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Friday, March 14, 2014

Stop Pretending and Start Creating Real Characters

by Gary Terzza

Performing character roles can be great fun, but they require a dramatically different approach to mainstream voice overs. Here are some pointers that may help you become a better voice actor.

In voice overs characterisations are mostly associated with video games and animation, but this is not always the case. Other areas where you may be asked to 'put on a voice' include some commercials and dialogue in audiobooks. So let's look at the qualities and talents you need to develop. 

Inhabit Your Characters

With standard voice overs we often speak of acting naturally, so of course if you are asked to be the voice of an alien (or any other character) you can't do that. Or can you? In a funny kind of way, yes you can only this time you need to become the character first and do what the alien would do in its own natural way.

Like a stage or screen actor, you should adopt an immersion principle; in other words don't just 'play' the alien, but actually become this thing from Planet Thwark. Spend some time getting to know your extraterrestrial alter-ego inside out; what does it look like? What kind of personality has it got? What does it like for breakfast? Is it just a tough warrior or does it have a soft, compassionate side? Is it married with kids, divorced, gay or looking for love?

Flesh out your characters so they become three dimensional, living breathing beings with hopes, desires likes and dislikes. Understanding their inner workings will help you give a more rounded and convincing vocal performance. 

The important point to note here is that it does not matter whether you have one line or hundreds of pages of script to deliver, your characterisations have to be believable.

Be Original

Animators and video game producers often complain that talents frequently adopt predictable voices. Lana Carson owner of Canada's VoiceBox Productions once remarked that if you show people a picture of a witch at an audition and ask them to produce a voice they usually come out with a Wicked Witch of the West voice cliche*.  

This is not what studios want; they are looking for something that is unique and different so work on a range of voices and play around with styles and accents. A witch does not have to cackle, she can have a Liverpool accent and speak with a slight lisp. 

Whatever you do, do not succumb to the easy option of being a stereotype and don't copy what other voice over artists do. By all means listen and learn from established artists, but use this as a guide to create your own distinctive personas rather than a template to be followed rigidly.

Variety is Key

No matter how good your best characterisation is, no one wants a one trick pony. The ability to slide with ease from one voice to another is essential. Producers like to hire talented people who can do several diverse voices, not actors who can only do that single, signature piece. 

Spend time creating malleable voices. By that I mean having a fluid repertoire so you can adapt your voice with ease to any situation. You may have been attracted by the audition for an old colonel, but the   client may also require a peasant and a confused time traveller from the future. Although you may never have vocalised a peasant or time traveller before, you should develop the ability to pluck tones and accents from your back catalogue to create new interesting voices.

Practicing this kind of scenario is an absolute must so you can produce fresh, exciting sounds to bring just about any character to life 

Go forth and let the universe hear your voices!

Gary Terzza

* From Animation World Magazine Sept 1999

Gary Terzza teaches at his Voice Over MasterClass in London, England.

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