Many professional acting roles are not performed in front of a live audience or in front of a camera. A voice actor’s workspace is often a cramped sound booth in a small recording studio, with nothing but a script and a microphone to keep them company. A voice actor might be hired to narrate a documentary film, provide voice-over for a television or radio commercial, or provide voices for animated characters in cartoons. Producers of these projects may choose to hire well-known actors with distinct voices, or they may choose to hire an unknown but instantly recognizable voice actor.
To create a convincing animated character, a voice actor employs many of the same skills and techniques as he or she would for a film or stage character. A voice actor must often rehearse the scripted lines with a director before recording the actual performance because a voice can convey subtle nuances of character or emotion. In order to give a believable performance to the audience, a voice actor hired to create a cartoon voice must first understand the character’s motivation and backstory.
Because large-scale animation projects can take years to complete, a group of voice actors may record their lines in a studio and not see the finished product for years. To synchronize the character’s mouth movements and overall appearance, many animators prefer to have the voice actor’s performance on hand. Producers frequently film voice actors while they record dialogue in order to incorporate the actors’ personalities into the final renderings.
Narration is another option for a voice actor. To narrate their documentaries, documentary filmmakers frequently hire distinctive voice-over professionals or well-known actors. Younger actors like Liev Schreiber and Billy Crudup have become well-known for their voice-over work on documentary films and television commercials, even if their faces aren’t as well-known as Dustin Hoffman or Clint Eastwood’s. Crudup has been associated with the “Priceless” MasterCard® ad campaign for a number of years, while Schreiber has narrated many PBS programs.
It can be just as difficult to break into the voice acting industry as it is to break into any other aspect of the entertainment industry. Some casting directors request a tape with previous voice-over work or demonstrations of various characters and accents. Others may request that voice actors perform a “cold reading,” which is a live audition with scripted lines. A voice actor may be asked to improvise several different ideas in different vocal registers if an animation company has a specific type of voice in mind for a character.
Although a career as a voice actor is not as physically demanding as a career in television or film, years of exaggerated cartoon voices can be taxing on the throat. Many professional voice actors are members of a labor union, which can protect them from working excessive hours or performing vocally demanding characters. Some voice actors for cartoons play dozens of different characters and spend the majority of their time traveling from recording studio to recording studio.