We all remember the first time we sat in the cinema watching a cartoon movie, falling in love with the characters on screen. Even as kids, on some level we knew they weren’t real, but we were and still are compelled by these personalities. Animation voice acting requires the skill of bringing a cartoon character to life through audio and is one of the main reasons we feel such affinity with the characters in the movies we watch and the video games we play.
But what makes the iconic voices we can replay in our minds so memorable? And how can you use that to inform your choices about the cartoon voice-over or video game voice actors for your latest project?
By reminiscing about some of the most iconic character voice performances of all time, we explore the key points to think about when you’re looking to find the right voice for your animation or video game.
Mufasa, The Lion King – James Earl Jones
One of the most loveable characters in Disney history, and the ultimate father-figure, Mufasa from the Lion King wouldn’t be half the character he is without the iconic character voice by James Earl Jones.
Whenever Mufasa is on screen, his dialogue makes us feel warm, loved, safe and protected. We know from the way he talks that he is powerful but has a heart; regal and wise but also humble and kind. James Earl Jones cleverly transmits this character with his warm, low, resounding voice.
When choosing the voice actor for your animation, identify the emotions you want your audience to feel when they come across your character. Do you want to elicit laughter or fear? Respect or derision? Your cartoon voice actor must convey these messages. For example, high-pitched, squeaky voices rarely sound powerful, whilst a cold, nasal tone is unlikely to evoke much empathy. Talented actors with great voices will be able to adapt their performance to suit your creative vision.
Spyro, The Legend Of Spyro – Elijah Wood
In 2006, in a bid to bring the already iconic video game hero, Spyro the Dragon, to a new audience, the team brought on legendary actor Elijah Wood to voice the titular role in the new trilogy, The Legend of Spyro.
Spyro’s voice as recorded by Elijah is relatively gender-neutral, age-neutral and has a standard American accent. This is a smart tactical move. A neutral-sounding video game voice actor encourages as many players as possible to relate to the character and engage in the game. It was also important that Elijah worked on the entire trilogy, providing consistency in the character of Spyro for his fans.
Choose a voice artist whose voice matches your audience. A video game with a more male following would do well to choose a male game voice, whilst a game for children is best voiced by a junior-sounding actor. Remember, this can still be an adult voice actor – many are great at adopting a child’s voice. It is the job of actors in video games to draw the audience in by providing a relatable reference point within the game for the player to empathise with.
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons – Dan Castellaneta
One of the hardest working cartoon voice actors around, Dan Castellaneta is responsible for many of the varied and distinct characters in the long-running cartoon, The Simpsons.
But it’s his performance as Homer Simpson that shows us the importance of considering the message we want to portray through our animation voice. Homer is the clown of the show, he is the source of the cheaper gags based on slapstick or his misunderstanding of situations. The slow, sometimes high-pitched drawl in a classic American twang emphasises his slapstick humour and regular mishaps.
When finding the right voice for your character, be sure to match the voice to the message you want the character to convey. If they are a character who offers moral guidance or instruction, they need to have a more authoritative tone of voice than Homer, for example.
The Genie, Aladdin – Robbin Williams
Everybody’s favourite character in Disney’s original Aladdin is the Genie, and that is, of course, down to Robin Williams’ stellar turn as the big blue mythical being.
Despite his questionable motives: remember, to begin with, he only wants to grant Aladdin’s wishes to earn his own freedom, we instantly like him as a character. Robin Williams does this with the warmth, lightness and gentle comedy in his voice. He varies the tone and speed with which he talks, which denotes empathy and sounds like he’s talking to a real friend.
In the recent remake of Aladdin, Will Smith stepped into Robin Williams’ Genie slippers. And in a remake that deviated in many ways from the original, what remained constant was the relatable, likeable character of the Genie.
Perhaps the most important factor when planning your cartoon characters voices is to ensure at least one has likeability. This has to be someone that your audience want to spend some time with, at least the length of the video game or movie.
In the original Aladdin, Robin Williams also provides the narrator’s voice, disguised as the peddler we see at the start of the film. As we, the audience, are with this voice from start to finish, it’s essential that it’s a character we can fall for.
As we can see from these iconic character voices, there are several key factors to consider when choosing voice-over characters. Envisage the kind of feelings you want to evoke in your audience and pick voices that will enhance your animations to achieve those emotions. Reflect on the message your character needs to deliver, and choose an animation voice-over that can deliver the message the tone it requires. Finally, look for likeability amongst your characters, and ensure they are relatable to your audience’s gender, age and location, which can be portrayed with the right cartoon voice.
The team at Matinée Multilingual are seasoned professionals when it comes to recording animation and video game voice-overs. With an impressive roster of voice-over talent with years of experience in this field, we can suggest a selection of suitable artists according to your brief. We will then record your audio in a professional studio for consistency and clarity of sound. This is especially important if your project is likely to be ongoing, for example, a video game series. Get in touch with us today to see how we can work together to make your characters come to life.