It’s a phrase well used by folk explaining the multi-faceted world inhabited by Voice Actors with the emphasis, perhaps, on the word ‘Just’ and a slightly long-suffering sigh! If the emphasis moves up a word to ‘Talking’ this phrase takes on a new meaning suggesting that perhaps there are other things, that we do.
That led me to think about some of the more weird and wonderful vocal gymnastics I have found myself involved in. Dogs, Cats, Monkeys, Birds, Snakes, Monsters, Babies, The Minions, anything that requires a vocalization without true words.
As Voice Actors it really gives an opportunity to show our range! An absolute king of this sort of work is Dee Bradley Baker Take a visit and be prepared to pick your jaw up from the floor.
As a video game voice, its common to be asked to perform ‘effort’ sounds. As the name suggests, these are vocalizations of actions that take effort such as heavy breathing whilst running, being a little (or a lot) out of breath when coming to a stop. The grunts you might make when hitting someone or being hit with varying degrees of violence, the kind of sounds common in tennis or weightlifting. I learnt a trick from Dave Fennoy about hitting sounds generally having a consonant sound at the beginning and sounds of being hit generally starting with a vowel sound. I have found this tremendously helpful to keep these sounds authentic. I also physically perform a punch or imagine being hit (taking care to maintain my Mic position) which I believe also improves my performance.
Recently I was a character in a game (Chernobylite) who finds himself in a cave full of noxious gasses and needed to make you guessed it- vomiting sounds (they described them as “world class”).
These special vocal sounds can take a lot out of you (literally) and a large selection of them are usually required to make sure they get the variety needed for the piece. You may have heard the joke. “That’s great work, could you just knock out 50 death screams.”
These nonspeaking sounds truly are vocally stressful, so vocal health is important. Keep well hydrated, be prepared to ask for a break and limit the time you spend in these sessions. We are all familiar with the max 4-hour rule but if your voice is exhausted earlier, be willing to say so. To help manage my voice, I try not drink alcohol the night before I am booked to record and drink copious amounts of water and tea. It also helps to take many small sips rather than down a litre.
Then there are things you might do to heighten the realism of a performance. Another character in a game I auditioned for had been taken prisoner. The direction called for him to ‘sound like he has tape over his mouth’ – Only one way to do that I thought! So I put tape over my mouth. I was auditioning for the role of a dog (barking not vocalizing) and was asked if I could bark with more of a British Accent – didn’t book that one! I guess I will need to work on my British accented bark. Not that I’ve ever been asked, but I’m good at making the sound of a dripping tap!
I think when faced with these roles, it’s worth trying to lose who you are, more than you would for a speaking role. When given the chance they are entertaining to perform and create a new opportunity expand your portfolio. I’d love to hear about your experiences of weird and wonderful roles when you weren’t ‘just talking.’