Titans of Voice
January 27, 2007 2:49 AM   Subscribe

Decades of cartoons and movie previews have desensitized us to the art of the voice-over. For decades, the movies, cartoons, and commercials we watch have been given life by a relatively small group of extremely talented and prolific voices.
posted by potch (25 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oops, I missed one. Here is a wonderful (and long) article about Frank Welker.
posted by potch at 2:55 AM on January 27, 2007

In the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Episode "Antenna", George Lowe says "They couldn't afford LaFontaine. Yeah, mister, thirty thousand dollars a minute." I actually got the joke at the time. Hooray for me!
posted by GavinR at 4:00 AM on January 27, 2007

Some other voices (YouTube) are equally distinctive.
posted by Peach at 4:24 AM on January 27, 2007

You've barely scratched the surface. Here are 28 voicers who represent maybe 80% of the non-celebrity voice-over work (although you will recognize a couple of them from TV) doing a tag-team reading of The Night Before Christmas. I know, a month late, but dig all them purty talkers...
posted by wendell at 4:43 AM on January 27, 2007

Decades of cartoons and movie previews have desensitized us to the art of the voice-over.

I beg your pardon, potch, but I have most certainly not been desensitized to said art. I have always held the art in rather high regard. But thanks for the post!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:54 AM on January 27, 2007

I have to say, though, thank god for the rise of celebrity voices. It's probably not such a big deal for the English speaking world, because you tend to watch very few non-English movies, and the type of people who watch non-English movies thus tend to be folks who don't have a problem with watching subtitled stuff. However, if you live in a non-English speaking country, if you watch a movie or TV show from another country, and you're watching it on television, instead of on DVD or at a movie theatre, it's going to be dubbed, not subbed, and as such will be dubbed by the same people who also do cartoons. Which, frankly, once you're used to hearing the voices in that context, makes all serious movie characters sound like cartoon voices.

The worst example I can remember was some American movie (I don't remember which), dubbed in Japanese for TV, in which there is a character who appears to be good, but is actually the bad guy (well, bad girl). I watched the whole movie, with this obviously bad but pretending to be good character, until the movie climaxed in...the revealing of the character as the antagonist! Which was tremendously anti-climactic, because it was obvious through the entire movie that the character was the antagonist. And then I thought about why it was so obvious. Was it what they said? No, they only said protagonist-like stuff. Was it what they did? No, they only did protagonist-like stuff. No, the problem was that they assigned the character actor who always does female antagonists, so from the first thing she said, you knew she was the antagonist. In the original English, that was almost certainly not the case.

Mainly a case of bad casting, really, as they could have assigned her a protagonist voice instead. But it remains true that if we weren't so used to the voices -- if it had been an unknown voice entirely, instead of one of the stable of oft-heard pros -- this wouldn't have even been an issue.
posted by Bugbread at 5:15 AM on January 27, 2007

Wow, finally a post I feel qualified to comment on (I record voiceover actors for a living).

Whenever you see these TV / Internet specials, they always focus on the cartoon & movie trailer voices. For 90% of voiceovers, however, casting directors want "conversational, non-announcery." It's become almost a joke- "how did you do at your audition for that Sprint ad?" "Oh, you know. I tried something new and ran it conversational, not like an announcer at all. With just a hint of smile."

Also, those weird motions everyone was making in "The Night Before Christmas?" That's not for the camera. Most VO actors gesticulate wildly even for mundane stuff, like "Subway. Eat Fresh."
posted by ®@ at 5:16 AM on January 27, 2007


That actually doesn't have anything to do with who the voice is, it's all in how the actors are directed. As you said, cartoon voice actors are perfectly capable of doing different voices, although they often can get pigeonholed doing their "signature thing." You actually probably have heard the oft-heard pros doing very different voices and just didn't realize it. This is doubly true because a lot of cartoon VO actors hide some of their work via pseudonyms, due to union issues.

You can rest assured the woman who ruined your movie for you is probably well aware of how stupid it sounded... but she wants to keep working, so she's not going to throw hissy fits over the direction of some dub. The main reason celebs sound so distinctive is they're usually hired for "their" sound, and the director isn't allowed to push and pull into doing something completely conventional.
posted by ®@ at 5:27 AM on January 27, 2007

I'm probably a bit older than most of you here, adn remember two great voices from childhood in the '50s and '60s. You can't talk about voice-over and vocal talent without mentioning June Foray or Mel Blanc.
posted by paddbear at 5:29 AM on January 27, 2007

Actually, paddbear, there are probably a few more old timers here than you think, but it is certainly true that this FPP could've included links to many, many more voiceover artists from years past [ perhaps potch is a youngster who thinks this all began with Scooby Doo? ;) ]. The good thing is that we can flesh out FPPs like this with additional links in the comments, as you've so graciously done. It's one of the best things about MetaFilter, in my opinon. Mel Blanc is certainly one of the famous names in the business, but June Foray, didn't know about her, so thanks for that! Rocky was a gal!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:58 AM on January 27, 2007

But then, of course, folks like Peach might wanna check to make sure the links in their comments aren't already in the FPP itself...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:09 AM on January 27, 2007

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do several voiceovers for anime. The VO industry is really competitive, but is insanely fun. I'd do it for free just for the thrill of screaming all day in a soundbooth.
posted by moonbird at 7:08 AM on January 27, 2007

Relevant AV Club Interview with Billy West.
posted by starman at 7:24 AM on January 27, 2007

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but the voice-over gag trailer for Comedian is one of the funniest I've ever seen.
posted by O9scar at 7:49 AM on January 27, 2007

wendell - I wish they could have put up each person's name as they were performing.

Well paddbear & flapjax, I think it's also worthwhile to include a reference to Paul Frees. That guy did a LOT of voices.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:58 AM on January 27, 2007

®@ : "You can rest assured the woman who ruined your movie for you is probably well aware of how stupid it sounded."

Oh, I never doubted that, and I certainly don't blame her. She didn't do anything wrong. But, really, in a market with as much dubbing as we have here, in Japan, the number of voice actors is just far too small, especially because so many voice actors here become voice actors because they're anime freaks, and they, frankly, suck at acting out anything besides anime. Which is fine. If they're good at anime voices, and bad at real-people voices, then may they grow wealthy and happy doing anime voices. But any increase in the number of voice actors becomes an appreciated decrease in the frequency of hearing the same damn people, and hiring regular actors who act in non-anime movies to do dubbing for non-anime movies would do wonders for the ability to watch dubbed English-language movies on television. Right now, they're just painful.

Also, the more voice actors there are, the less likely you are to get stuck with, for example, the situation here in Japan where a 43 year old guy (who sounds like a 47 year old guy) does the voice of the 27 year old character of Joey on Friends.

®@ : "The main reason celebs sound so distinctive is they're usually hired for 'their' sound, and the director isn't allowed to push and pull into doing something completely conventional."

True, and if the same celebs repeatedly did voice-overs, we'd have the same problem exacerbated. What I guess I like about the current boom of celeb voice actors is that they generally do 1 or 2 movies, and that's it, so you don't get the "voice-ground-into-the-ground" situation you otherwise do.
posted by Bugbread at 8:53 AM on January 27, 2007

(Sorry, I don't want to sound as if I'm harshing on voice actors. I'm not (or don't intend to be). I am harshing on one big segment of Japanese voice actors, but not all of them, and not on voice actors outside the US, which I'm much less familiar with. I guess I'm just harshing on the state of the industry.)
posted by Bugbread at 8:57 AM on January 27, 2007

Bugbread, I understand that on TV the option to have subtitles vs dubbing isn't there, but maybe on DVDs having the original English with Japanese subtitles would be preferable?

That's the only way I'll watch Asian shows/movies, is with the original language and English subtitles. I've heard way too many wretched dubs watching anime and the like. No offense to moonbird, but some of it is just godawful.

On the flip side I love watching The Simpsons and Futurama DVDs with the audio commentary on because the voice actors are always great, giving us little tidbits about who did what voice and what working in that field is like.
posted by Talanvor at 11:28 AM on January 27, 2007

If you grew up in the 80's, you undoubtedly recognize the voice of Lorenzo Music.
posted by basicchannel at 12:04 PM on January 27, 2007

Talanvor : "maybe on DVDs having the original English with Japanese subtitles would be preferable?"

Infinitely. That's why my I said "if ... you're watching it on television, instead of on DVD". It's the single greatest advance of DVDs, by far, in my opinion. Fuck the special features and director's commentary and other additions: I can watch anything I want with subtitles on or off, and switch languages at will. Viva le DVD! Et le blu-ray / HD-DVD! Et maybe the laser disk, I dunno, I've never used one!
posted by Bugbread at 12:17 PM on January 27, 2007

A fella should probably mention Daws Butler.


Sorry for the clutzy link. I'm using Opera, which doesn't show the little buttons.

(I always say it in my head: "Oprah." Which, I like better.
posted by Trochanter at 5:10 PM on January 27, 2007

I wish I knew how to get into that business. That's the sorta think I'd like to do for a living. Unfortunately I can't even give my voice away.

Comedian Sound Booth Bump inspired by the Seinfeld trailer and other stuff.

I used to have a recording somewhere of me doing Brad Bird doing Edna... that came out wrong.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:25 PM on January 27, 2007

ZachsMind: you can actually put together a voiceover demo for somewhere around $1K. I used to help my aunt put together such packages including coaching when she lived on the East Coast. There's always a local market for commercial voiceovers because directors want the local accent. My aunt did classes at a local adult education type business. Maybe there is something else available near you?
posted by mkb at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2007

You don't need $1k... if you're really serious, buy a Snowball USB mic ($100), download Audacity ($0) and record yourself doing some commericals. Make sure to get both radio and TV ads. Then send the MP3 around to talent agencies.

Probably, nothing will happen, but it's $900 you're not paying to some sound mixer somewhere.
posted by ®@ at 9:11 PM on January 27, 2007

Don LaFontaine is the undisputed champion of movie trailers. No single voice has had a more pervasive inpact on movie making.
posted by rafter at 9:23 PM on January 27, 2007

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