Voice actors can make or break an animated series. Think of your favorite cartoon series - what made it so memorable? Certainly the actors that were cast to voice the characters played a huge part in the show’s success.
So what distinguishes a standout vocal performance in animation? And how can you apply this in your voiceover auditions and gigs?
What it takes to create an exceptional, iconic voiceover performance in animation:
Having a Unique, Distinctive Voice The first thing that springs to mind is having a distinctive voice. A unique or memorable voice can help a character stand out from the crowd. A character that has an unusual quality to their voice can be instantly recognizable. Consider the late Mel Blanc, who provided the voices for a variety of cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig.
And what about Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Finding Nemo, or Tara Strong as Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic! These characters are all famous thanks to the distinctive voices the actors came up with for each of them!
Versatility A noteworthy voiceover performance for a cartoon requires versatility as well. A voice actor needs to be able to portray a variety of roles, including those of heroes, villains, and everyone in between. In order to make a character stand out from the crowd, an exceptional voice actor will adapt their voice to fit various roles. People are impressed when they discover the same individual voiced two or more of their favorite animated characters. Imagine Family Guy without the hilarious performances by Seth MacFarlane, who voices three of the lead characters: Peter, Stewie and Brian Griffin!
Expression and Emotion Voiceover work for cartoons requires a wide spectrum of emotions and expression. The voice actor must be skilled at expressing a variety of feelings, from joy and excitement to despair and rage. Even when the character is a fantasy creature, an inanimate object or an animal, the performer must be able to convey their feelings in a way that feels real and genuine. Think of the Genie, voiced by Robin Williams in Aladdin - the character transitions from moments of high-energy comedy and rapid-fire impersonations to moments of genuine vulnerability and tenderness. Because of his improvisational skills, Williams’ portrayal made the Genie one of the most beloved cartoon characters in history.
Delivery and Timing In order to provide a great voiceover performance for a cartoon, timing and delivery are essential. It’s not always the phrases themselves that make us laugh, but how they are delivered. The voice actor must instinctively know when to pause for comedic effect, which words to emphasize, and how to use rhythm, pace and tone to elevate the comedy in each scene. A great example of this is Eddie Murphy as Donkey in Shrek. We have Murphy's quick wit and impeccable timing to thank for many of the films' most memorable lines and comedic moments.
Creativity and Imagination Lastly, using your imagination and being creative are essential in creating an iconic cartoon voice acting performance. A voice actor must be able to envision the character, including all of its idiosyncrasies and personality quirks, and then use their voice to bring this character to life. Improvisational skills and knowing how to add clever elements to the script can help make the character your own. Tom Kenny's voiceover performance as SpongeBob SquarePants in the eponymous animated series is a prime example of creativity and imagination. Kenny's portrayal of SpongeBob is filled with a variety of creative vocal choices, including as his distinctive high-pitched, nasally voice and his well-known chuckle, which is modeled like a mix of a dolphin's chirp and a seagull's caw. This has no doubt helped establish SpongeBob SquarePants as one of the most memorable cartoon characters of our generation.
Voice actors will be hired again and again if they can master the above techniques, and the animated characters they create will be loved and remembered for years to come!