From Looney Tunes to Futurama, animation has a place deep in our hearts. While some people consider it to be all fun and games, a great deal of time and work goes into making your favorite shows, and central to that process are the voice actors. Many aspiring thespians are interested in how to become a voice actor for animation either on the side or as a full-time career.
Do you want to make thousands of people laugh or cry using only your voice? Have you been practicing silly imitations since you were three? If so, you could be the voice behind the next hit character. Here are some tips for becoming the next great voice actor!
Animation has a long and interesting history. It has been dated back to Ancient Asia, when storytellers would put pliant fabric puppets behind an illuminated screen and operate them to music. Much later, when The Jazz Singer premiered as the first ‘talkie’ movie, cartoons gained popularity by replacing the now-outdated slapstick silent films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Cartoons like Looney Tunes used plots and tropes inspired by decades of Vaudevillian comedy, typified by big, crazy expressions and weirdly exaggerated voices.
This is where the first great voice actor, Mel Blanc, makes his debut. The voice legend came from a background in radio, he voiced almost every major Warner Brothers cartoon. His characters included Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety & Sylvester, and Yosemite Sam. Can you believe they were all the same person?
Find Role Models
If you want to be successful in an industry, it is important to study those who have already become so. A great website to use when learning about voice actors is BehindTheVoiceActors, where you can search alphabetically for the voices of all your favorite characters and in your favorite shows.
A few great people to start with are:
Hank Azaria: As well as being a successful film actor (see The Birdcage or Mystery Men for tears of laughter), Hank Azaria is first and foremost a voice actor. The parrot-like way he can imitate anything has earned him an Outstanding Voice-Over Award nomination for six Primetime Emmys, three of which he won. Some of his notable roles was ‘Bartok’ in Anastasia and pretty much every minor character in the Simpson’s. Azaria once said that he had no idea he was destined to be an actor: “I was able to memorize and mimic a lot of things. . . . I just really, really amused myself and my friends with memorizing entire George Carlin or Steve Martin albums, or mimicking whatever we saw on Happy Days the night before.” And we are so lucky he did!
Nancy Cartwright: Another Simpson’s alum, Cartwright is best known for being the voice of Bart Simpson in the show, movies, and video games. She won a 1992 Primetime Emmy for the performance, but it is certainly not the only credit she has. She also played Rufus in many Kim Possible shows and spinoffs, Chuckie in Rugrats movies, and also plays the taunting bully Nelson in the Simpson’s. Her other credits include The Jetsons, Richie Rich, and a long run on The Animaniacs.
Expand Your Voice Index
This is the fun stuff! If you want to be a voice actor, it’s a good idea to begin a big mental collection of voices that you could pull out and use on the spot. It takes a lot of creativity to keep up with directors in the sound booth. A director could look at you and say “Now do it like you’re from the 40’s” or “Now sound like you’re underwater” and you have to do it immediately. It’s much easier to have a nice index of voices already practiced than to wing it all the time.
Building up an assortment of imitation is also very helpful. Being able to impersonate famous people (“Now do it like Michael Jackson”, “Now do it like Betty White”) is a very important skill for a voice actor to have, particularly for working on shows like the South Park or Family Guy, where celebrities appear often.
Being able to do classic cartoon characters is also extremely great for your career. Legacy performers are actually in extremely high demand right now. Since the original voices like Mel Blanc are no longer working, voice acting replacements for the new Bugs Bunny or Yogi Bear cartoons are very valuable to producers. Of course, the voice has to be perfect. Check out Bob Bergen’s Porky Pig for something to live up to.
Move to London, Los Angeles or NYC
Casting for animation is done in big cities like London and LA almost exclusively. If you want to take voice acting seriously, you must move to London or LA to work. It is almost impossible for British and American voice actors to get any work outside of big metropolitan cities, especially ones with little familiarity with recording. It might be a risk to move, but it truly is the only way to get experience in the industry.
Build Up That Resume
When you get to LA, do not expect to go immediately into Disney movies. Unfortunately, like most parts of show business, the road to success in voice acting is long and pretty uncertain. It is always a good idea, though, to start out with relatively low-pay, non-threatening jobs that are close to the sector of the industry that you want to get into. Most great voice actors got into animation sideways, usually through radio or becoming known for doing voiceovers for commercials.
Do not look down on these jobs- although, yes, you might have to monologue about anti-bacterial soap- because believe it or not, they are giving you very valuable experience. Not only is it giving you something to live on (yea, I’m a starving actor!) but also is providing you with the opportunity to both learn about the equipment in the recording studios and to network with higher-ups that may be able to offer you a job in the feature. As I have said before, any job in show business is usually a good job. Take every opportunity to show your talent, and eventually someone important will begin to notice.