You’ve probably played a few videogames or watched more than a couple of Pixar films in your time. We also bet that you’ve had your heartstrings tugged by a particularly poignant character or scene. That’s when you know you’ve been hooked by the magic of voice acting.
On the contrary, a bad voice acting, in turn, can spoil what’s an otherwise acceptable work of art and bring the whole thing crashing down. Voice acting can make or break a multimedia product faster than Usain Bolt can sprint the 100.
In this guide, we aim to provide a clear-cut explanation of what voice acting is all about. We’ll also provide some notable examples that’ll make you grow a new appreciation for this art form. By the time we’re done, you’ll know what’s what!
Even more so, if you’re looking to get a start in this particular business or are looking for talent, you’ll have very clear quality indicators to base your searches on.
First, let’s get started with the basics!
This post has been updated in August 2021.
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Some Basic Information on Voice Acting
Voice acting refers to the practice (or rather, art) of doing voice-overs. In the cases we’ve referred to above, they’re usually performed to represent a character. They can also be used for business or education, to provide information to the audience or users. Think about an explainer video as an example of this last one.
It can be seen as the practical arm of what’s known as voice-overs, or audio narration.
Some common examples of voice-over usage you may have seen include characters in animated features and video games, cartoons, films, dubbed versions of films in a foreign language, TV shows, radio and audio dramas, commercials, etc.!
As you can tell, voice acting is all over the place. Wherever you hear a recorded voice in any medium, chances you’re hearing the job of a voice actor or actress plying their trade. If you pay attention, you’ll realize the enormous scope of the industry!
Moreover, voice-over artists are paid per hour of finished audio on a per-job basis. The ones that have managed to land successful gigs can earn over $200 per finished hour because of their extremely specialized skills. Makes you think about all the times someone’s commented on your ability to make voices, huh? It’s a really profitable business!
Who knows? You may be the next Dan Castellaneta!
Voice acting is comprised of several categories. If you’re looking to get started, or hire talent, it’s best to get acquainted with them!
Fictional Character Voices
This is the bread and butter of voice acting. Like the aforementioned Dan Castellaneta, voice actors generally provide voices in animated features. Think every Disney, Pixar, or animated movie you’ve watched in your life. If you’re an Anime and video game buff, you’ve also likely encountered your fair share of voice acting.
Sometimes, fictional characters appear in regular features too. Think about the “computer” or “AI” voices from most films.
Giving a voice to fictional characters requires the actor to synchronize their speech to the animated mouth movements. With traditional 2D animation, this might be slightly more difficult, as many times the scenes or rough drawings have already been produced, providing the actor significantly less leeway.
However, in some cases the voice acting performance is so good that it provides a new dimension to a character. If the animation is still in the rough-sketch period, it can be adapted to the new nuance.
In general, companies like Disney ask actors to record voices first. These actors are generally high-profile personalities and the animated characters are based on their mannerisms. The company asks them to provide a full performance which is also filmed. The animation is then completed based on the recording sessions.
This is why many companies like using the voice as the basis for the whole thing.
In the case of video games and 3D films, technology can offer advantages. Motion capture technology can be used to get a full performance. The actor can record their lines as well as their facial performance, which can give the end result an air of greater authenticity.
As you can tell with Naughty Dog’s 2013 runaway hit “The Last of Us”, motion capture/voice sessions were pretty involved.
Dubbing and Voice-Over Translation
This is another very popular use of voice acting across a variety of media. Dubbing refers to the act of recording dialogue in a different language than that of the original media. The translated recording gets mixed over and synced with the original; the replaced, finished result is called a Dub.
A completely realized dub is also part of a concerted attempt at adaptation. The endeavor may be referred to as “localization” — transforming the original into something more readily understandable for a target market.
Most people choose not to watch content in its original language. Whether this is because reading subtitles breaks the flow of a movie is unknown; it’s speculated that the appeal of dubbing lies in familiarity. People enjoy watching content with voices and accents that are recognizable. This makes them feel closer to the source material and avoids some of the “strangers in a strange land” effect.
Even though most dubbed movies take place overseas, dubbing may make the audience feel closer to home. The “dislocated” feeling they get from watching a movie in the original language can be mitigated through a well-localized performance.
Of course, cinema actors work for months or years with a director to achieve their on-screen performances. Good voice acting needs to be respectful of the original. This is why voice actors require tremendous preparation to maintain a premium on faithfulness. It’s not just about a voice being similar in pitch and tone, but emotion and intent.
Dubbing, of course, can be applied beyond the realm of movies and video games. Virtually any content that has audio can be dubbed into another. This allows content creators to reach audiences at higher proportions than ever.
This is another of the hallmarks of applied voice acting. Think about the quaint narration in a Wes Anderson movie. It brings a viewer directly into the picture while providing valuable information and exposition. It also breeds a sense of closeness, as if a secret is being divulged to the audience members. It’s an easy way to convey a story, and it adheres to a very specific, scripted set of mechanics.
This type of narration is also used in theater, TV, video games, and other types of narrative-driven media.
Narration is not only used as a storytelling mechanic in visual media, though. It’s also deployed across a wide variety of literary or audio-only or literary media; think audiobooks (novels, short stories, etc.), radio dramas, explainer videos, institutional material, and beyond!
In the case of audiobooks, for instance, there may be a need for voice acting to be of a varied nature. The narrator may need to differentiate characters by voicing them with different affectations. Sometimes, they may be required to attempt different voices entirely!
As always, it’s paramount to know what a project needs before going in. Selecting a professional or trying something out yourself requires a lot of foreknowledge! Imagine going into an audiobook recording thinking you’re just going to be doing your “omniscient narrator voice” and finding out that they were looking for a “jack of all trades” type!
On the flip side, imagine you hire a pro because you like their booming bass voice, but didn’t think about additional characters. You may incur additional costs, having to redo work or hire other actors! With any voice acting, it’s better to keep the whole picture in mind before committing!
Some Other Types of Voice Acting
There are also lesser-known types of voice acting that are prevalent nonetheless. Think about automated announcements in the subway or over PAs. There’s also the post-production process called ADR, or Automated Audio Replacement. This entails replacing audio recorded onsite with cleaner takes recorded in a studio. It’s also used to reflect changes in dialogue that were required after filming.
Commercial Voice Acting
Here’s where a lot of the meat of the issue lies (apologies if you’re vegetarian/vegan)! This is one of the most common uses of voice acting across the board. It can also intersect with other categories, such as dubbing or narration.
Companies have benefited from hiring voice actors to relay corporate messages for a long time. Voice-overs are a proven and effective way to generate immediate engagement with an audience. They are a great opportunity to instantly humanize a brand. Empathy is one of the main reasons why we connect with a particular message, and a trustworthy voice is a big reason behind that.
Marketers spend big bucks (think billions, total) to reach out to consumers. TV, radio, internet, print, and any imaginable technique under the sun is used to generate revenue. In some cases, famous voices have been used to maximize audience engagement and that “Hey, is that…?” recognition.
A careful branding strategy also entails choosing the right professionals for each role. A voice is essentially representing your image through audio. Think:
- What do you want to convey? (Content, product, idea)
- How do you want to convey it? (Tone, script)
- Who are you aiming your content to? (Audience, demographic)
These rules of thumb may seem like common sense, but they’re valuable guidelines when thinking about what Voice Pros you’re going to be contacting for your project. If you’re a voice professional yourself, they apply just as well.
Feeling a little more “in the know” about the prevalence and importance of voice acting? Great! As the adage goes, “knowledge is power”! You may be acting, or you may be hiring, but having this guide with you can help improve your chances. If you know what you’re looking for, you’ll very likely become more effective in finding pros or jobs that match your criteria.
Time to get started on your journey!
Start your journey today at Bunny Studio!