It’s rare that a prospective voiceover student calls me saying, “I want to use my regular old speaking voice in commercials….can i can i?” It’s not a crazy request, but when we are talking hopes and dreams here, most people want to use the craziest and most repressed parts of their personalities and channel it through a cartoon character in some sort of animation project. I don’t blame them. Who doesn’t want to “play” in some way? It’s the human condition. Our soul needs to be fully expressed or it gets itchy or moldy or something inside, right?
I was reading a Voices.com blog featuring voice over experts which put the focus on this as they interviewed voice coach Sunday Muse. Sunday had some great points about teaching kids (or anyone, really) how to bring a character to life. She makes a point about “becoming the character” which is really the essence of success here. If you are just “doing” a voice it is empty, no different from “reading” any script. To truly bring it to life means to start imagining yourself AS this character, not “voicing” it. Sunday refers to an expression the character has on its face at some point. She asks the student what it feels like on their own face, telling them to imitate it. As we all know, your physical expressions always manifest into the sounds your voice makes. It is all connected. Sunday acknowledges this by bringing it into the body as well. She asks the student directly, “what is the character doing right now?” They are shoveling? Do it then, she requests of them. This “active” talking brings them into the moment in a concrete way and instantly gives energy and authenticity to the actual voice over. Think about it, if you are going for an energetic read, your hands in your pockets is not really going to let that energy out very well. Simultaneously, if you are going for a warm and sincere read, your arms flailing around in front of you will distract from the soothing tone. It all connects. Your voice lives inside your body and they can’t really tell two different stories at once. One last thing I’d like to point out about Sunday’s perspective is regarding script analysis. This is something I talk about till I’m blue in the face. If you don’t know what you’re talking about you are reading lines and nothing more. The way Sunday poses it is similar, but it’s always nice to hear someone else beat the same dead horse with different words from your own! She notices kids reading, just reading, going line by line by line. She hears it as flat, like a song with one note. No one likes a song with one note, as they are pretty boring. For a character voice over who is telling a story, or for any story at all to be of interest, it needs variation, all kinds of notes, crescendos, and emotional weight.
This next article I reviewed on voiceover animation discusses character voice strategy from two perspectives, a casting director at Nickelodeon, and a cartoon voice actor. The casting director, Sarah Noonan, points out that being truly aware of the voice style the project is asking for is crucial. Many people refer to the generic cartoon voice when they think of doing a voice for animation, but it’s not the case every time. Some projects these days look to natural voices to create an interesting complement and/or “relatability” to these characters on screen. Listening is a HUGE part of booking any job. Listen to exactly what the writer, producer, or director is telling you she wants, or be the one who misses out. You are a voiceover puppet initially, there to do exactly what they want. Don’t take this personally. This is the same skill that makes that same Casting Director you are auditioning for good at her job. She listens to exactly what the client wants and strives for exactly that during her casting session. The number one key to winning over almost any client in any industry is doing what THEY want, and listening will get you there. Bob Bergen is a voice actor who has some good ideas about staying in the game in a different way. He suggests covering your bases in an audition. Maybe you listened to that director carefully but he didn’t have much to say, and you’re left unsure of how to perform. Submit two takes in these cases – one more natural and one in your best cartoon voice that fits for the job. Another suggestion he makes is to take risks when you’re going for a character voice. I have heard this many times in many ways and it is great to hear it constantly reinforced. Being “halfway there” won’t book the job. Be all the way there and then some. Bring some magic to the performance. Bergen’s expression of the rule is wonderful – “They need you to bring creativity to the character, bring it to life. The script’s a skeleton and you need to give it body.”
In this last article on Creating a Character in Voice Acting, the people at Raise Your Voice Acting make some other really important points about the craft. The thing most people forget is that creating a character voice is much much more than saying your lines in order, or in an interesting way. Building a character means creating an entire universe for this character to live in. Your imagination is key to character development. As I’ve said before, sketching your character on paper or in your mind can help, as can writing down adjectives to describe your character or even creating a background story of some sort. RYVA also talks about the classic improve strategy of “Yes, and.” This philosophy means you are living in a world of possibility. You are also priming yourself to accept fully the words and/or world ideas that the writer has already built for your character to live inside of. As with any voiceover in any genre, you must say YES and ACCEPT the world they have presented you to work inside of. Anything less than this is you rejecting a part of your own audition. Suspending your disbelief means you are now at the very least in AGREEMENT with the production team and can now COLLABORATE with them. A quote from RYVA illustrates this concept perfectly – “Who’s to say that a talking sponge can’t have friends under the sea and wear geometrically formed pants?” They go on to betting that many people here did NOT embrace the “yes, and” theory here, but that the show is a success because someone DID. Be the next one to say “yes, and,” and see how much further that takes you than a NO. As a matter of fact, we could all use a little more YES in our life. I say YES to taking a break from typing and going to eat some ice cream.