Getting into character as a voice actor requires versatility and flexibility.
This article aims to help voice actors of all experience levels to find the perfect voice for every role with top tips from the Voquent voice talent community.
You may have to voice various characters throughout a typical day behind the mic, switching quickly between vastly different types of voices, especially if you're narrating an audiobook or providing voices for 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—making 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 creating "character voices" for games, cartoons and audiobooks. But we are ALWAYS playing a role when we step behind the microphone.
First, imagine your audience.
Through that lens, getting into character is easier. Every time you're in the booth, try imagining your audience and the emotions you want them to feel.
Picture them being right outside the room, with their headphones in, listening to whatever you're working on at the time.
This tactic is a helpful reminder that you're always performing for someone. You're never speaking into the void.
For example, imagining the audience listening to you as you narrate an audiobook will help bring the characters to life. It will help you to make the characters more animated, so they lift off the page.
Or, when doing commercial voice-over work, envisage the customer in the store, looking at the product or scrolling through Facebook as the ad pops up. Always ask yourself: 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
So every time you work, you’re stepping into a character role.
Here are some more specific pointers for creating that perfect character voice for your forthcoming animation gig, video game character or audiobook project.
Prepare and ask for help.
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! Seeing the movement helps get your imagination rolling as you start to envision how a character acts.
Then you can create pitch, tone, speech rate and cadence, and start to notice any distinguishing features that may change the character’s speech.
Elizabeth Daily, the voice of Tommy Pickles in Rugrats, created the recognizable voice by noticing how big Tommy’s lips were in the concept art. The big lips inspired her to give him that recognizable lisp in her audition, and – boom – her voice matched the character better than anyone else.
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, or do they have an agenda?
Knowing how the character relates to others is particularly important for audiobooks when creating all the voices that make up the world. How the characters interact with each other will change throughout the book based on their relationship status.
It’s also worth mentioning that you should keep copious and detailed character notes when recording audiobook projects!
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 backstory and context. 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 compare something that's already out there, 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, and it will never sound exactly like the inspiration material.
But, as a voice-over coach 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 slight tilt to the head for Character A. A shift in your weight to one side for Character B. Hands on the hips for Character C, etc.
Your posture, plus early prep work and notes, helps keep characters consistent and enables you to find them again quickly. Handy, if you're switching between lots of characters in a fantasy audiobook or video game.
This technique is also helpful if you need to recall voices in the future. For example, you are rediscovering how that cunning animated cartoon fox you voiced six months ago is easier if you can adopt the posture.
AminaSync agrees posture is essential:
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 standard pitch?
Varying the pitch among your characters—especially your main protagonists and antagonists—helps them sound immediately distinct.
ALSO READ: Cultivating Your Unique Vibe
Listeners will appreciate this because it helps make the characters instantly recognizable, and thus the story is more engaging and easier to digest.
3) Tone & Accent
How do they speak? Roughly? Lightly? Crisp and clear?
If you're narrating audiobooks, often the author will write something about the character's voice the first time they speak in the story. Always take note of this and incorporate it into how you create the tone.
RELATED: Explore vocal tones on Voquent
Does the character have an accent?
Knowing the accent is incredibly important, and you need to keep it consistent. A few accents peppered throughout a novel or for all the video game NPCs are fun to voice and great for audiences to recognise 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, mainly if you perform a narration with a vast cast of characters (like a series of audiobooks).
In that case, you may want to call in the big guns and create an album of character voices for reference. For books or games with less than 20 characters, a list with notes is perhaps enough to make recognizable and unique character voices.
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 for a larger project. A short sample labelled with the character's name offers a quick and valuable refresher to keep the characters consistent throughout the project.
I challenge you to try and remember what your actual voice sounds like by the end of the project!
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 way to make a new character uniquely their own. I 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 the fantastic Voquent community on Twitter.
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. Permit yourself to stray from the beaten path. In doing so, you may not only discover new audiences but new dimensions of yourself.