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Location: Cantonment, Florida, United States

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Anonymity, Thou Art A Sweet Friend...

The other week, I made a huge change in my career direction. Rather than go the route of teaching for the rest of my life, which would result in me becoming a walking ball of stress and rage, I have decided to go into voice over, and everything that comes with it.

Despite what you may think, voice over is not just talking or doing funny voices (you wouldn't think that, of course, if you've ever read my blog before). No, a "good voice," like Orson Welles' or Gary Owens' is not necessary, or in some cases, even desirable. A good voice actor must convince the audience that he is the character in the copy. All that without the audience even seeing the performer.

In many ways, voice work is the quintessence of how I feel about art in general:

1. Present a shadow of the world without being an exact mirror of the world. Hence the terms "Suspension of Disbelief" and "Escapism." We paint worlds with only our voices. We don't talk how normal people talk, we talk how they think and remember. The way we remember conversations happening is in gross charicature, "He was so angry, steam came out his ears!" That sort of thing. People believe the world in the copy if we appeal to their emotions and perception. If we don't, then we are just reading words on a page.

2. It takes the focus off the performer and puts it on the performance. The person listening isn't wrapped up in, "Hey, that's _______ doing that voice!" When the audience is wrapped up in who is performing rather than whether the actors are any good, then the art has suffered. Voice over artists must "get outside" themselves and portray a character that will reach the audience. Let me give some examples.

Lorenzo Music, the voice actor behind Carlton the Doorman on Rhoda, Pete Venkman on The Real Ghostbusters, and, of course, Garfield the cat, was the distilled essence of what it means to be a voice over performer: invisible. He prided himself on never being seen by his audience, yet his voice was on a cartoon every Saturday morning that featured a fat, orange cat. He got inside the character and made sure that the audience would believe Garfield really sounded like that and said such things.

In Dreamworks' Sinbad of the Seven Seas, Brad Pitt weaved elaborate tapestries of blandness with his voice. I never believed the character, not just because I couldn't get past the fact that the voice was Brad Pitt's, but because he was so bad. While the animated character of Sinbad waved his arms and flitted about, making grandiose gestures, the voice that came out of him sounded like a prepubescant Ben Stein: Flat, directionless, and disconnected from the words he said as well as the character that we saw. A good voice actor makes you forget that he's there. He speaks as the character, from inside the character, rather than "at" the character like Brad Pitt did for Sinbad.

Now, I have by no means "arrived" in my abilities to represent a believable character. I have much training to do. But, natural ability combined with passion, focus, training, and good opportunities will result in someone who can convince an audience that the voice they hear is talking just to them, or that the characters they see on screen are real and exist somewhere.

You'll notice I took my picture off the top of the page. It was unnecessary. Why do you need to know what I look like? When I work on voice over, I want the image in your head to fit with the voice. If you picture me, then what's the point? If I do a character in a cartoon, look at the cartoon, not me. If my voice can't convince you that the "being" you see onscreen is real, then I have failed my job.


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