No one is going to deny the influence of voice acting in our culture. In fact, everywhere you turn your ears to, there it is; a sumptuous, sensual voice trying to tell you something, to sell, to communicate. But in this constant influx of sound, the question starts to form: “what constitutes good voice acting?”
That’s what we’re going to find out today. If you want to act, produce, or hire someone specialized in voice acting, it’s better to have actual role models. After all, the industry is so laden with clichés and standardized performances that you want to avoid being merely mechanical. Knowing some standouts — what sets good voice acting apart from the rest — will save you from being forgettable or boring. Moreover, it will save you from being memorable for the wrong reasons.
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Let’s get a move on!
I’ve gone over the voice acting trade in detail in this guide. The profession is, in a nutshell, centered on the art of recording voice-overs. Mostly, these performances are done to represent a character in a show, movie, video game, commercial, etc. This means that acting remains the operative word in this case; the voice actor or actress is using their voice to play a role. In all cases, a particular inflection or characterization is required by the script and artistic direction.
That means that a voice professional needs to not just be good at recitation. While that has its own place in say, narration, voice acting entails a more involved approach. It encompasses the intersection between being a character actor and a voice professional. Good voice acting, especially, requires a pro being good at immersing themselves in a dramatis personae.
Let’s take the example of Mel Blanc, a famous voice actor, and radio personality. During the Golden Age of American Animation, he voiced several classics for Warner Bros and Hannah-Barbera. You’re going to be picking your jaw off the floor when you see this list of his famous performances!
- Bugs Bunny
- Daffy Duck
- Porky Pig
- Yosemite Sam
- Foghorn Leghorn
- Speedy Gonzales
- Pepé Le Pew
- Elmer Fudd
- The Tasmanian Devil
- Wile E. Coyote
And that’s just a partial list that’s not even getting into his Hannah-Barbera years! He voiced several other iconic characters like Barney Rubble in the Flinstones. He definitely earned the title “The man of a thousand voices”!
Good voice acting
The aforementioned Mel Blanc would, of course, make for a perfect example. Every character he touched turned to gold. His turns were memorable, iconic, and funny to boot! It’s not just variety that’s the spice of good voice acting, though. If that were the case, the voice behind trailers, with his ominous, bass tone, would be out of business!
Sure, there are characteristics than it can’t hurt to have for good voice acting to be within reach. We’re talking about voices with rich tones, good vocal technique, dramatic range, flexibility, and voice-acting experience. While a formal education is by no means required to get a start in the industry, it helps. Especially when dealing with more dramatic roles, some background in acting may be desirable.
I’m by no means a dyed-in-the-wool diehard about this, though. If you think you or a prospective voice actor has the chops, go for it! After all, performance is king, and let’s never gloss over the fact that some people are just naturals.
With the voice acting game, you’re going to need some amount of natural gifts, in fact. Uninteresting, unflattering voices may just have a harder time catching a break. This does not mean you shouldn’t use your voice’s unique qualities to your advantage, quite the contrary! Check out these 10 actresses with unique voices, for example! Remember: good voice acting doesn’t have to mean conventionally pretty. Use your idiosyncrasies in your favor!
A small note on vocal technique for good voice acting
I know I mentioned unique voices before, and that may be cause for misunderstanding. Unique voices or performances can absolutely be used for voice acting — that connects to my previous “natural gifts” argument. Qualities which may be seen as bad for everyday life may be good in the voice acting context. Having bad technique, though, doesn’t.
Check out our guide for more information on how to avoid this!
Good voice acting examples
Playing the Joker is probably one of acting’s best, but most terrifying gigs. The complex qualities of the character — both menacing and darkly hilarious — are a challenge for any actor. When Mark Hamill stepped into the character’s shoes for the 1992 Batman Animated Series, he had his work cut out for him. He managed to craft a historic, classic character for the ages.
The Joker’s complexities are not always understood by every performer or director who takes a turn at the character. Take Jared Leto’s infamous portrayal, for example. In Mark Hamill’s case, he was already typecast as a sci-fi hero from Star Wars. In an effort to distance himself from that stereotype, he has never been afraid to try new things.
With his masterful take on the character, he was almost too menacing for the children’s show. His iconic performance, part mad clown, part deranged psycho with the dial turned to 11 still endures. Nearly 30 years after he started, he’s still seen as the quintessential voice of the character.
Another fantastic actor that hammed it up magnificently was Jeremy Irons with Scar. In the animated feature film “The Lion King”, he managed to combine the Shakespearean and the campy to great effect. The result is a grand, operating character that also mixes menace and humor. A magnificent casting choice that was sadly not repeated in 2019’s remake.
A few examples of good voice acting in video games
Video games are no strangers to narrative. They’re far removed from the archaic “rescue the Princess” scenario from the 70s and 80s. For the past few decades, video games have been telling complex, multi-part dramatic narratives in interactive form. Technological developments also made video games a prime target for voice acting. With the advent of higher memory capacities in the 90s, the video game voice over exploded.
Sure, results weren’t always stellar. In fact, it was common for video game voice acting to be outright bad. Most of the worst examples come from the mid-90s and early 2000s though. Thankfully, things got a lot more standardized after that. Gaming got truly massive and companies stopped skimping out on the voice acting budget.
We have quite a few games to thank for that switch. One of them was the famed 1998 Hideo Kojima Playstation masterpiece “Metal Gear Solid”. In what was labeled “tactical espionage action”, players were taken on a wild ride. The game, which initially had all the appearance of being a techno-thriller, revealed stunning plot and thematic depths.
During lengthy, non-interactive story segments called cutscenes, players were led down a rabbit hole of dramatic twists and turns. What began as typical “get the bad guys” story turned into a multi-layered story about fate and identity. This was also supplemented by additional story and information scenes through the “codec”, the in-game radio.
None of these things would’ve been possible without the top-notch voice cast. In the wrong hands, the subject matter could’ve turned hokey or gauche. Thanks to the well-rounded-out cast of veteran voice actors, scenes gained pathos and gravitas. They stuck in players’ minds and made them empathize with the plights of the characters, even the bad guys!
It’s so good it works in movie form!
Other honorable mentions from the realm of video games
Of course, it’s not like the industry found out about good voice acting in 1998. Lucasarts, a subsidiary of Lucasfilms (now owned by Disney) made many great adventure games back in the 90s. Some standouts were:
- Full Throttle with Mark Hamill as the villain Adrian Ripburger.
- The Dig, starring Robert Patrick (from Terminator 2 fame).
- The Curse of Monkey Island, a cartoon extravaganza.
It wasn’t just Lucasarts putting a premium on voice acting, though! Defunct adventure game giant Sierra Online hired Tim Curry for Gabriel Knight.
What do I do if I want good voice acting?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. As I said, it’s best to know good voice acting examples and what makes them good. That means you’ll have greater knowledge to start your search. Both when searching for prospects or when thinking about getting into voice acting, this is a good place for references. CDawgVA is a YouTube channel hosted by a professional voice actor. There, he constantly reviews good and bad voiceovers across industries, giving his critiques and input.
But of course, if you’re hiring, things are different. You want to go with someone who’s got proven experience and positive reviews. Generally, we recommend you go with an outsourcing platform. You’ll be able to find thousands of proven voice pros on every rate tier. Moreover, you’ll be able to access their portfolios; you’ll be safe in the knowledge they know their stuff just by being there.
But, not all is so cut-and-dried when it comes to good voice acting. What’s important is knowing what works for you. Whether on the brand or actor side, sometimes it pays to go off the beaten path. You’ll know what works when you find it!
I’m glad you took this short journey on voice acting with me. Thankfully, with an industry that seems to have woken up to good quality, examples are easy to find. Gone are the days of the 80s and 90s, where bad voice acting was ubiquitous in cartoons and games. Now, to enjoy long-lasting success in this business, there’s no excuse for not knowing your stuff!
Here’s to you talking the talk and walking the walk!