When it comes to animation and games—most often referred to as “interactive” voiceover—the producers who are most likely to hire you are after original character voices. As a voice actor, you absolutely must continue to flex that character muscle with regularity. Otherwise, these voice acting skills will atrophy. This is, in part, what makes you valuable as a talent.
I suggest you begin by considering different voices you’ve probably been sitting on most of your life—those the broad public has yet to hear. With that in mind, here are five steps to discovering and creating original character voices.
1. Begin with an impersonation of an impersonation.
Many of the characters used in animation today are loose or distorted impersonations of old Hollywood stars or famous people. For instance, the voice of Stimpy from “The Ren & Stimpy Show” is an exaggeration of Peter Lorre, rather than a direct impersonation.
Try this: Take an impersonation of someone famous—even a bad impersonation—of Orson Welles or Jack Nicholson or Mae West and see where that takes you. Regardless of how awkward or poor the impersonation might be, you’re likely to discover a character all your own.
2. Play with original voices you’ve been doing since childhood.
I don’t know a soul who doesn’t speak for their cat, dog, or goldfish—especially if you’re a voiceover actor! This is usually a voice that stems from childhood, or a family character voice that’s been morphed, magnified, and manipulated a million ways to Sunday. Now’s your chance to waltz these voices out into the sunlight.
Practice making a hybrid of this voice with that ridiculous impersonation of your Uncle, or your bad impression of Jack Nicholson or Christopher Walken. It will take you down an entirely different rabbit hole.
3. Consider the placement of your sound.
When creating each new voice, consider where your sound is centered and where you’re projecting your performance. Is your sound centered in your nose? In your throat? Is it a chest-voice? Is this character missing teeth? Have too many teeth? Tongue too thick? Are you speaking through your cheeks? Is this character well-spoken? (Or trying to be well-spoken but failing miserably?) Does this character have a speech impediment like a modified Daffy Duck? Is your sound centered in the back of your throat, or under your tongue?
We still need to be able to understand what you’re saying, so your character’s intention is key to whether the character communicates at all.
4. Consider your character’s emotional center and intelligence.
Master the ability to vary up the emotions while maintaining the character’s center and the character’s primary point of view. It takes practice. Ask yourself: Is this character honest or rotten? Pleasant or putrid? Smart or dim-witted? Conniving or clueless? Nerdy and awkward, or pompous and egotistical? Kind or cruel? Mischievous or a goody two-shoes? Heroic and courageous, or nervous and frightened?
5. Have fun!
If you’re not playing, then your performance runs the risk of being a drag to listen to. Enjoying what you’re doing is infectious. Allowing yourself to go further than you think is a truly necessary key to discovering how limitless your options really are. This element will keep you interested in what you’re doing. After all, if you are interested, you are interesting. (Ironic how art imitates life.)
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