Getting Work In Animation
This has to be about the best fun a performer or voice actor can have. We all love cartoons. They’re entertaining, insightful, funny, and no one ever dies. Well, if they do, they always manage to be alive in the next scene. That’s the power of the cartoon. Anything goes!!!
If you do want to work in animation, you first need to prove to casting people that you know your way around a script first and foremost. Once this is established, you’ll have more of a chance of being suggested for animation series, when they are casting for them.
I often tell people who are passionate about animation to concentrate on building a fine voice demo mostly weighted with straight stuff, because if you listen to mainstream radio and television, that’s what you’ll hear that…and that’s where all the work is. Once you have that demo and are booking work, you can build your profile as a character voice actor.
Of course, those who are talented at character work, are always encouraged to include a small amount of character work on a demo, it on a demo or if they’re very versatile, to make a separate character demo
Let’s talk about the difference between voice acting for advertising, and animation.
When we perform in animation, we’re being observed, just as we are when we’re performing on stage or screen. When we do a voice over, our job is to convince the listening audience to do what we want them to do; buy that product, go to that event etc.
So when it comes to creating character voices for a demo, you need to be really canny about how you choose the script. I sometimes get a demo that has some good voice over reads on it and then some samples of character voices towards the end of the demo, that are just a random selection of cartoony type voices using scripts that don’t have an advertising message.
The problem with doing this is that the cartoon voice isn’t accompanied by a visual, and without that, we don’t really know whether you’re talented at voicing for animation because we can’t attach it to any particular character.
That’s why I encourage people to find ‘advertising’ scripts that require a character voice and include those on the demo. However, there are ways to get your talent for character voices in front of those producers who are casting.
Getting The Audition
First, you have to get the job. So just how do you get cast for animation jobs, animation shorts, films or series?
Usually you’re invited to audition because you are either a known performer with a good track record or you’re a voice over professional with a great deal of experience and a solid repertoire of character voices. Or, you may have an unusual or quirky sounding voice, or you may just happen to have exactly the right natural voice for one of the characters.
More often than not, Producers use mainstream sound recording studios (often the studio they’re planning to use for the recording) to audition prospective voices for their cast, although it can occasionally be done at a casting studio, where you perform the voice to camera, with the producers or directors in the room.
When you’re invited to audition, you’ll be sent a character breakdown, an image of the character and a script, either a monologue or a few scenes from the script. Auditions like these are seldom paid.
Just as an aside, you could also be asked to audition for an animated character for a television commercial. In that case you would be booked to do what is called a submission. That is, you go to a studio and record the complete script. Then your voice will be submitted to Advertising Agency creative’s and the client for approval.
Preparing the Audition
In the ‘brief’ that you’ll be sent, you’ll be given the important information about the character’s emotional states and personality as well as the character’s role or journey in the story.
Unless you’re playing a lead role, you may only be sent a few scenes or pages from the script. Hopefully this will give you enough information about the character’s role in the story or scene and its emotional journey or attitudes.
And, of course you’ll always be sent an image of the character, which will give you all the clues you’ll need to make choices about how that character sounds.
In cartoon animation, often the attributes are extreme, a really huge nose, really big eyes, impossible buck teeth or strange body shape. You need to make really strong choices around the character’s physical traits. You need to find the character’s charm, even if it’s a wicked or evil character.
Let’s have a look at this image.
There are a couple of great clues here. The first thing you notice is the eyes. This character is definitely mischievous, wicked, up to no good. That’s the emotional state or attitude and understanding this will colour the choices you make, the words that become important, the way the character bends words.
Then there are those extra-ordinary teeth! Now you do need to speak clearly, but you can’t ignore such a strong physical attribute and need to find a way for him to speak, making something of those teeth that’s humorous and engaging, as well as capturing the attitude behind the look in his eyes.
Now this is cute, with all the attributes of cute, cock-eared playfulness.
The image says curious and innocent and that certainly is a good sniffing nose. I would use the open mouthed aspect to do something, whether it be doggy style panting or small quizzical noises that aren’t in the script to add to this character’s believability.
While it’s definitely not okay to change the script, unless it comes from the Producer or Writer, it is definitely okay to add colour to the character that help to further physicalise, such as breath or sudden intake or exhale of air and small physical reactions that there are not really any words for. Think about it? There are heaps of those that we use every day to add colour to our own expression and meaning in conversation, huh, mmmmmm? pffft, tsk, tsk, tsk, aaaahhhh! You with me?
How about this one? It’s neither human nor animal but has some interesting human features, specifically the fact that the character is almost all arms and chest.
The shape reminds me of a Genie, the one’s that come out of a bottle, so you could make a choice to go with a Genie style voice or attitude to bring this one to life.
Voice over for anything is about the art of creating a strong visual for a disembodied voice. Every disembodied voice has a persona. When we meet someone face-to-face, we get the whole picture and we accept what we get. With a disembodied voice, what we get is something in the tone of the voice that gives us a strong visual.
For instance, how often have you met someone over the phone, (the disembodied voice) and because of clues the voice gives, created a visual for that person. Then, when you meet them, you’re completely blown away because that female with the bright, energetic 20-something sounding voice, who you’ve visualized as a petite, slim brunette with a big smile, turns out to be a tall, 50-something woman with pock-marked skin. That male with the deep, authorative, even sensual voice is actually a pale-skinned, reedy guy with thin lips. Voice doesn’t fit the visual.
What animation or character creation is asking you to do is to find a voice that absolutely fits that visual, whether it’s a ‘character’ style voice or your own voice, the one that just happens to have the right persona for that character.
Doing The Job
Sometimes in animation, the record sessions are booked as scenes, rather than episodes and, much like film, can be recorded out of sequence. Sometimes, you may even find yourself alone in the studio, with the director taking you through your character work line by line. In this case, you really need to trust the director and hope that he or she has an absolutely spot-on vision for the work. Don’t worry. They usually do.
Of course, it’s much more fun to work with the other performers and I believe there is more opportunity for spontaneity and ideas. Once the work is recorded, the audio is taken away and then the animation is done. This can be a really long process, often taking months. Then, when the animation is complete, you are often asked to come back into the studio to embellish what you’ve done. Your character may be in the background and the animators have created a response from your that there was no dialogue for. Occasionally the director feels that a line needs to be delivered differently. Sometimes, you’ll also be asked to add your voice to crowd scenes, such as people gasping in horror, or an audience laughing or random people in a crowd yelling something. These sessions are called Additional Dialogue Recording (ADR), and are always great fun.
Animation is great fun. No wonder so many people who call me about voiceover say that have a real interest in it. And remember, not all animated characters are like the old Looney Tunes; Sylvester, Tweety and Elmer Fudd although it can be incredibly rewarding to create a completely original, unusual voice for a character. Just think of animation series like Toy Story, where the casting is more often about the ‘right natural voice’ for the character. And then it’s up to the performer to bring all the character’s physical attributes to life.
For details of my new Animation Mastery, in February 2013, just take a look here and get in touch.
Find Your Voice As a Voice Over Actor And Artist With The Voice Over Coach. For over 30 years I've had a successful voiceover career. I work in mainstream voice over for radio and television, narration for the corporate sector, website content and documentaries, as well as characters for animation, IVR, ADR, on-hold and foreign film dubbing.