Did you know that the 15th highest paid voice artist in history is worth over $20 million? The 10th is worth $60 million and the richest is worth… wait for it $5 billion. (He also happens to be Walt Disney). Lets just be clear, the richest voice artist in the world who doesn’t own the show he voices for is Hank Azaria who’s worth around $70 million. And at $300 thousand an episode, all of the Simpsons voices are doing pretty well.
Wow… what a freaking awesome job. Have fun and laugh all day whilst making funny voices and get paid millions to do it. I GOTTA get me some of that action. Yes it’s true. There are people who do this for a living, and the worlds best do incredibly well. But using it as a yardstick is like using George Clooney or Cameron Diaz as your yardstick to begin an acting career… or for that matter, Donald trump as your yardstick to start a business.
Animation falls under the umbrella of character voices. There are some artists in LA who focus completely on doing animated voices. For the rest of the world it is part of character work which includes accents and impersonations for everything from radio spots to talking apps.
Probably the most fun thing you can do in voiceovers is create characters and do amusing accents and impersonations. It feels creative shooting from the hip like that. What’s more is it’s probably the most impressive part of the job to people who aren’t performers. In fact it’s even impressive to voice artists who aren’t so good at them.
Have I Got What it Takes?
When people approach me about doing voiceovers they often have one of two selfpromoted credentials. 1. They say that people are always going on about them having a great voice and that they should explore, radio or voiceovers. The 2nd is that they are famous among their peers for their uncanny ability to execute great character voices or impersonations. Somehow, their drunken buddies have turned out to be experts in the field of character voices.
Creating characters is something you learn to do as an actor and voice characters are created in the same way. Variety and range is key in this area. You might be able to create an English football hooligan type alla Guy Ritchie film… but could you create 6 different guys. You might have a great voice for a pussy cat… But the top people might have a dozen. Not every vampire sounds like Count Dracula. Not every Scot sounds like Billy Connolly. Always be exploring and practicing new voices. Imitate what you hear and then improvise from there in every direction. Eventually there will be more and more ease in the character creation so rather than drawing from a repertoire, you will be able to comfortably build a character from scratch in the booth, one that is perfect based on the direction and the brief. They’ll sometimes show you drawings. Once you get to this stage you’re in the game.
Cartoon Voices Are an Actor’s Game
Of course animation is something that most performing artists would love to do. It is such fun and exciting work. But I have to say that in most situations the casting is more about acting ability than voiceover skills. So just because you have a knack for funny voices, that’s not enough to move forward. You really need to explore acting. Watch any of the “making of docos” on animated movies and you see the actors doing the full work into the mic. In fact some studios film the voice artists while they perform the lines so the animators can use the actor’s facial and body movements as visual cues for their animations.
So if you have a knack for voices but you don’t have acting experience, you have some work to do. Get into some classes, do improv classes to learn to shoot from the hip. Do an acting method class or 10 to add techniques to your arsenal that will help you create characters.
Flex Your Vocal Muscle
The next step is to explore your voice. Play with the musicality of your voice- pitch, tone (placement), tempo. See how you can change your voice in ways that are unrecognisable as your voice. Then listen to character voices you like and copy aspects of the musicality until you get closer and closer to what you hear. Be physical with your work. Pull faces and stand in funny positions. It helps you fall into the characters you are building.
I just want to reiterate that you need to please be aware of the fact that animation is a tiny fraction of the total work for a voiceover artist so it is only one of several skills you need to develop, and not where you’re likely to begin your career.
Yes you can make a career as a character voice but it’s tough. Especially if you’re not in LA or maybe Vancouver or San Francisco, where most of the animation film and gaming production is. So explore your options in this area but also take advantage of the other areas of voiceovers that characters can help you get a foothold.