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Basics of Character Reads

This lesson is a part of an audio course Introduction to Voice-Over by Joe McNeil and Allison Moffett

Welcome to Lesson 7 “Basics of Character Reads”. In this lesson, you’ll learn about voice-over for characters.

The first thing most people think of when they think of character VO is probably voicing characters in animated shows and video games. This category also includes characters in audiobooks, foreign language dubbing of TV shows and movies, and characters heard (but not seen) in TV shows and movies.

Sometimes doing a character VO involves altering your voice. For example, cartoon characters often have voices created specifically for them. But a lot of character VO can be done using your own voice. For example, the dub of a movie from Spanish to English will cast actors whose voices suit the look of the on-screen actors.

One thing that ALL character VO has in common is acting. Acting skills are important for all voice-over, but they are essential for character work. VO talent often take acting classes even though they never appear on-screen or on stage. Understanding character development, intention, understanding the relationships with other characters all come into play with character VO.

Let’s talk about developing a voice for a character. In particular, altering your voice to create a voice for an animated character. It can’t just be a “funny voice.” It has to be a fully developed character with a personality and idiosyncrasies. Is the character intelligent, cheap, overly-sensitive? What does the character look like? Is the character big or small relative to the other characters around it? Does the character have an occupation? What about a family? You should be able to answer all these kinds of questions for any character for which you create a voice. Knowing the character helps you decide not only how the character sounds but how he delivers his lines. How he interacts with other characters. Why he does the things he does.

Now, let’s talk about foreign language dubbing. This is the dubbing of a program from one language to another. I’ve done quite a lot of dubbing Japanese and Korean video games into English, as well as dubbing several anime series from Japanese to English. I’ve also worked on Spanish language TV shows dubbed into English. Besides acting skills, dubbing requires good timing and a lot of focus.

When you work on a dubbing project you have a certain number of loops to do. The loops are the parts of the game or show where your character appears. You’ll hear the loop in the original language first and then you have to do it in your language, matching the timing and making sure you’re not talking when your character’s mouth is closed. This is challenging because the timing between two languages is often quite different. Besides getting the timing right and making it look as real as possible, you still have to deliver performance; you still have to act the part.

Let’s wrap up this section by talking a little about video game voice-over. There are two very broad categories that video games fall into from a voice-over perspective: fantasy and real-world. Fantasy games have witches and fairies and ogres. The voices tend to be created for the character specifically, similarly to animation. Real-world games, for example, military combat-type games, have characters that sound more real; more like people sound in real life. Of course, both types require a solid acting performance to bring the characters to life.

Let’s recap this section.

  • Character VO occurs in animated shows, video games, audiobooks, and foreign language dubbing.
  • Sometimes character VO involves altering your voice; sometimes it can be done by using your own voice.
  • All character VO requires solid acting skills.
  • If you develop a voice for a character, make sure the character has a fully-formed personality. Don’t just do a “funny voice.”
  • Besides acting, foreign language dubbing requires good timing.
  • Fantasy video games often have characters with voices created specifically for them; real-world video games use more real-sounding voices.

Thanks for listening! In Lesson 8, we’ll review what you’ve learned and tell you where to go from here if you’re interested in learning more about voice-over.