If you were asked to name the actor who plays your favourite videogames character you'd normally struggle. The characters could be the biggest in the industry, but the actors who played them will likely remain anonymous.
Unless they are voiced by Nolan North, that is.
North has become such a cult icon in gaming that he is named as one of the voice options in Saints Row IV. There are three choices labelled "Male Voice", three as "Female Voice" and a last simply as "Nolan North". And if his voice is chosen the character's name even changes to President Nolan North of the United States of America.
He is about as much a superstar as any human being can be in an industry where fame and respect is generally reserved for those made of pixels.
And that's mainly thanks to the character he's most synonymous with: Nathan Drake. Although North has loaned his voice to hundreds of videogames and cartoons, the lead in the Uncharted series is so intrinsically linked to the actor that as soon as he opens his mouth to speak you can't help imagining his avatar hanging from his fingertips over a canyon somewhere.
Nolan North on Nathan Drake
It's something North understands and appreciates himself.
"Nathan Drake is really nothing more than me put into situations – just with a much more muscular physique and the ability to climb anything," he told us in a one-to-one chat in London.
"Drake was written by Amy Henig who got to know me over the 10 years we did the first three games together. She knew how I would respond in a situation; she’s told me that. Then in the shooting, when we’re doing our table reads, she was always open to collaboration, so I’d say, 'Maybe we should do it like this?'"
Nolan North on making Uncharted 4
Making an Uncharted game, such as the original trilogy that has been remastered and repackaged for release on PlayStation 4 or Uncharted 4, which is due early next year, is a lengthy process and it's easy therefore for writers, crew and the development team and the actors to get to know each other well. Unlike shooting a TV series or movie, it can take years to film every scene for a game.
"It’s not one of those things were we would just shoot for the month of September. Because we capture the performance and then they are animate to that, that’s the process. We’ll shoot, then they’ll animate, then we set up the next time and they’ll shoot," North explained.
"Uncharted 4 has taken over two years. Usually it’s around two years."
However, he also revealed that there's a lot less standing around and external fuss when making a game, even one using performance capture technology such as the Uncharted series.
"The series I work on now, Pretty Little Liars, I just shot a day last Thursday. I think I was there from one pm until about 11. So I shot about 10 hours for two scenes," he said.
"There is make-up and then retouches. And they light and they turn everything around. They do a scene in one place and the camera is on you, then they break and they turn it around and they have to take a wall down and build another up. There’s just so much to do.
"And if it’s a location shoot outside somewhere, there are the elements, the light, the weather. All kinds of things come into play.
"But when we do performance capture, like for the game, everything is set. You know how much you’re going to do, how much material that’s set for that day. It’s nice because you know on a full performance day that you’ll be going until six at the latest. And in-between there’s joking.
"You are in a controlled environment and there will be a nice lunch brought to you. I don’t care what anybody says, there’s nothing better than free food."
Nolan North on motion capture
There is plenty of free food when you get to North's level in gaming, although he never realised that he would one day be one of the leading lights in the industry. Nor did he realise that the industry itself could become so huge.
"I always laugh when people say, 'You’re a real pioneer in this'. I was just in the right place at the right time," North told us.
"Everybody had always wanted to do animation because there is residual money and all kinds of stuff, but I had two kids and a wife, and they said, 'Hey, there’s $800 in an envelope across town, want to go yell for two-to-three hours?' Well, yeah. I’ve got to pay my rent, my mortgage, whatever.
"Then things got better and bigger. Then they said, 'Oh, you’ve done a lot of things on camera, there’s this thing called motion capture, do you want to try?' And I had a sneaking suspicion that this performance capture stuff would catch on. Knock on wood, I was right."
Motion capture is now recognised and understood by many outside of the confines of game or movie production - mainly thanks to actors like Andy Serkis and its use in movies such as Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The technology has even entered popular culture enough for North to play a motion capture artist in a relatively new comedy series.
"I’m always looking for something interesting, but the next step is going to be a web series, Con Man, that I’m doing on Vimeo. I’m super excited about that because season two is pretty much assured and it will be on one of the bigger mediums: HBO, Netflix or one of the US networks. We don’t know yet, but there have been offers from quite a few," he said.
"In that I play a motion capture actor who can’t stand Andy Serkis who has taken all his thunder. It’s very very funny. In fact, I hope in season two or beyond we can get Andy to come in and play my foil. That would be a dream come true for me."
Nolan North on Nolan North
For now though, it is the Nathan Drake Collection that will introduce him to an all-new audience who, in the PS4, have either bought a console for the first time or have decamped from the Xbox 360.
With three entire games on the one disc and 30-40 hours of gameplay you'll be spending quite a bit of time with him in your living room.
"I think there’s something about the fact that this is an experience all round. It isn’t just a visual experience that you watch, it’s an experience that you become part of. And that’s probably the most rewarding thing for me."
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection will be available for PS4 from Friday, 9 October in the UK.