Voiceover Milwaukee - Find Your Voice

Theatre of the Mind, (not so) Old School 3

November 12, 2012 by dave

I'd like to introduce you to one of the most prolific voice actors working today. Billy West is the voice behind countless contemporary cartoon characters. He provided the voices of both Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in the movie "Space Jam." He created the character Stimpy for the groundbreaking "Ren & Stimpy" — and later voiced the Ren character, as well. He played the awkward preteen title character on Nickelodeon's "Doug." His credit list goes on and on.

But today let's put aside his invented character voices and focus on the voice that Billy himself admits sounds the most like his own natural voice: Philip J. Fry, the hapless 21st Century geek trapped in the 31st Century of "Futurama."

I want to zero in on Fry because we preach the gospel of "real" to our students at Voice Over Nation. We guide them to become comfortable and versatile with their natural voices before venturing forth to try character voices, accents and other embellishments. Ya gotta walk before you can run, right?

At the same time, we encourage them to stretch themselves by experimenting with what we call "theatre of the mind," a form that incorporates voice, narrative, music and sound to paint an audio picture in the listener's imagination. Cartoons, radio dramas and situation-based commercials can all fall into the category. Often voice artists choose to "go big" in productions such as these by exaggerating key characteristics of their natural voices.

"I talked like this when I was in my 20s," says Billy, assuming Fry's voice in a Comedy Central video clip. "Kind of nondescript, plain, vanilla. Y'know. Like a kid. Whiny and nasally."

In other words, he began with his own voice and exaggerated key aspects of it to create a particular interpretation. You can do that too, if you're willing to cut loose and experiment with your interp.

Go big! Find your voice!


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