Sunday, February 3, 2008

COMMENTARY: Qualities of a Voice Actor

REC © Hanamizawa Q-tarou/Shaft/TBS.

1. A voice actor should sound good on tape. Take note this does not have anything to do with a person's voice type. Preference for voice types ranging from high pitched to baritones is purely subjective ("listener's choice"). What I mean is that while your voice may sound good to your ears, its quality changes when recorded on tape. You have to sound just as good on tape as you do in real life.

2. A voice actor should have perfect enunciation. Voice actors should pronounce words correctly and clearly so that the listener understands every syllable that comes out of your mouth. In the case of English dubbing, any type of accent that causes a word/s to be mispronounced is a "no no". That is why a dictionary is a voice actor's best friend in case he is unsure as to how to pronounce a word. If you have a distinct accent, it's best to take speech studies first in order to correct it. For example, during his Mad Max days, actor Mel Gibson used to have a distinct Austalian accent, which he had lost years later after extensive speech training. Compare his voice in Mad Max to his latest films, including the animated ones he did, such as Pocahontas.

3. A voice actor should know how to speak properly. A voice professor once told me that there is little difference between singing and correct speaking. When you speak in the right way, the power of the voice is exerted not through the vocal cords, but via the diaphragm and respiratory muscles. If a dubber's voice sounds rough, strained, or excessively breathy, or just listening to them makes your throat ache, your ears wince, or makes you want to gasp along with them, chances are they are not employing correct vocal techniques. Learning vocal techniques from a voice coach will allow you to change the speed of line delivery, pitch, volume, timbre and tone of your voice effortlessly and without causing damage to your vocal cords. It is especially effective for those shouting and screaming scenes.

4. Be aware of any weaknesses. Newbie voice actors have a tendency to stutter, stammer, trip their tongues over words, or even run out of air in order to keep up with the "mouths" of the character on screen. Again, these flaws can be corrected by voice exercises.

5. Know how to correctly pronounce character names. I am particularly nitpicky about this because I've observed that western voice actors have problems pronouncing the names of Japanese characters. That is why it is best to listen to the original Japanese dialogue first in order to get the names right. The most common error is the way three0syllable names are pronounced. Except for a select few, most three-syllable Japanese names are pronounced with the accent on the FIRST syllable. Western dubbers always put the accent on the second syllable. So instead of saying "Ko-GU-re", it should be "KO-gure." "Sa-KU-ra" should be "SA-kura."

6. Know the character and interpret him/her the way you see fit. It is always important to get to know the character first -- like is the heroine the shy, quiet type or the tomboyish type, or the hero could be the boisterous type or the dark, brooding type. Researching by reading character profiles or, better yet, reading one or two manga volumes or watching one or two anime episodes will help you to understand him or her, so that you could correctly interpret his/her personality. NEVER COPY THE PERFORMANCE OF THE ORIGINAL JAPANESE VOICE ACTOR. Some diehard otaku always compare the seiyuu to the English voice actors. Judge voice actors ON THEIR OWN MERITS and NEVER basing it on the performances of others, even if they are the original talents to play the role.

7. Never make the mistake of dubbing an anime like a cartoon. Most cartoons are dubbed in a sing song, emphatic, over-the-top, or bombastic manner. Except for comedy anime and when certain scenes call for exaggerated expressions, dialogue is best delivered in a natural, conversational manner.

8. Foreign accents are a double-edged sword. If done effectively and applied to the right character, foreign accents are a boon to any production, aside from anime. However, to my horror, most voice actors make the mistake of going over the top with their accents or, worse, use them for characters who are of a different nationality altogether. The French accent is the most horridly abused of all foreign accents. If it is not spoken in an exaggerated manner that makes you think of that amorous skunk Pepe Le Pew, it is always used for villains, who end up sounding "cheesy" instead of "sleazy and sneaky". One good example is Van Argeno in Blood+. If you want to get the French accent right, pay close attention to how actors Jean Reno or Gerard Depardieu speak. Sorry, but I have to admit that while I was impressed with the accents used in Le Chevalier D'Eon, some of the characters to which they were used were wrong. For example, Louis XV's wife Marie Leszczynska is Polish and should not be speaking with a British accent.

9. Same with foreign accents, apply "special voices" to appropriate characters, but avoid stereotyping. Sounds contradicting, but allow me to explain. This is usually a problem for men. Admittedly, I am not fond of men pinching their voices to make it sound higher-pitched. While men with high-pitched voices are great for comedic characters, I wince whenever it is used for stereotypes, especially 1) sneaky, sleazy characters and 2) gay characters. Case in point, Chronicles of the Wing's Fye Flowright, especially in the second season. The use of the pinched voice did not suit Fye at all. Although "rumored" to be a gay character on account of his connection to the god Ashura, he is a refined intellectual which warrants a soft-spoken vocal performance with a sharp edge to it, something which the first voice actor was able to achieve. Another example is Kou Reishin in Colourcloud Palace. While he may have a penchant for sneakiness, the fact that he is a stern court official warrants a lower-pitched voice.

10. FINALLY, in voice acting, it's not how you "sound" that matters, but how you "act". You may have the versatility and the vocal chops of Robin Williams, but if you don't know how to use your voice to convey emotion and connect with and evoke emotion from your audience, then you are a failure as a voice actor. Let's take one Animax voice actor who is being dissed by some overly opinionated viewers just because he possesses a baritone voice. It is the opinion of many that a youthful character should always have a "young voice", but this is not true in real life. Some develop baritones and other low-pitched voices in their youth. So, arguably, a baritone can also be applied to a young, but mature character like Nomiya from Honey & Clover. In fact, baritone aside, the voice actor was not only able to capture Nomiya's maturity, but also his gentle compassion and sympathy towards Yamada. This made his performance very effective in my book. One very good exercise was shown in Sakura Wars, wherein Sakura was made to repeat one line over and over again, but in different emotions. Try getting a line from a book and practice saying it while happy, sad, lonely, angry, furious, etc. Believe me! It works!!

Still want to become a voice actor? The bottomline is it's still important to get an education, especially drama and speech studies. Professors will not only teach you voice techniques and exercises, but also how to take care of your voice. Last but not least, when you go around looking for voice jobs, don't limit yourself to dubbing anime. There are careers for voice talents in advertising and radio. Try to gain more experience, training, and broaden your horizons!

No comments: