10 Ways To Animate Your Animation Pitch or What Animation Voice Over Is Really About
May 08 2014
In the recent Edge Studio Weekly Script Reading Contest that ended on Friday, April 18, we were surprised to hear a lot of entrants making sound effects with their mouth. For example, the sound of hitting the ground when falling, or the noise of footsteps. That, of course, is not what voice over work in the Animation genre is about. Unless you’re directed otherwise, sound effects should be left to the engineer.
It is about screaming “Yipes” (or whatever) when you are falling, or the huffing and puffing while making those footsteps. An animation pro (like Edge Studio coaches Jay Snyder and Noelle Romano) can integrate a series of such verbalizations as if they actually were running into a hippopotamus, reversing course, scampering up a tree and falling from its tippy-est branch into the hippo’s mouth. And out again.
But knowing a vocally-produced sound effect from a character’s vocalization is a relatively little thing. Once you’re hip to the difference, you know it for a lifetime. Other animation skills, such as dubbing a foreign-language cartoon (Automated Dialogue Replacement or ADR) are also relatively easy to learn. And while becoming skilled at making those incidental vocalizations (the huffing, puffing, etc., which often are not specifically scripted) takes some practice, with experience, practice and planning you’ll be doing that, too, like an old pro.
But to become that Old Pro, you need to land some animation jobs, right? What’s the key to landing them?
Producers aren’t looking for another Mickey Mouse or Kyle from South Park. Those characters already exist. For many common characters, casting pros know who to call. And if they want a Jerry Seinfeld voice, they’ll get a highly skilled impersonations specialist or Jerry himself.
Casting people are looking for someone new. And by “someone,” we don’t mean a new actor for a new character. We mean a new voice for a new character.
So how do you develop a new voice, one that is especially yours and not another ho-hum, me-too stereotype cartoon voice that screams for the “Next” button to be pressed as soon as you say, “Hi there!”?
Here’s are some tips:
1. Start with your own voice. Nobody else in the world sounds quite like you. And your own voice is easy for you to remember. It’s also easy to maintain over a long session, and to replicate in the future. We’re not being flip — it’s true. In fact, the first voice on your animation demo should be a line or two from a character who has pretty much your own natural sound. Many animated productions call for “real world” voices, just as commercials and other voice over jobs do.
2. Build a new voice from there. Identify one or two voice characteristics and/or quirks that you can do consistently to give that character a fresh sound and personality. For example, with Porky Pig, it’s the voice placement, stammering, and Porky’s inherent sweetness. For Futurama’s Dr. Zoidberg, it’s the, well, the floppy upper lip, but also his pride leading to frustration.
3. Play with it. You’ve just started on your search. Now what happens if you move the voice into your chest. Or up into your nose. Or into the back of your mouth, a “bubble” sound (as with Kermit). Hold your nose. Hold your upper lip. Hold the phone, the mayo. Try anything and everything, then work that, tune it, and remember it.
4. Really play with it. Don’t worry if your spouse hears you, or even if the neighbors hear you. Don’t be embarrassed to be seen using exaggerated body language. (That’s called being “animated” for good reason!) Be willing, even eager, to take risks. Remember The Right Stuff? You don’t get to the stars without taking risks.
5. If you have a picture of the character (and if it’s an actual job or audition, you should inquire), assume the character’s posture. If the character is old, bend over. If proud, stand tall. Apply your basic VO Acting 101.
6. Start with other prototypes. Your prospective clients probably don’t need yet another Groucho Marx (and Vlasic already has one), but many great voices have gotten started by imitating Groucho. Or imitate other famous voices, even if they’re not your age or s*x. Just don’t stop there. (Well, if they’re not your s*x or you do them unrecognizably, that might be enough! Otherwise…) Add other qualities until it’s a fresh, new character that nobody’s ever heard before. (Here’s a tip: If you’ve heard David Letterman or your cousin do the voice before, it’s probably not new. In fact, it may be a dime a dozen. Keep developing it.)
7. Build a menagerie. Or a small town, a stable, a cast of characters or a list of suspects. Whatever you call it, it’s good to have a ready supply of fresh, excellent voices, at your mental fingertips. You may not want them all on your demo, but by having them in your head, and remembering how to make each quickly emerge, you’ll be ready for new situations a client or director might throw at you. (“That was great — now can you do it as an old fish?”) And by changing this or that, one character leads to another. Write them all down. For a list of commonly required characters, there are many sources. Categorize the types of animated characters you see on TV. Scout around online. Among sources are the book “Word of Mouth” by Susan Blu and Molly Ann Mullin, or if you’ve studied with Stevie Vallance (who did a Talk With a Pro session for Edge Studio a few years back), she’s probably given you such a list.
8. Listen to people around you. The guy on the subway. The woman at the bank. The person who calls to survey you about a free lawn sign that will improve your credit score. (Hey, finally a benefit from those junk phone calls!) We’re all surrounded by interesting, unusual voices, many of which are within your capability or will inspire special characteristics.
9. Develop a back story for each character. You might be surprised how much getting in to a character’s head can do for yours. And although your character may have a certain dominant personality characteristic, script storylines could involve anything. What will your character do if called upon to laugh, or cry?
10. List (and remember) the many ways you can change a character’s sound or personality. The 10 vocal-placement options. All the body placement and carriage options. Your character’s energy level. (Newbies often set it too low.) The visuals you can conjure up. (Most importantly a mental image of the character, but also scenes and situations, and what the character is typically doing.) Speed of speaking, cadence, pitch, age, accent, and all the tools you use in other voice over genres. The character’s frame of mind, worldview, attitude, physical condition, etc. And the same for you — what is your own frame of mind, etc., and how can you apply that in a character?
It will take some time to “grow” all these characters to the point that they are special, so get started now. “Growing” unique characters is an apt way to think about the process. After all, babies sound pretty much the same when born. It’s only as we learn to speak, have experiences, and develop our individual personalities that we acquire many of our most distinctive characteristics.
Animation voices — or rather, animation characters — grow like that, too. And that’s what Animation is really about.
What can we say about animation voice over? It’s fun! Cartoons, talking toys, video games, animated productions… you name it, our animation specialists have narrated it. Want to train with some of the most respected character voice over talents in the industry? Want to expand you vocal range, jump out of your comfort zone, and impress clients (all while having a blast)? Then let the training begin! To learn more about our animation experts Jay Snyder and Noelle Romano, click here or call our studio at 888-321-3343.