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Finding Their Voice: The Secret of Great Voice Acting In Animation

Guest contributor Jeremy Harrison looks at what it takes to be a great Voice Actor in animation.

In 1928, the first cartoon to have a voice-over with completely synchronized sound was Steamboat Willie! This cartoon is a Disney production featuring, Mickey Mouse voiced by Walt Disney himself. It should be noted that other attempts were made but Walt was the first to be successfully recognized for this new innovation. Walt Disney was very much an innovator in pushing animation as an art form; so let’s give him credit for this amazingly successful attempt that we now largely take for granted but a voice brings a cartoon character to life!

Mickey Mouse has been around since 1928. Bugs Bunny is just as famous, but it could be argued more popular. Largely this is because he was voiced by the highly comedic Mel Blanc when he officially appeared in 1940.

Mickey Mouse (voiced by Wayne Allwine) and Bugs Bunny (Mel Blanc) in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Now, everybody reading this should know how both Mickey Mouse and  Bugs Bunny's voices sound like, even though they both have gone through several different voice actors. A memorable voice performance is a key ingredient in creating iconic characters. But just what is the secret of great voice acting?

An inspiring Voice Actor (VA) should love to mimic different sounds and voices.
Tara Strong has personally said that her children are embarrassed by her need to do voices and sounds just for fun. Billy West has stated that as a kid he was always told to be quiet because he just had this urge to make noises. Frank Welker has voiced every animal and other non-human creatures since like – THE DAWN OF TIME! Which, is a bit of hyperbole.. but I think his unofficial title is The Voice God, because he has been at this for so long and he has literally almost voiced every animal or non-human creature imaginable. And he was the original Fred in Scooby Doo!

Ralph Garman did an amazing range of voices in the Kevin Smith movie, Yoga Hosers. He was able to move from mimicking Peter Griffin to Al Pacino to Adam West. Look for it on Youtube – It’s the best part of the movie! A voice actor should practice by mimicking sounds and voices, but a good one, as opposed to just an okay one, will also take the time to master three to five different unique voices from his or her Signature Voice.

Your Signature Voice is how you naturally sound. Now, if you’re an aspiring VA and you have a naturally unique sounding voice. I guess that will give you a leg up but not one has to remember that Voice ACTORS are still ACTORS!!! And your energy and comedic timing will be very important in bringing that cartoon character to life.

Chris Rock made fun about how voice acting is easy money which is … probably true for him! Let’s look at Chris Rock for a minute. He can put a lot of energy into his voice, and he is naturally comedic. Voice Acting probably comes naturally easy to him because that’s where his talents naturally lie. With a good voice actor how they say or interpret a certain line helps the audience to form a connection with said character and if the voice actor does his job well enough the voice can be imprinted in our memories for a good long time. Will Friedle on playing the character Ron Stoppable from the series Kim Possible: 
 “The greatest part of playing Ron is that you can never go too big. Which is soo much fun to play. Just to know that you have no rules! You just come in and the lines are … LOUD and you are Fast!” –

Let’s look at the new Disney cartoon or rather remake; DUCKTALES! Like both Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, Scrooge McDuck has been voiced by several different actors since the 1960’s. During the years of 1974 until his unfortunate passing in 2016, Alan Young was the voice of Scrooge during The DuckTales era. Alan Young got his first big role as Wilbur Post, who was the owner of the lovable-talking horse, Mr. Ed.

Mr Ed, (voiced by Allan Lane,) next to Alan Young                                    Scrooge McDuck

The way Alan Young played Scrooge and because of the success of the cartoon, it really did define Scrooge's look and voice for an entire generation. Today, Disney passed the baton over to David Tennant;  which should bring over the Doctor Who fans.

And while he’s not Alan Young, he is a good Scrooge McDuck for this generation. I’m happy that he’s taking this role seriously and that this generation will have their own version of DuckTales that they can be just as proud of. Part of me wishes that he would sound like Young, but that’s mostly due to selfish reasons of having grown up with the show when I was a kid.
Side Note: The pilot episode was amazing; go watch it!

A good voice actor should try and make the character his own, that’s why if you have the freedom to do so a VA should give his or her own interpretation to the character. Any decent VA should be able to do Alan Young’s Scrooge, but if this Scrooge is going to be for a new generation then it is absolutely essential David Tennant put his own unique talents into this Scrooge.

So in summary,  An inspiring VA should love to create different sounds and noises. The “Huuraoorule” sound Billy West did for Richard Nixon when he was on Futurama was completely ad-libbed by him and at the spur of the moment. It was just something he threw in there and people really liked it.

And two: even if you have a unique sounding Signature Voice you still have to Act and should be able to do several different voices. This means you have to go to school and do some acting at your local theater or school play. Your voice is your golden goose in this industry, so train it and get people that know how to train it.

J.K Simmons, who has done really powerful live action performances from “Oz” to “Whiplash” and recently, “The Accountant”. Has stated that he values playing the “Yellow M&M” (in the commercials) alongside Billy West, famed voice actor who plays the “Red M&M”, more so than winning the Oscars.

And three … you have to go where the work is. Voice Acting Studios want you to live where the work is, and that means you have to move to Chicago, L.A, Houston, Texas or Toronto. According to one VA, Houston is in a right to work state so there are many voicing opportunities there. Chicago is mainly for commercial work.

And finally, you have to go for it. I have a friend that has a deep sounding signature voice and he lives in Chicago. He could if he wanted to get voice over work for commercials easy if he just followed up on any of the opportunities that have came up.  And he has told me that people have offered him voice over roles for stuff like in passing. He has also complained that they have never called him. In life … you shouldn’t wait for people to call you. You have to call them and take a chance on the future. That’s what all the voice actors did to get into the business. They took a chance and it paid off.