Backstage Expert Advice – How to Create a Voice for an Animated Character

Bugs, Bart, Spongebob, Stewie, Daffy, Dora, and Baby Huey. Where do all those crazy and creative voices come from?

What is it about the simplistic nature of a cartoon world in which characters and creatures interact that captures our hearts as children and adults?

For many, it never lets go. The question is: Can you turn those spot-on impressions and quirky voices to a profit?

So how do you create a character?

Sketch it out.
Start by using a pencil and pad to sketch a variety of characters. Choose one and then internalize the qualities this character possesses that make it unique and special. Does it speak a language? Does it have any speech affectations?

Hone in on the way it sounds.
As you look at this graphic representation of this character, zero in on the correct vocal qualities: pitch, tone, speed, and rhythm of its speech. And, while you’re at it, try giving each character three different and distinct voices. This exercise should work up a sweat and will ultimately help you find the exact voice for that character.

Walk a mile in its shoes.
Once you’ve identified a number of voices that you can access quickly and easily, the next challenge is to live in each character’s skin for a while and sustain that performance, making it as real as you would any other role. If you are not currently a voice over actor with a home studio, find yourself a quiet place to sit and record all of those voices that are in your head.

Sing a little.
If you are lucky enough to be musically talented, animation may come more easily to you. Voice actor Jess Harnell, the voice of animated character Wakko of the “Animaniacs”, says: “Singing and voice over to me have always been like two sides of the same crazy coin. Being a singer first was like having a key to the voice over puzzle, because I not only looked for the music in the sound, tone and pitch of the character, I also looked for it in the way they would say their words.”

Aside from the worlds of cartoons, animation, and video games, technology has enabled artists to create animations for a variety of commercials for brands big and small, corporate narrations, and various applications and online outlets. Opportunities to book character voice overs are more plentiful than ever.

Here’s to loving all the characters in our lives. Break a lip!


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