the fourth interview in our Valhalla series, covering the game with the cast and crew that brought it to life.
Please note that this interview contains FULL SPOILERS for Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Colum: Hi Carlo, thanks for joining us today! Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your time working on the Assassin's Creed series.
Carlo: Hello AC world and thank you Colum for the invitation to answer a few questions about this excellent game that Ubisoft has made. In looking over your questions I realize that this is a welcome chance for me to debrief myself about the amazing time that was spent being involved with Valhalla and all the talented individuals I was lucky enough to work with. My last day of physical work on the game was on Friday March 13th 2020. For most of us in N.America, that was the last day of normalcy before we stepped into the COVID whirlwind from which we are still to emerge. Here is to emerging soon!!!
But in the meantime let me dive right in:
So yes, I’m Carlo Rota and I’m an actor with quite an extensive and varied resume ( I’ve actually been in some really good projects and sad to say, maybe not so good ones…). I normally live in Los Angeles with my wife and kids which is where Ubisoft would shuttle me back and forth from to shoot and record the game in Montreal. I say normally, because at the time of writing, I am living as a refugee in Toronto. It's where my family and I escaped to, because we thought things were getting too hairy in LA and we wanted the kids to attend school, which have been open here. Of course I use the term refugee in a tongue in cheek way. I actually used to live in Toronto and yes, surprisingly to many, because I certainly don’t sound like it, I’m happily Canadian as well as American as well as a UKer. I am a total mixed bag culturally with major connections to Italy but grew up in a lot of different places that spanned from England to Hong Kong and many countries in between. If you presume that I am culturally confused you are entirely correct. Perhaps this is a cry for help??
Colum: Before working on the game, did you know much about the franchise?
Carlo: The short answer is, no and full disclosure here, I have had scant gaming experience. Yes , I have played early versions of games like Doom and GTA and Uncharted but I hadn’t touched a gaming console in years. I haven’t even played another lovely Ubisoft project that I had a significant role in a few years back , Splinter Cell. Anyhow, everything changed the very first day I arrived at Ubisoft HQ, Montreal. Lead writer Darby McDevitt swooped down on his Irish educated wings and ensured I received a head spinning and rapid AC PHD. Not only did he introduce me to all the main players involved in making the game but he also gave me a super involved history of the Franchise with more detail and precision then my noob brain could possibly handle. Magnus (who plays the lead character of Eivor) and I had this running joke that when Darby spoke about the game he would always start by saying “Let me give you a quick five minute explanation about……” then an hour and a half later of detail upon story upon history, your head felt cudgeled and buffeted! Like you’d smoked something intensely psychedelic. ( not that Magnus or I would know of such things, we are, after all very innocent family men. Very innocent ).
Essentially, what Darby was eloquently explaining was that Assassins Creed is SO much more than a game. The fact that the word Creed is in the name is very apt. Search the meaning of the word and you find…”a set of beliefs or aims which guide someones actions” This holds true not only for anyone playing the game but also for those making it. The AC world is so layered and textured and honoring that world is so vital to Darby and his colleagues it's practically a philosophy. The beauty of the game is also that if you only want to dip a toe in and play a super enjoyable TPS with killer artwork and action and not worry too much about the Isu thing then that’s amazing too. And speaking of which after my introductions and education at Ubisoft I was packed off back to my hotel with a copy of “Origins”. I played it in my room like I was possessed. You know, ordering room service and not washing for 48 hours. I think the hotel staff thought of me as some weirdo shut in. Fun!
Colum: Have you had the time to play Assassin's Creed Valhalla since its release?
Carlo: YES! I had to return to LA November last. I was asked to appear for my interview for my US citizenship and because of COVID you are asked to be in the country at least 2 weeks before the interview. So I holed up in a friends apartment in Venice and he had the game. What a blast! Loved seeing it all in its finished glory. The art and detail create a visual feast. Strange seeing Basim and hearing my voice. Certainly , Basim is more beautiful then me. Not much more!…. Joking. Basim is the man I’ve always wanted to be.
Colum: How did you find the motion capture experience, and how does it compare to other methods of acting?
Carlo: That's a great question. Motion Capture or MOCAP as it is called is both extremely liberating and a little bit confining at the same time. Liberating because performance can be freer without being too precious of camera angle and marks. MOCAP is all performed in the “Volume” (forgive if I'm repeating stuff you already know). The Volume is essentially a huge room with scaffolding that holds a “shitload” (official term) of cameras. These record the movement of those little white balls on our mocap suits. There are also handheld cameras that record more intricate stuff. Also, each performer wears a basket like headpiece with lights and cameras to record facial movements. So, essentially its like performing theatre in the round where the audience surrounds the stage. Your actions can also be bigger and more lifelike then the limited amount that’s allowed with close up camera work in TV or Film. Also when participating in mocap you can really live in your imagination. Like, BIG in your imagination. After all, the actors are not dressed in the clothes they will eventually be seen in, the props are rudimentary: spongy swords and styrofoam axes ( spoiler alert; the Staff of Eden was a glorified painted broom handle ).
With the keen help of the extremely professional producers, directors and crew at Alice Productions where the game is shot, mocap can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. As far as the previously mentioned; "little bit confining", goes; that is almost exclusively related to the headpiece that you are forced to wear. I’m sure as technology continues to unfold this headpiece might become more user friendly but for now it can literally be a pain in the neck. It’s lights and cameras need incessant “fiddling”. I found myself constantly bashing into other actors with it thus causing a stoppage in shooting so that fiddling the cameras and lights back into proper position could occur. The headpiece also inhibits the touching of ones own face or head as well as getting too close to other actors faces which is sometimes necessary. In the scene where Loki is comforting his wolf son, my actors inclination was to kiss his head, like I would if I was comforting my own son. Not possible. Another example of living in ones imagination. Which, even as I write this, makes me smile at my own ridiculousness. After all, on the day we shot this scene my" wolf son “ was neither a wolf nor my son but a talented local actor who was lying on the ground in a mocap suit making remarkably lifelike injured wolf noises.
Colum: Did filming during lockdown present any challenges?
Carlo: We were lucky enough to have wrapped up filming by the time I left Montreal in March ’20. There was still substantial voice to be recorded which did present a challenge. Since it all had to be done remotely I tried several times to create a pro environment at home in LA to record but ultimately it was decided to choose a safe studio in LA that did a great job of providing safe and spectacular connectivity with Montreal for recording.
Colum: Players are introduced to Basim early on in the game, and his true intentions remain a mystery until the very end. Did you do anything in particular with your voice to make the character come across as such an enigma, or was it mainly in the dialogue?
Carlo: As you probably know, voicing a game makes up the majority of an actors work. The ratio of voice work to mocap is hundreds to one! The first day I attempted Basim was classic. I was lucky enough to work with Thor Bishopric, famous Montrealer and veteran voice director. It turned out that my first day was also his first day. We worked all day but since neither of us had a handle on Basim or how and why he delivered certain lines it was kind of like the blind leading the blind in a dress rehearsal. Needless to say, we repeated the first whole day after things had been explained by the likes Darby ( cue the psychedelics …). Finding Basim’s “voice” was a nuanced process and I have to thank Thor immensely.
The trick was to not go too “Bad Guy” with him early on. In fact, having played my fair share of bad guys in TV and Film I have often argued for a more nuanced performance because I firmly believe that characters that have secrets and do underhanded things are far more interesting if you can relate to why they are doing what they are doing….Basim has a deeply, insanely hidden agenda. And his agenda is family driven. What can be more important than that?! Ok so his son was a wolf. Big deal. Surely everyone knows someone that has a child with Canid tendencies….but I digress... So to specifically answer your question, YES! Much thought was given to Basim’s enigmatic qualities. The fact that you ask the question gives cause too celebrate. Hopefully we achieved close to what we wanted to which was to have Basim float through the early parts of the game without having too big a label on him. He was the eponymous Assassin. May he rise again!!
Colum: The campfire scene between Eivor and Basim has been deemed by many fans to be the best moment of the game, and one of the best cinematic moments in the entire franchise? Do you agree with this, and what are your memories of recording the scene?
Carlo: This is such an amazing question (s). This was a beautifully written scene with great depths of story that percolates in the background. It also has what eludes so many scenes in the gaming world; a real conversation with emotion and backstory that teases something much bigger without hitting that thing on the head! It was also the first scene that I was shown assembled and I was blown away by it. I think everyone thought it was special from the get go. The fact that anyone else saw the beauty in the scene is super gratifying. Shooting the scene was a bit of a surprise because it was scheduled to be shot the following day but we were ahead of schedule so it was decided that we shoot it when neither Magnus nor myself was really 100% ready.
Luckily Magnus, being the great actor that he is, was vey enthusiastic to work the dialogue so that it actually resembled a conversation. Again, imagination here was key because the scene was shoot in a corner of the Volume with super bright lights , me sitting on a box, Magnus leaning against some other box, me poking some styrofoam bricks that were supposed to be logs on fire….I think what we managed to achieve with the help of great direction from Laurent Bernier and Felix-Etienne Roque (our shepherds of mocap) was the feeling of a respectful relationship between these two characters sitting around a campfire. Its not an easy thing to achieve but I’m ever so glad its appreciated.
Colum: Fans were quick to notice the similarities between Basim's robes, and Altair's from the original game. Do you like Basims Outfit, and do you think Ubisoft should add it in a future update so players can wear it?
Carlo: Yes, I’m very happy with Basim’s style. Unlike, live action where an actor may have some input into his clothing , this is completely out of the actors sphere in a game like AC. That creative choice is made further top the line. I also noticed similarities between Altair’s garb and Basim’s but it was never mentioned to me if that was a creative choice or a fine coincidence. I thinks Basims outfit should be readily accessible. I’m going to be Basim for halloween next if returning to parties is ever going to be allowed !!
Colum: Loki is the second character that you play in Valhalla, and true to his name, he's mischievous. What do you think is his ultimate end goal, and will there ever be an end to the pain he feels?
Carlo: Even in a game as massive as AC Valhalla there is not enough space, not nearly enough narrative bandwidth to do Loki justice. Most people think of Loki as described in Marvel films. A morally compromised mischief maker. In Norse mythology Loki is so much more than that. He is so complex and plain old Norse interesting in his habits, sexuality, children and ability to move from form to form that by necessity to fit into any story ( that is not solely about him ) he needs to be condensed. A trippy headsspin is a simple Wikipedia search of Loki of Norse Mythology. When you get to the mention of Loki in the form of a mare being impregnated you’ll see what I mean.
For AC Valhalla purposes, yes Loki is a cheeky bastard whose son happens to be a wolf. This fact, weird and barely covered in the game, is actually a HUGE motivating part of the Valhalla storyline. The name Wolfkissed is not a coincidence and Loki’s ultimate quest in the form of Basim ( I like to think of them as one character that evolves ) is payback! So to answer you question more specifically Loki wants vengeance , vengeance motivated by deep pain/loss. Will that ever go away? I think optimistically yes. As things evolve Loki/Basim could evolve…….though that pain was a mile deep motivator so it’ll have to be replaced by something equally compelling…...
Basim looking in the Mirror by SophiaEA16
Colum: Have you seen any of the cosplay / fan art / projects inspired by Basim or Loki?
Carlo: Absolutely love the stuff I’ve seen. Some of it is inspirational. In watching renditions of Basim/Female Eivor told with the slant of a love story or rather a lost love story I was blown away. It never occurred to me prior to seeing this and yet it makes so much sense regardless of wether its Female or Male Eivor. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin….. I should also say because I genuinely liked it so much and actually got the chills when I first saw it, Sophia’s "Basim looking in the Mirror" is wonderful.
Colum: What would you say is the first step to getting into voice acting work, and how people prepare for it?
Carlo: Practice practice practice. Get a decent mic and start recording yourself. Read from scripts or books or transcripts of ads. Don’t just mimic someone else’s read. Discover your own voice through practice. The microphone is a very interesting device. It records intent and emotion in ways that are not necessarily obvious. Voice lessons have some value but beware that voice work is an insanely crowded and competitive field and anyone who says their lessons will lead to voice work is probably not worth the money! For me, the voice work I am lucky to do is almost incidental to being an Actor. So really a truthful ( for me ) answer to your question is you prepare for voice work by becoming and actor and preparing as an actor.
Colum: Other than Basim and Loki, who would you have liked to have voiced in the game?
Carlo: Sorry for this short blunt reply but Basim/Loki file me. I couldn’t think who else I’d like to voice.
Colum: If you could meet Basim in real life, what would you ask him?
Carlo: I’d ask him what is it like to have such great hair and WHO cuts it??!! Joking, I’d ask him about the ability caused by and consequences of, fierce undying intent. Also , what wisdom must be acquired when you are aware of the incredible longevity of your existence. What a historian Basim must be! What things he must have seen! He’d make a fantastic interview, hell he’d be an entire awe inspiring jaw dropping documentary series! So many questions. Basim Explained : 40 Thousand years of wit and wisdom. Narrated by Carlo Rota……can’t wait!
We would like to thank Carlo for joining us for this interview!
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is available now on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation®5, PlayStation®4, PC and Stadia.
About the Author
Col is one of the UK's leading Assassin's Creed Community members, and is best known for establishing both 'The Ones Who Came Before' fan community and 'Isu_Network' content creation program.
As Team Leader for The Ones Who Came Before, Col was officially recognised by Ubisoft, becoming one the UK Assassin's Creed community ambassadors in 2016. He has attended many events after spending a decade in the AC Community, and has worked on countless projects, all of which you can find here on TOWCB website.
He is also a former Ubisoft Star Player and member of The Mentors Guild, two recognisable community programs which opened doors and took his status within the AC Community to the next level.
Colum Blackett (Col_96)