Top tips from the Voquent voice acting community. Helping voice actors of all experience levels to find the perfect voice for every project.
Getting into character as a voice actor requires versatility and flexibility.
You may have to voice a variety of characters throughout a typical day behind the mic, switching quickly between vastly different types of voices. Especially if you’re voicing an audiobook or lots of game & animation projects.
As actors, above all, your most important job is always to tell the story.
To lift a dry piece of copy off the page and bring it to life in the ears of whoever’s on the other end. To make something as dull as CRM software sound like a vital addition to a happy and fulfilling life.
We usually only speak about playing characters when it comes to creating “character voices” for games, cartoons and audiobooks. But we often forget that we are ALWAYS playing a character when we step behind the microphone. We’re always speaking to an audience.
Imagine Your Audience
Through that lens, getting into character is vital every time you’re in the booth. Try imagining your audience and the emotions you’re evoking when recording a project. Picture them being right outside the booth, with their headphones in, listening to whatever you’re working on at the time. It helps to remember that you’re always performing FOR someone, not just speaking into the void.
For example, imagining the audience listening to you as you read them an audiobook will help to bring the characters to life, including the narrator, and will make them more engaging and animated off the page. Or, when doing commercial work, envisage the customer in the store, looking at the product you’re advertising in an explainer, or scrolling through Facebook as the ad pops up. How do you want them to hear the message?
Gotten Ittetsu adds:
I make it as personal as possible and try to become that character. Music can help too. I feel like making it personal makes for a more realistic and engaging performance. I want to suspend that disbelief and convince my audience that this character is a real whatever it may be!
— Goten Ittetsu (@GotenIttetsu) January 15, 2020
Constantly keeping your imagination active, helps your performance stay alive and engaging, instead of slipping into stale, boring or, God forbid, robotic. Jeremy Robecheaux says:
Close my eyes, do my damndest to imagine myself AS said character, and try to think in the same manner as the character
— Jeremy Robecheaux (@JRobecheaux) January 15, 2020
But aside from the fact that EVERY time you work, you’re stepping into some sort of character, here are some more specific pointers for you on how to create that perfect character voice for your next animation gig, video game character or audiobook project.
Ask for Help: Preparation
1) Character Art
Always ask for direction from the author or creator. First, find out if there’s character art. An animated clip is even better to see how the character moves! This helps get your imagination rolling as you start to envision how a character acts. Then you can create pitch, tone, speed of speech and cadence, and start to notice any distinguishing features that may change the character’s speech. Elizabeth Daily, who voiced Tommy Pickles in Rugrats, created his voice by noticing how big Tommy’s lips were in the character art. This inspired her to give him that recognizable lisp in her audition and – boom – her voice matched the character better than anyone else who auditioned, and she booked the role. Kelly Wilson also talks about the importance of physicality:
It’s a physical thing. I start with what the character looks like, then replicate their mannerisms, how they stand, hold themselves. Next, any traits listed in the direction are added or imagined. Then you do it till it’s right.
— Kelly Wilson Voiceover (@KellyWilsonVO) January 15, 2020
2) Character Relationships
Ask about the character’s relationships with other characters. Do they generally get along with others? Are they approachable or guarded? Does the character enjoy socializing with others or are they focused on an agenda? This is particularly important in audiobook recording when you’re creating all the voices that make up the world. How characters interact with each other will change throughout the book based on their personal relationships. It’s also worth mentioning here that you should keep copious and detailed character notes when recording audiobook projects.
ALSO READ: Character Alignment and Voice Acting
3) Character Depth
Try to gain a sense of the experiences that have shaped the character’s strength. What’s driving them? Do they like to take risks? Has a history of success inflated their confidence? Is the character young and carefree, imagining a lifetime of happiness ahead of them? Or do they have tragic circumstances forced on them and have to make peace with untold inter turmoil?
Characters in leadership positions become greatly more plausible when there is some meaning to draw upon. To the same extent, a villain with little or no rationale beyond their immediate self-interest becomes easier to dislike. Joey Bosco says:
I become the character and try to embrace how they would think. Being aware of the situation and who I’m speaking to, then building off of that
— TheJoeyBoscoShow (@JoeySBActorVO) January 15, 2020
4) Character Comparison
Occasionally, it also can be helpful to have a comparison to something that’s already created – e..g. ‘She sounds a bit like Leela from Futurama’. Great – so pull up a clip of Leela, listen to her voice, mimic the cadence a bit and use that as inspiration. Although, you should always make it clear to the client that you’re not an impersonator. It will never sound EXACTLY like the inspiration material, but, as a voice over teacher of mine likes to say, “A bad impression is still a good character voice.”.
Find the Character: Behind the Mic
Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to begin recording. After a solid physical and vocal warm-up, there’s nothing left to do but get behind that mic!
Find each character in your body.
A different tilt to the head for Character A; shifting your weight to one hip for Character B; hands on the hips for Character C etc.
This, plus early prep work and notes, helps to keep characters consistent, and enables you to find them quickly if you’re switching between 20-odd characters in an audiobook. Or if, for example, you need to recall how that one cartoon fox sounded 6 months ago, now that the game needs additional lines. AminaSync agrees posture is important:
A lot of the times it’s about my posture and before i record I make sure to speak some of the lines (or some random sentences) in a way the character would! (meaning: voice, posture, accent, pronunciation etc)
— AminaSync 💜 (@AminaSync) January 15, 2020
Does the character speak with a high, low or medium pitch? Varying the pitch among your characters (especially your main protagonists and antagonists) helps them to sound immediately different and distinct to a listener’s ear. This makes it easier to follow the story even before the text tells them who’s speaking.
ALSO READ: Cultivating Your Unique Vibe
How do they speak? Roughly? Lightly? Crisp and clear? Occasionally an author will write something about the characters voice the first time they speak in the story. Always take note of this and incorporate it into how you create the character’s voice.
Does the character have an accent? Obviously, this is incredibly important, and you need to keep it consistent. A few accents peppered throughout a novel are both fun to narrate and great for audiences to recognize the voices easily. Plus, it’s always a fun acting challenge to learn a new accent for a project!
@aqh_voice on Instagram says:
“I like to establish the edges first…I find the highest and lowest pitch then find the emotional boundaries of the characters. After that, I try to add depth and dimension to the character by finding quirks in their personality. Once those are in place the character is pretty much ready to record.“
How quickly does a character speak? A dynamic character may frequently change pace. Or an intentionally steady pace for another character can be used to great comedic effect. If they’re a nervous or ‘busy’ sort of character, maybe they say everything a bit faster than the people around them. If they’re a bit older, or if a younger character is enduring an immediate moment of emotional impact, you should consider speaking more slowly and deliberately.
Jumping between multiple character roles can sometimes make it difficult to maintain consistency. Particularly if you are performing a narration with an extremely large cast of characters (like a series of audiobooks might contain). In that case, you may want to call in the big guns and create an album of character voices for reference. For books with less than 20 characters, a list with notes is perhaps enough to create recognizable and unique character voices. For a larger project, creating an exhaustive character reference of MP3 samples that you can listen to when you need to recreate a character from 300 pages ago is crucial. Having a short sample labelled with the character’s name offers a quick and useful refresher to keep the characters consistent throughout the project. Just try to remember what your actual voice sounds like!
I quite literally put myself in their head, every personality facet i can.
Problem for me isnt getting IN to character… its getting back OUT sometimes. Ive had auditions where Ive had to cook up a voice, but I cant drop character for the day when Im done, like I get “stuck”.
— Ray Edmunds (@BossCyan1d3) January 15, 2020
Every voice actor finds their own way to make a new character uniquely their own. We put out a call via our social media platforms and received some great responses. Find them on Twitter and Instagram.
We encourage you to get creative as you bring your next character to life. Try something new, and if you’re not sure it works, check with your voice acting friends by asking for feedback on Voquent. Every voice actor on Voquent can applaud your samples. Trying new things is one of the best things about voice acting.
Always remember to draw on personal experiences to breathe authenticity into your work. Give yourself permission to stray far off the beaten path. In doing so, you may not only discover new audiences but new dimensions of yourself.
Caroline Turner Cole is a storyteller from Dallas, Texas.
Al Black (Voquent Co-Founder), Miles Chicoine, (Voquent Co-Founder), Alex Harris-MacDuff (Voquent Producer).