Behind the scenes of Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within


In the small studio located in Oakhurst, California, the actors scurried about striving to remember their lines, Director Will Binder stood behind the set awash in blue paint, cameras, monitors, and wires, giving Joanne Takahashi directions on what was to be her next scene. After Takahashi had her hair misted with spritzer by Makeup artist, Cynthia Jordan, she was ready to perform her scene. Dressed in her yellow trenchcoat, Randy Littlejohn, Director of Photography, locked the camera on Takahashi and with the nod of his head, indicated it was time to roll.

As Takahashi was about to deliver her lines, the set was cleared, and all eyes lay upon the actress, who played as the character of Grace Nakimura in, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. As Assistant Director quieted the other members of the studio, Dave Plaskett, Unit Production Manager, spoke into his headset, "Roll tape please Bob." Video Engineer, Bob Balleu rolled the tape from his station in the control booth, as Will Binder crouched in front of the monitor, "and….action!"

Takahashi stepped forward toward a steel bar which would become the door to a chapel, opened it, and as the crowd watched, her hair fluttered from the wind, three candles sat on a blue-painted table, the lights faded and the candles were blown out.

As soon as the scene began, it was over. Will Binder sent Takahashi away with a job well done.

Scenes such as this one are only an integral part of Game Designer, Jane Jensens sequel to the award winning, Sins of the Fathers, which was made with cartoon characters and voice actors, such as the popular Tim Curry. Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within was the second game to breathe life into the characters who had only before, been animations flitting across the computer screen. Gabriel Knight is the charming, yet resourceful, pulp fiction writer, recently turned, Schattenjager, pronounced shadow hunter in english, who inherits a castle in Germany and comes across thousands of dollars to adorn the castle with luxuries he had before, only dreamt about. During his last case in Sins of the Fathers, Knight takes dirty money from the hounfour, believing it to be compensation for the hell he had been put through by the previous owners.

In his first real case, Knight, played by Dean Erickson, runs the gamut from excitement to fear, when he finds that he is to destroy a werewolf that has been causing havoc throughout the back woods of Germany. In this ground breaking master piece, Jane Jensen and Will Binder use technology that had been developed for the first full motion video game, Phantasmagoria, which was also filmed with live actors on a blue screen. Later, the background shots would be added into the scenes to make it look real. As far as the player is concerned, the actors really are in Germany making a movie. With a cast of sixty characters, a complex story is interwoven with a lot of mystery and intrigue keeping the proverbial gamer happy for hours on end.

Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within is not your normal half man/half wolf that runs baying at the moon, eating disparate humans at will. This werewolf story has a real life legend, King Ludwig II woven into the story that makes even a historian wonder if it's fact or fiction. Jensen stated in an interview that she chose the werewolf theme because of its "symbolic animal nature, the animal instinct," which undoubtedly fascinated the young designer. Jensen who has always had a fascination with the supernatural puts her writing skills to the test with this new master piece.

Having live actors play the part of Gabriel and Grace was a little shocking for fans who were privy to the animated character, and finding the right person to portray the live version was no small feat. Jensen compared this to finding someone to play Batman or Lestat from Interview with the Vampire. Her reasoning is that, people are critical if the actor does not match up to their expectations. People also feel that they know these characters which can cause disappointment if their preconceived notions are not satisfied. Jensen explained in her own words how Gabriel is a part of her when she stated, "he's got contrasting elements. He has to be dangerous and egotistical, but not just beefcake. He's more intellectual than that. He's like a part of me, so it has to be true for me. If it's true for me, it'll be true for the player."

Jensen's choice for Gabriel Knight, Dean Erickson, was solidified after he performed a violent scene with Joanne Takahashi and "was so in character he scared me to death. That's when I knew he was Gabriel Knight." It also helped that Erickson looked the part of Knight, but it was his acting that stood out in the end.