Interview with Resident Evil 6’s Christopher Emerson, AKA Piers Nivans

Christopher Emerson as Piers Nivans

Resident Evil 6 featured many of your favorite characters from the franchise including Chris Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy and Ada Wong. In addition to the returning cast is newcomer Piers Nivans, an expert marksman who teams up with Chris Redfield under the B.S.A.A. (an organization against bio-terrorism) for a rescue mission.

I had the opportunity to talk to Christopher Emerson, the voice and facial motion artist behind Piers Nivans, about his role in Resident Evil 6, and discussing Skyrim and his upcoming film projects. Emerson’s got quite the resumé (House M.D., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 7th Heaven, Boston Public and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch). And yes, he has a website called Planet Emerson.

John Nguyen: Hey Christopher, how’s it going?

Christopher Emerson: Doing good, John. How are you?

Doing great! I’ve recently watched a demo reel of you and saw you going toe-to-toe against Big Foot.

Eaglewalk: Summer Fun Is On the Run. Yeah, man vs. Big Foot. It was my first foray into executive producing, and I star in it as Elliot. The short follows him and his friends as little kids out in the woods. They went to chop down a totem pole that supposedly has magical powers. They go to chop it down, and then you hear screaming. The camp directors come rushing to the rescue, and when they show up, all the kids are dead. They’re just badly ripped apart; it was a massacre. The only person that was left alive was little Elliott, who’s just standing there, shaken and terrified, with the axe in his hand (the same one used to chop down the totem pole).

We cut to about 10 to 15 years later. The camp has been abandoned and closed since that whole ordeal took place. Elliott and some of the other kids who attended the camp at that time return for the first time, since the camp is reopning. It’s a little bit of an homage to Friday the 13th. The whole thing leads up to whether or not Elliott was crazy. Did he kill his friends? He felt like he saw Big Foot, and he has to struggle with the fact that he saw something impossible – that nobody would ever believe.

Is this going to be a feature film?

It’s really close, and I can’t talk about it in detail quite yet. The momentum behind it is really cool. There are some people that are very interested, and there is a full-length feature film script the director has ready and has been doing revisions since the short film came out. It keeps getting better and better.

Let’s talk about your character, Piers Nivans, in Resident Evil 6.

The next generation young sniper ace of the B.S.A.A. He’s the brand new character introduced into the franchise in Resident Evil 6.

Have you played the games before you got into the voice work?

Yeah, I played the original way back when the first one was released for Sega. When I actually booked the role, I went back and played Resident Evil 5 from start to finish to get a handle on exactly where we were in the story, franchise, and what had transpired leading up to all the events that were to come in RE 6.

Have you had a chance to play RE 6 yet?

I have, yes. I originally played my campaign [laughs]. E3 was the first time I had actually seen any of the completed gameplay since we’ve done all of the sessions, and of course we’ve done dozens of sessions throughout the year. At E3, I was watching people play my storyline, and I kind of had this moment where I was stepping outside myself for a second. I grew up playing video games, and video games have been a huge part of my life as a kid. Going from Mario Bros. to Resident Evil 6, to the way technology has exploded exponentially, to being able to be a part of a video game, to creating a character that you’re watching somebody else play and get immersed into a video game experience? That was pretty cool. That was me totally geeking out all over the place.

What was the motion capture experience like?

It’s an amazing technology. In addition to the vocal performance you’re bringing as a voice artist, you’re also bringing in the nuance, the detail, and the character quality to visually create those characters at the same time. Inside the video game, you’re creating in that moment whether or not you can see terror in Piers Nivans’ eyes, a snarl on his lips, fear, dread, or triumph. It’s Avatar territory, and it brings a whole new level of storytelling for the content creators that never existed before.

How does it feel to have all the cameras focused on your every facial expression?

It’s fascinating to stand there inside of a small booth, where you’re not necessarily in front of a camera. You’re surrounded by a hive of cameras. You’re not playing to a camera, and the entire motion capture volume inside this booth is fair game. So wherever I go, however I turn, or whenever I need to do in order to visually create that character, I have the freedom to do it, just as long I’m on a microphone. It’s such a unique experience. I don’t think there’s anything you can compare it to.

What’s your most favorite video game to date?

It’s a two-answered question because I’m such a classic video game fan. There’s a special place I have for The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy I, or even Burger Time and Joust. I can play those anytime. And the continuation of some of those series I think is so cool, like I’m still able to play the newest incarnation of Zelda and Final Fantasy XIII-2. So I bounce back and forth.

I just started Skyrim, which is fantastically overwhelming, complex and immersive. I think I spent like 2 hours on just the character creator alone. I’m like, “Oh no. I’m in a world of unproductive hurt.” The real world can just kiss my productivity goodbye. I found Skyrim.

Please tell me you’ve seen Wreck-It Ralph.

I have not yet. I need to get to the movies. I’ve just been so busy lately. I know so many people that voiced parts in it, and I need to go. It’s right on the top of my list.

So what are your future projects for 2013?

I’ll be filming the lead in a horror movie called Antioch at the end of January and beginning of February. It’ll be out later in the year. It’s got military action and us opening the doors of Hell and not knowing how to close it type of madness. Later in the year I’ll be acting with Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight) and Juliet Landau, Martin Landau’s daughter, in this really dark and twisted psychological drama. It’s sort of a murder thriller that takes place in the art gallery world. We’ll be filming in Biloxi, Mississippi, in late spring/early summer called Artist Die Best in Black. I’m looking forward to those.

If you had to choose one between doing live-action and motion capture, would you be able to choose?

Hopefully I would never have to make such a brutal decision in my life. I love doing voice-over and telling a story, but my higher ambitions are pursuing feature film roles. That’s why I’m really looking forward to these two in 2013. But if you said no more voice-over, it’d be crazy super painful.

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