I love working with game creators and animation writers. Their passion for their creation is contagious and I can’t help getting swept up in the excitement of bringing their visions alive. I know I’m not alone. Voice over artists who, like me, love bringing video game or animated characters to life, jump on these types of auditions. We can’t wait to dig into the script and start the creative juices flowing.
The question we have at that point is how to find the right ‘voice’ for this character audition. If the character description is well written we can get a good sense of what the voice should be. If it’s not well written (or well thought out), it leaves us a lot of room for interpretation, and for the client, results in lots of submissions that are nowhere near what they are looking for.
So, as the voice seeker, how does one avoid this situation? Obviously if there is no description of the character at all, that needs to be remedied, but the opposite can be a problem too. Some creative types fall in love with their creations and envision them as a paragon. For example, they want a strong, warrior woman who is brave, but can also be timid and sweet, with a raspy voice that sounds very innocent, but also sexy. I think of this as the Total Recall problem (“an athletic brunette who’s both sleazy and demure?”). It’s very hard to hit the mark when it’s moving all over the place. Creators who take some time to really drill down in the character and envision what they want are more likely to get it.
Voice actors look for three main things when creating a character voice: 1. the character’s physicality; 2. the description of the sound of the voice; and 3. the personality traits of the character.
Begin with the physical: what does character look like? What’s their gender, or are they genderless? Big or small? How are they dressed? What kind of gear or weapons do they carry? How do they stand? Next, get specific: What kind of physical features stand out? Do they have a jutting chin? A small mouth? Barrel chest? Fairy wings? All this helps inform what character should sound like.
Next should be a description of the actual sound of their voice. This is where there can be some confusion. I sometimes see that the voice should ‘sound brave’ or ‘sound timid.’ While these are good things to know, they actually fall into the third category, the personality of the character. First describe the sound of the voice itself – not its inflections and emotions; that will come next. For example, is the voice deep or high-pitched, raspy or smooth, guttural or airy, youthful or craggy, have an accent, etc.
Now is the time to describe the character’s personality and attributes. Background information is highly appreciated here. The more we understand the character’s personality and motivations the better. Are they seeking revenge or redemption? Are the brave or cowardly? Brusque or timid? Evil or virtuous? Energetic or languid? Cold or compassionate? And on and on.
Granted, it takes time to create a really thorough character description, but it also takes time to sift through dozens of auditions that aren’t anywhere close to the mark. The more info provided the more likely there will be a crop of auditions that are all almost exactly what the client is looking for. Then it’s time to pick the perfect one!