Voiceover – the act of observation

I had an interesting conversation with a relative the other day whom I didn’t know was an artist. She was a photographer, painter, and sketch artist, and although these skills are seemingly very different from voice acting techniques we both found there to be some interesting concepts that tie them together. The biggest one being the act of observing.

Shayna doesn’t know a thing about voice over but she can draw things so “well.”  In the layman’s mind this means so accurately, so life-like, so real.  She talked about how – take an apple for example – when you want to draw something you first have to look at it. Then look some more.  And then look some more. Look at its shape. Look at its color. Look at where there may be light bouncing off one little part of it, and look at where there may be a shadow under it where it blocks the light from hitting the table it’s resting on. Look at how close or far away it appears to you. Keep looking until you run out of new observation, new perspectives that can only be revealed by studying something carefully.  Only then can it truly reveal all aspects of itself. Wow.  Not that different from really getting o know someone. We can have a first impression but to truly know someone means to spend time with them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Know them in different places, dealing with different situations, etc. Actually, not that different from acting either…..

The art of any acting, voice over or otherwise, truly comes from the art of observation. To watch a person, or people, in everyday situations comes with it a knowledge of human nature. The more you watch the more you collect impressions of how people behave, react, relate, express, etc… You can see this on many levels – facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, general tics and mannerisms. Each one of these facets tells you part of this person’s story, personality, or at the very least about humankind in general. These become the essential tools for your voice acting toolbox. Yes, converting someone’s body language responses into your voiceover repertoire will have an impact on your sound. Does it make sense to speak aggressively with your hands in your pockets?  Nope. Everything connects ultimately. This can work in your favor.

Start observing. Since voice over is often called voice acting for a reason, observe every aspect of human behavior beyond just the voice. Watch the way people are when they’re listening. Do they look interested?  Do they look like they’re thinking of their own thoughts while you’re speaking?  Are they leaning forward?  Leaning back?  Are they “uh huh”ing you in an interested way or a robotic way?  Listen to how people speak TO you.  Listen for the differences when they’re excited, scared, disappointed, encouraging, confident, etc….notice whether during each of the emotional expressions people use whether they are speaking faster or slower, higher or lower in tone, louder or softer in volume.  Notice what they do to the specific words in the sentence that are most important to what they’re communicating.  This is literally what I do as a casting director and a coach, and this is the work you can do too.  When you observe, you learn all the secrets to sounding believable, because you now can see how people really do talk. We have trended way out of the classic robotic announcer and into the REAL.  Real is based on real life, of course. So observe it.

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