Voiceovers for Animation By Terry Cooper
I started in voice work back in 1995, when I was working as a set and prop maker in a stop motion studio. The project was a multi-layered science fiction ‘epic’ that had maybe a few too many ideas, and far too many characters in it. I’ve always had a knack for impersonations and ‘silly’ voices, so I was offered a chance to step into the recording booth to provide voices for three very different characters.
I found that when working in animation, the people casting you will have an idea of what they want the character to sound like – most of the time. It’s up to you then, to help them by providing firstly, the voice they have in mind, and secondly, some alternatives if they aren’t too sure. This might be a little daunting to some VA’s, and I’m no different. One or two jobs have really thrown me unprepared into the deep end and it’s really a case of ‘sink or swim’. So far, I’ve managed to swim!
The best case scenario is this: You’ve already had a look at the script before the recording session, tried some lines out at home and spoken to the clients about what sort of voices they need. They tell you “Think Clint Eastwood, only a bit camp...” – which, if you can instantly access that kind of range, is enough direction you need. You go in, they love the voice and you record with few problems. Result.
Unfortunately, not all jobs will go this way. There will always be a few hits and misses while recording, and the worst case scenario (in any aspect of a creative person’s life, not just voice acting), is the client who doesn’t know what they want, but knows what they DON’T want. Which, unfortunately for us voice actors, means a lot of what you suggest will be rejected, while the client is unable to provide any clues or direction. It’s here that your versatility, gimmicks, little tricks and ‘old faithful’ standards will come into play and help you reach that elusive sound that just seems to ‘click’ with the project.
This is what happened to me once – a truly frightening experience, but the rewards are immeasurable, in terms of self-confidence and pointing out areas where you may need to sharpen your skills a little. Here’s how it went:
Client: Okay, um… I need a celebrity for this character. Think ‘brash and cocky’.
Me: For example…?
Client: Er, I’m not sure. Give me something.
Me: Okay how bout this – Rik Mayall?
Client: Brilliant! Spot on! Try him!
Me: (does line in Rik Mayall-ish voice)
Client: Hahahaha! Hilarious. Not right though. Something else?
Me: Jim Carrey?
Client: Oh, that’d be good.
Me: (does line as Jim Carrey)
Client: Fantastic! But not quite there. Try Will Smith?
Me: (does Will Smith)
Client: Hmm. Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air?
Me: (does Carlton)
Client. Hmm, too ‘white’?… Try Eddie Murphy?
Me: (does best Eddie Murphy)
Client. Hmm. Perhaps that’s a bit‘black’?
Me: Er…you know Eddie Murphy, Carlton and Will Smith ARE black?
Client: Good point. What else can you do?
Me (groan) Erm, how bout this: (does three or four alternative accents and levels of loudness)
Client: No, none of those. Sigh. I have an idea!
Client: Can you do Adrian Edmondson?
Me: How’s this? (does Adrian / Vyvyan from ‘The Young Ones’)
Client! That’s perfect! Lets record the line!
All that for one line!
As you can imagine, I was kept on my toes. Thankfully, I wasn’t asked to do any impersonations that I couldn’t do. I’m not the best impressionist, but when a client asks for an ‘Eddie Murphy’ or a ‘Will Smith’ I have an idea of how the voice should sound – it’s an African American with a certain amount of charm and street cred thrown in. Luckily for me, a British white guy, I used to be a rapper in my younger years, and I’m able to imitate a lot of my rap heroes from the US.
I don’t think anyone would instantly recognise my attempts as a perfect Eddie or Will impression but the flavour of the idea will be picked up on by the client. If you can build into your arsenal a number of accents, tones, even not-quite-right impersonations and access them quickly, you’ll look like a seasoned pro, even if you’re panicking inside!
On the other hand, if you’re totally stumped, or asked to do something you just can’t do (Welsh language or Cajun accent for me), then don’t attempt it. You won’t be helping yourself or anyone else if you struggle on, trying to attempt the impossible - just politely admit that it’s out of your range and suggest something else.
So the advice is - stay flexible, confident, and expect the unexpected! Good luck!