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How to Voice a Character on the fly?


Sometimes in a voiceover session for a commercial, e-learning, animation or gaming project, the director or producer says something like "Oh, by the way we just have this minor character that needs two lines. Here's the picture on the screen. Do you mind voicing it?" And sometimes in lieu of a picture there are characteristics and descriptive words. That's it. Within about 20 seconds the character’s voice needs to be made by my vocal folds.

Of course the answer is yes to voicing the character, as I am all about serving the producers and clients and giving them more value than they expected. That’s my job. But, how do I do it - come up with something they can use in 20 seconds?


That’s when I turn to the bedrocks of training and experience to help me voice on the fly.

First port of call is my Imagination and instant bodily creation. Usually I look at the picture, allow the first impulse to come from within as a confluence of thought, emotion, sensation and imagination, and open my mouth trusting the voice that comes out. It works fairly often.

Sometimes the first iteration is not there. That’s when a loose structure comes into play:

1. The Character’s Spine

The most essential element. What is the character’s life needs, desire, objective? The sauce that motivates them to take action. I always think about this first, and let it trigger subconscious impulses within me.

2. Pitch

Where does the character's voice sit: Lower than my speaking voice, higher or mid range.

3. Pitch Characteristics

Does this character have a voice that could be described as silky smooth and chocolatey. Or maybe gravelly and and hoarse. Time to draw upon the bank of humans I have observed and pull a character out.

4. Age

How old is the character?

5. Tempo and Rhythm

How fast does the character speak (fast, slow, moderate) and with what rhythm (staccato, smooth, fast and abrupt)

6. Body placement

Where in my body is the character’s voice located? From the top of the head, down to the chest and diaphragm and anywhere in between. This helps ensure it is an embodied sound that has truth and sensation behind it.

7. Mouth Work

Anything that directly affects the voice of the character. Elements like accent and habits affecting speech such as a lisp.

These are largely comprised of Pat Fraley’s animation character markers.

Combining all of them can create infinite combinations of characters within seconds. And make it look to the world, the client and producers that there is a dark art to what we voice artists do.

When it is really more simple. Practice and principles.

If you like, please share.

Paul Mclaughlin © Versatile Voiceovers

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