Monday, 5 December 2016

How to Record Voice Overs - An Animator's Guide

Frank Gladstone directs actors in a sound booth in Soho
Most animators eventually find themselves recording a voice for a film project.  Whether it’s a short film, a personal project, or a piece of animation for a client, you will eventually need your characters to speak.

And for this, unless someone else does it for you, you will need to direct actors. So how does an animator or director go about recording voices? And how do you get a decent performance?

A modern sound recording studio. Photo: Wikipedia
Step 1. Find a quiet spot

You can record something rough on your Mac or PC with a Microphone, or even using your internal mike, but if you want quality audio you will need a sound-proof audio booth.

There is a reason why film-makers pay good money for a Soho recording facility – the sound quality is way better.

If you can't afford a sound booth, find a friend with some decent sound recording equipment, and find a quiet room. You will need to avoid the background hum of traffic, fridges, police sirens - anything that will spoil the audio quality.

Step 2. Find the right voice talent

This is the trickiest bit, but also the most important.  Most people freeze up in front of a microphone. Even your friends who are funny, who do great voices in the pub after a few drinks, even they often freeze up, and can sound like a robot when they read their lines.

So, how do you find a good voice? You could try putting the word out at a site like, or perhaps pay a visit to a local acting school - any place where you will find up and coming talent willing to do high quality work for a low fee. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere, and actors need samples of work for their demo reels. You could be helping to kick-start their career.  Students in London might try RADA to find some rising stars.

Step 3. Get Samples

Pro actors will have samples of their work online, doing different voices, in different styles. By way of example, check out the vocal work of Lizzie Waterworth-Santo- she does the voice for Horrid Henry. Student actors most likely will not have this kind of online resource yet (though they should), but you can always ask them to email you some sample wav files. The key point is to cast a voice that feels right for the job. And you probably won't know it until you find it.

You can meet prospective voice talent in a quiet room and get them to do a few lines into your PC or laptop, just to check that they are right for the part. 90% of getting a good result on the day is casting the right person. Does the voice suit the role? Actors won’t be offended (or shouldn't be) if they aren’t right for the part; they understand the nature of the business.

What you don't want to do is waste a lot of time recording the wrong person in the booth, which wastes time and money. So get some good samples up front, and then pick the person who sounds right for the part.

Voice actors need this
Step 4: Recording day

Once you’re in the booth, make sure you get your voice talent a glass of water. Voice over work can be tough on the vocal cords. Be appreciative that they are helping you out.

Next, ask the talent to read all the lines all the way through, just once, to warm up. Give them some direction first. Typically, you want the voice-over to sound perky and conversational, like someone in a pub telling their friend about some great new idea.

What you generally don't want is the sound of someone reading lines in a flat, listless way. Again, check out Lizzie's website for guidance. What style of voice do you want? When the actor does their first read-through, tell them you're not recording them (but secretly do anyway - you might get some great takes). Then give them notes.

After that, have the talent do each line read in groups of three, leaving a short gap in-between. Experienced actors will give you 3 different reads to choose from. Less experienced ones will give you the same line read 3 times. It shouldn’t matter though – if you have cast the right person, you should get a good result.

What if you don’t like the way they read the line? Should you do it for them? Well, yes…and no. When you record professional actors, try not to do the line for them. Chances are, they’ll be offended. And if it’s a big star – they might be so offended they'll never work with you again. But with newbies, or your pals, it’s fine. We amateurs need more guidance. Whatever it takes to get a good result.

Step 5. Recognition and credit

One last word. Whoever helps you out, whether it’s a sound technician or an actor, take down their full name. Good film-makers give credit where it’s due. Nothing burns your bridges faster than forgetting to give credit on your final cut.


The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our new BA/MArt which started in September 2016, follow this link.   To apply, visit the offical page here.

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