Voice Acting, Inside (and) Out

Anger Voice Actor Lewis Black

credit: youtube.com

When you think about voice acting and voice actors you mostly think about cartoons. Mel Blank and Bugs Bunny, Nancy Cartwright and Bart Simpson or Seth McFarlane and Family Guy. If you’ve ever watched an animated movie in the past 10 years, you’ve no doubt said to yourself or the person next to you…

“Who’s voice is that?”

My family and I went to the movies for the first time in a very long time. Actually it was my son’s first time ever. He’s 3 1/2 and loved every minute of Inside Out. My 7-year-old daughter enjoyed it as well. My wife and I thought it was a very smart look at emotion and psychology but most of our questions were directed at the voices.

“Who was Joy?” That was Amy Poehler.

“Who was Sadness?” That was Phyllis Smith from The Office.

“Anger”, in a brilliant stroke of casting, of course, was Lewis Black.

All of them are very well-known actors and comedians but you don’t think of them as “voice actors.” When in actuality they’ve probably been doing voiceover work for just as long as they’ve been acting. Which begs the question…since you don’t have a plush doll made out of my character in my Nissan commercial…is it true voice acting?

As a matter of fact anytime voiceover talent are in front of the microphone there are varying degrees of “acting” going on. There are many methods people deploy to get the right read or delivery the script demands but I’m going to tell you mine.

Is Industrial Narration “voice acting”?

I do a lot of industrial narration. Which means I read copy that is pretty straightforward and about as far away from Mel Blank as you probably can get. That’s not to say it’s boring… it’s just for a different audience. Mr. Blank was entertaining children, where as my target audience might be a businessman or a stay-at-home mom or a teenage boy with rage issues. All of which require different tonalities or inflection and a different mindset when reading the given copy. I like to actually ask my client who my target audience is because they’ve no doubt thought about this when they were writing the copy.

They may even have a made up backstory of the targeted reader or audience. I had one client tell me my target audience was a “45 year old, frustrated businesswoman who disliked her current place of employment and was sick of coming home to a dirty house and just wanted someone to listen to her.”

What that told me was I had to have a sympathetic tone of voice. I needed to care but I also needed to be very professional in my read because I wasn’t talking to layperson. So during my read, I pictured my Aunt Sheryl and directed my read like I was talking with her.

The backstory is super important whether it’s a real person or not. If you don’t know who it is that will be watching your video or listening to your audiobook then you’ve missed the mark.

Think of it like this. If you’re going in to give a presentation to a potential client you’re going to have an air of confidence and professionalism. If you were to take the same presentation or material and present it in front of a high school class you’ve got to be confident but a bit more relaxed and conversational. The varying degrees of all these emotions are dialed in…  much like in the movie Inside Out.

Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust & Fear.

Different emotions with different levels of each. You’ve got Joy… but Sadness hit the button and it brings it down a notch. Maybe Anger rolls in and pushes a button to bring some stress in your voice.  Maybe Disgust is present if you’re narrating how they make hotdogs but you don’t want to completely gross out your audience so you’ve got to deliver it with a little bit of Joy… so you have to dial it in.

All these ranges of emotions are not just for Disney Pixar voice actors. There for everyone who gets behind the mic. From voice actor to singers.  Radio DJs to the guy on the street corner with a bullhorn. All of them have varying degrees of emotion and if you’re hitting the right buttons at the right time… you got a hit on your hands.