Voice acting 101

So I don’t for one second pretend to be a great voice actor or even an aspiring pro or anything like that. I think overall I do a descent job, but more importantly I understand the basic principles of good voice acting from an acting, directing, and mod author perspective, and so this little guide is going to be like a primer for anyone who would like to get into voice acting but isn’t sure how.

What you need

  • A microphone
  • Audacity (or similar sound software)
  • Quiet space
  • willingness to sound like an ass

1- Microphones

Mics come in a very broad and range from $20 to $2000 or more. Ultimately you don’t need to spend much but you need one that is going to give decent results. The two features you really need are Cardioid mode (also known as Uni-directional) which picks up sounds right in front of it and cancels out sounds from around the room better. The second thing is the frequency range needs to pick up the full spectrum of sound range. The Blue Yeti silver I linked above does 20hz – 20Khz which is perfectly fine. Other more expensive mics will have higher high ranges and lower low ranges but 20hz – 20Khz is the apt range the human ear can actually pick up, so paying more for better frequency range is a waste of money.

It is also smart to get a pop filter, which is a device that acts as a barrier between your mouth and the mic which blocks air flow from you to the mic which results in popping sounds in the recording. Hard P and T and K type sounds will cause pops if spoken close to the mic, and the pop filter prevents this. A sock put over the top of the mic also works in a pinch and does a pretty good job, but you are already going to sound like an ass doing your goofy voices, so may as well LOOK professional while doing it and invest the extra $15 am I right?

2- Recording and Editing software.

I use Audacity (linked above). It’s free, it’s simple to figure out, has quite a few features and filters and what not and does everything you could need for basic voice acting. There are again, some high end pieces of software that can help make voices shift gender entirely and 100% believably and have hundreds of extra bells and whistles but in most cases it’s overkill. All you need is a software that can utilize MP3, WAV, mono, stereo, the proper response range of 44100hz and 16 bit and Audacity does all of this and more. It allows you to cut and paste and snip and trim and amplify and reduce, change pitch and tempo, apply reverb and echo effects, reduce them, do noise reduction, fade in and outs, and a lot more that I rarely ever use or even have honestly. It’s well rounded and does the trick nicely.

3- Quiet space.

This is vital. The smaller the space the better, or a room with a lot of clutter in it to absorb bouncing sound waves. If you don’t have a padded recording room with acoustic insulation, don’t worry, you are not alone. I recorded my first voice acted lines inside the cab of my Ford Ranger using my iPhone (which surprisingly had a great recording quality). So really confined is the best thing for voice acting.

One other alternative is to use a laptop in a closet. I’m sure you’ll get goofy looks if anyone happens to come along and open the door to find you sitting cross-legged on the floor talking like a dark elf, but hey it’ll make an amusing story.

Another method is to make your own cone of silence. Those who have ever watched the TV classic “Get Smart” will know what I mean, but this method is much more effective I think.

  • Get a cardboard box that can go over your head and your monitor and mic while sitting at the computer.
  • Get some styrofoam to line the inside of the box. Home depot has a pack of several 1 inch thick sheets that is more than ample for about $10
  • Line the styrofoam with felt (optional, use the cheapest stuff you can get on sale at Joanne fabric or similar craft store).

This setup will compensate for your microphone’s lack in unidirectional cancellation if you don’t have a $100+ mic. If using a headset mic or something below the Blue Yeti Silver model, this will help shore up any lack in white noise cancellation and also prevent echo reverb.

4- Willingness to sound like as ass:

This is a big one, and as funny as it may sound, I really am serious about this as an element in voice acting. To be a good voice actor you really need to be willing to go over the top.

It’s just like you are taught in theater class in high school or in acting classes; GO BIG OR GO HOME. Just let loose, over accentuate and pronounce your words, use exaggerated elocution, focus on moving your mouth in excess of what feels normal in an effort to push the words out as clearly and dramatically as possible. It will feel weird and sound over the top when it comes out but when you play it back, it will sound great.

Also, it’s exhausting. Anyone who thinks that voice acting is easy hasn’t done it or isn’t doing it right. Voice acting takes extreme energy, even to play a subdued character because even though you don’t have the physical movement to deal with, you are limited to convey the thoughts and feelings of the lines through your voice alone, no blocking, no facial expressions and no makeup or costumes to aid you, so it’s all in the line delivery.

Recording a Demo

Once you have your toys in order you need to show people what you can do. Practice a bit and figure out what you are comfortable with. Are you aiming for extravagant characters like Golem or Cicero or are you aiming for more average sounding people? Can you do very characterized race types like Khajiit or Lizardmen of some sort or prefer humans? Can you do accents or simply American standard? These are all things you should explore before making a demo. Once you feel comfortable with your ranges, record them. If you are doing a generalized reel for a variety of possible purposes, then make your reel as diverse as possible. If you are aiming for roles with a specific video game such as Skyrim, then stick to character types in that realm. You can do lines from pre-scripted lines from the game at hand, or simply make up some on the fly or prior to recording. Just ensure you show the range you are capable of and please god, no Skyrim guard sweetroll lines, they are passe and nobody is looking for guards to hire really. Most modders want something that sounds unique but still immersive, we don’t need more bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impressionists.

Finding a project

Mod authors are looking for voice actors all the time, so just look around and you are sure to find them. You also can post openly on recruiting boards and post links to your demo (soundcloud is a good place to host them). When looking to work for a specific modder or project, it’s best to simply submit a link directly to them and offer your services. Don’t waste your time or theirs by asking for a specific set of lines to audition with. It’s best to show your diverse capabilities in a sort of ‘sample tray’ format and if they think you are good for a particular role or two, they will likely follow up by asking for you to read for a specific lead character part or simply give you batches of lines for general NPC’s and tell you to “mix it up and have fun”. Be open to being creative. Some mod authors like myself will encourage or even prefer that voice actors improvise some elements of their work at times when it comes to general NPC’s. Granted if a specific script is given, you should read it verbatim )barring any typos or mistakes), but in the case of large projects which have general NPC’s getting creative and giving some extra general lines above what is specifically requested is always a welcome plus. Just be careful not to confuse “creative supplementation” with “unsanctioned rewriting”. I always appreciate when my VA’s (voice actors) fix an obvious problem and let me know about it when they deliver the finished lines, or when they double check if unsure so they can get it right the first time.

Post production and Direction

Once you have recorded your raw lines of dialog for a mod, make sure you have an understanding of the formats the mod author prefers. Do they want individual files for each line? do they want everything all in one track file when possible? Do they like having multiple takes of each line with varied delivery and tone to choose from or prefer to have you deliver what you feel is the best take. Know these things before you record to save yourself some time in retakes. Also be open to retakes. Sometimes it will be an issue of intonation or meaning that is misunderstood from the text provided which the author needs to clarify and other times it will be typo related. Sometimes it may be the author wanting a slightly different delivery and giving you direction, and other times it could even be that they re-wrote part of a scene. Don’t ever take these pieces of feedback as personal or even as negative; you are working together to make a better product in the end and the author has a distinct vision for it. If you have ideas or insight and the author is open minded to collaboration then by all means discuss character motivation and the like to get a better understanding and ultimately results. In the end the product will be better and your skills will grow as well.

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