By HAZEL REID
Los Angeles-based actor and creative Sandra Saad has lent her voice — and entire body — to the much-anticipated Marvel Avengers video game as Ms. Marvel a.k.a Kamala Khan, the first Muslim female superhero in the Marvel franchise.
Los Angeles was in a heatwave when we video-called Sandra but she was more than happy to talk about her favourite project yet — an opportunity unlike anything she had done before.
Hailing from a comedy background, Sandra auditioned for “all kinds of projects” including film, TV and commercials before landing the Marvel role.
Sandra always knew she wanted to be an actor and had been auditioning for “all kinds of projects” including film, TV and commercials.
Sandra Saad brings Kamala Khan to life (literally!) Image credit: Sandra Saad
“I’ve wanted to tell stories and make people laugh, I want to use my voice and body as a vessel to tell others stories,” she said.
Growing up, Sandra performed in everything she could: plays, musicals, choirs and taking comedy classes. This eventually led to voice coaching sessions with a voice coach who taught her the skill of creating different voices and voice manipulation. She was hooked.
The call from Marvel asking her to voice a headline character came after a casting director recommended her to another casting director, who went to another casting director, and so on.
“I didn’t know anything about it, I didn’t know it was a video game or Avengers, it was pretty secretive, as Marvel are,” she said.
Following more auditions, callbacks and sessions with the directors, she became Ms Marvel.
Image credit: Marvel
Sandra said she felt special “knowing they go through all of that to find the right person”. Marvel spent years searching for the right fit for the character.
The work involved more than just voice acting with the game developers using motion capture technology to record her full performance to be converted to animation in the game.
“This game is so different to any game I’ve ever done,” she said. “This is my first mo-cap. It’s full performance tech: face, body, voice, everything.”
Behind the scenes the set was “like a playground of huge padded rooms with tennis balls and props”. One prop was a plain block which Sandra had to play as a cellphone, as a real phone was too reflective for the motion capture process.
Sandra said she “bounced off the incredible actors’ she was on set with as the script was brought to life. “Everything changes when you’re in the scene,” she said.
Image credit: Marvel
Video game developer Crystal Dynamics was tasked with converting Sandra’s real life performance into Kamala Khan, all the way down to micro-details like her eyebrow movements
“The way I walk is actually the way Kamala walks in the scene, when the player experiences my character, they’re experiencing the way I move,” she said.
The scale of the production was huge that Sandra first walked onto set in the spring of 2018 and worked on the motion capture for ‘about a year and a half’, before even beginning the voice over stage.
A crew of thousands worked in various departments to make the game happen.
“People think it’s simple and I show up, just say my lines and leave but there’s a writing team, a camera team, a make-up department… a lot of hours and joy; we all love what we do,” she said.
A lot of people involved in telling the story were women, including the head writer. The particular struggle of being ‘a woman of colour who doesn’t feel understood’ was shared with the creative team. Both Sandra and the Ms Marvel character are first generation Americans.
The experience that Sandra had making this game alongside other actors, Troy Baker, Nolan North and Usman Ally, as well as creative director Shaun Escayg, was so incredible that she is already talking about wanting to work more with the same team.
“There’s just something about telling a good story. I’ve been trained in so many kinds of ways but this has opened me up into a world of just wanting to tell a good story. I don’t want to work on just a paycheck, I want to experience something and tell stories with morals,” she said.
In the meantime, Sandra is working on her music. She is the singer in a duo called Eye of the Sun with her best friend.
“It’s a little folk’, she said when asked to describe the genre. “We’re working on our album right now which should be coming out at the beginning of next year.”
Alongside her upcoming musical plans for the next year, Sandra just wants to “keep acting and telling a good story.”
From tour managing boybands to working massive events and interviewing international talent, HAZEL REID is in love with the craziness that is the entertainment industry.