Many people will know Richard Ridings from a whole raft of projects over the eyars. He's appeared in projects as diverse as Luc Besson's Joan of Arc, Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, key episodes of Highlander, tv comedy Fat Friends and has even joined performance-capture messiah Andy Serkis to bring a Planet-load of Apes to life.
But if the imposing frame is familiar it's Richard's voice that is even more recognisable. Yes, for an entire generation this is also Peppa Pig's dad. The voice rumbles across whatever canvas he's working on with a chortle that either scremas 'teddy-bear' or 'this is going to be a helluva night in the pub!' But that voice is so distinctive, it's a little surprising to find that his latest project, the narration of 'The Man That Time Forgot' is, in many ways, his first proper audio book reading.
He's done radio-plays and voice-overs, but this is Rich in full-on Jackanory mode - even if the subject probably requires a degree in quantum physics, a white-board for laying down the continuity and a patience for wobbly-wobbly, timey-whimey tomes. The Man that Time Forgot is all about a man, Adam who has a blesSing and a curse. Every time he falls alseep he's bounced through time, ending up in any number of time-priods and peculiar situations. It's been happening for so long he can barely remember how it all started, though he's learned enough to know that he's forgotten some important things. Slowly he's becomign aware that the events that are happening to him may be out of order for some of the others he encounters and as things progress it appears there's a rhyme and reason that he couldn't possobly have known about before. Or now. Or will know. It's enough to give you a chronological nose-bleed... and that's even before we get to the exploding rhino.
Richard took TGTD behind the making of the audiobook...
TGTD: You've had a very busy time over the last few years, working in a variety of different media: film television, performance-capture and audio. How did 'The Man that Time Forgot' get on your radar?
Richard: “It’s a funny old thing… there’s a chap I worked with on a short film, a young, up and coming actor called Thomas Coombes who mentioned to me that he had a friend, Alan Mechem, who’s book was doing well on the Amazon time-travel chart. He was at a party with him and mentioned he’d been working with me and it turned out that Alan’s son was a huge fan of Peppa Pig. They’d been auditioning for voices to do the audio-book and hadn’t been that impressed with the people he’d auditioned for it. He asked Thomas if he thought I’d be interested. So I asked for a read of it. For a while I wasn’t sure about it and then we got to the chapter where the female lead comes into it and that turned it all around for me. I told them I thought this was quite a serious novel masquerading as a bit of pop-art (laughs). It’s actually a story about redemption and atonement.”
'The Man that Time Forgot' has that particular 'British' vibe to it... it mixes the absurd and the mundane, the fantastical and the ironic. It's been compared to everything from Hitch-hikers' Guide to Quantum Leap to Doctor Who...
Richard: “The humour is definitely British and some of it is quite glorious… I mean… taken off to be executed when he’s the wrong man, not to mention the exploding Rhino? (laughs). As you get further in, you also realise that there’s a good old-fashioned mystery and intrigue that you don’t get the full picture of until you get to the end. They’ve been very clever with the structure and construction of it. I know the guys haven’t seen any of the relaunched Doctor Who…which has played with the idea of going back and changing things and cause-and-effect and sometimes gets a bit TOO complicated and ‘I’m being clever’… but I do like that kind of thing when it’s done right. I thought the Richard Curtis episode Vincent and the Doctor was amazing, just wonderful. It can be good family viewing.”
A few years ago you did the Highlander 'Horsemen' audio-book for Big Finish but that was more of a radio-play format, so was this a new experience?
Richard: “I’d done a lot of radio drama before but not an audio-book. We launched into it about eleven months ago. I think if I did another one, it’ll be quicker but I was quite involved with this. You learn the techniques and routines as you go along. I’ve learned a lot about setting things up and maintaining the audio quality. It took quite a while, but I did the whole thing, not just the speaking but the editing as well. I was in the position of being able to say ‘No, I’m going to go back and do that bit again…’ where if it had been in a main studio, you might be finished for the day.
From the quality of the audio, I hadn't realised it wasn't done in a professional studio.
Richard: “I’ve been involved in some editing before with my daughter Freya’s musical career, but with that there’s a voice, instruments etc. When doing narration like this, there’s your own voice… and that’s it. Cadence and pentameter becomes important and you’ve obviously got all the various characters to make work. When you’re editing and dropping things in, one thing that becomes very apparent is that you hear the edits unless you get your breaths right as well. So I spent a long time editing my breaths to make sure it all flowed. You want to stop it being flat, to make it something of a performance rather than just a ‘read’ of the text. I did pretty well getting the flavour of the characters… I still think my Bolivian air-pilot was a bit of a nightmare (laughs).”
On a technical level, what were the specific challenges?
Richard:"I have all the necessary top-end gear already, but I didn’t have an anechoic (totally sound-proofed) chamber and because I live in London I was quite restricted in where and how it was recorded. It quickly became something I could do at night, sometimes between about 10:00pm and 3:00am, with breaks. The birds start singing at 5:00am and one night there was a bird at the top of my chimney and the sound was coming into the house. I found a great piece of software, RX, that was SO good for getting rid of the odd ambient noise. I was a little worried together, but I’ve gone on various sites and listened to some other audio-recordings and decided we were doing quite alright compared to some!”
It does seem that that there's been a huge increase in the number of audio-projects out there. You tend to see more people listening to them in cars, on public transport... it's a real growth industry with the rise in technology...
Richard: “There’s been a real explosion in the use of tablets and e-readers that I wasn’t aware of… and I think a lot of people are now listening to audio-books when they’re driving, while they’re doing the washing-up, there’s a much greater opportunity to listen. And with a project like this, there’s a good crossover of opportunity. Some people know me for my film work, from television, some know me from Peppa Pig. It’s great to hear that I’m not pigeon-holed. When I came into the business I wanted to do a wide variety of things. I’ve been able to do straight-up acting, do the performance-capture (such as the Planet of the Apes films) and I think technology has just allowed me to expand my horizons.”