24 Oct 2014


How to extract a stellar voice-acting performance from an average Joe

For the production of ‘Templars of Hyrule’, over 500 lines of dialogue had to be recorded. Thanks to support from family and friends, we managed to get all 55 NPCs voiced without spending a penny. In this blog I will share tips on how to get the most out of your voice actors, including those with no prior experience.

Voice actor

Without a doubt, the most important deciding factor in the quality of your recordings is the voice actor’s confidence. A lot of the contributors in ‘Templars of Hyrule’ would never have called themselves actors and haven’t had much experience in the world of theatre. Replies such as “Oh, I’m sure someone else could do it better”, “I’ll be awful!” and “Was that good enough?” are surprisingly commonplace. When asking people to help you with your project, fill them with confidence. You’ve specifically chosen this person to play the role because you think they are a great fit and would pull it off well. Tell them that! It is great encouragement for them to know that someone believes in their ability.

Once you’ve got your willing voice actor, it’s time to set up for the recordings. First of all, decide which characters would fit your voice actor the best. Typecasting is fine, but don’t be afraid to push your actors into unfamiliar territory too. They might just surprise you! Once you’ve decided on your characters, give your actor the chance to have a look through the script before the day of the recording. This gives them some time to think about their characters and get their tongue around some words which may be foreign to them (i.e. names and places). It can be helpful to space out your script to allow the actor to make notes, annotations or changes.

It’s important to make sure that your actor is given context of the scripts that they’re reading. Give them a good description of the character they are playing. Show them an image if one is available. Explain their situation, and how the character is feeling in each line. There are often small nuances you will want to highlight in the script that they may never pick up on otherwise.

When you get to your recording studio, make sure your voice actor feels comfortable. Get them a glass of water before the recordings. They should always have something to drink, especially if you expect the recording session to be a long one. Along with physical comfort, you should ensure that they feel mentally prepared for the recordings. They may have the jitters. The fear often sets in once the voice actors get in front of the microphone. Some will get stage-fright worse than others. If they are finding it particularly difficult to get started, here are a few tips:

  • When you start the recordings, don’t say something like “Go” or “Now”. This can put the actor under pressure. Instead start with something like “In your own time” or “Whenever you’re ready”. This gives them a few seconds to breathe, or re-read, or do whatever they need to prepare themselves and get themselves into the zone.
  • Have them read the script through in their natural voice, simply saying out loud the words written on the page, then slowly add elements to the readings – an accent, a change in tone, a different emphasis. Record this and treat it as a real recording. If you don’t, you might just miss a perfect recording!
  • If a character is talking to another character, don’t hesitate to take on the role of the other character if possible. Read the complementing lines back to your actor, or if the responses are rhetorical/imaginary then make up some lines to get an appropriate response from your actor.

I’ve used these techniques with actors who have had great difficulty getting any recordings done. They are usually only used in extreme situations, and often actors ease into it after a few lines.

If the actor will be recording several characters, always start with the easiest, or the one most that is most in their comfort zone. As they warm up to the process and begin getting into character, they will have an easier time committing themselves more fully to characters that are more challenging.

No matter how confident the voice actor, always give praise for each line that you record. After nearly every line I will say “Nice”. If I really like a line I will often laugh afterwards because of how perfectly it fits the character’s voice. Having written the script, I always have a particular voice or interpretation in mind. Unfortunately, laughter can sometimes unsettle the actor, so I always have to remember to explain that it’s a good sign when I laugh.

Because there can sometimes be small issues with a recording – bad pronunciation, undue pauses, odd intonation, even unexpected background noise – I make a habit of taking three high quality takes before moving onto the next line. I sometimes take the first half of one recording and the second half of another recording, mixing and matching the best takes. This way you’re almost guaranteed to get all the recordings you need the first time around without a need for retakes.

If something isn’t quite right with a line, don’t be afraid to change the script. I have found on several occasions that a line may sound perfectly fine when it’s written, but as soon as you have to read it out loud it feels clunky or unnatural or awkward. Feel free to ask for your actor’s input as well. It can be beneficial to try a few different ways of recording a line and then listening to them back later; sometimes I might not be happy with a recording when we take it, but when I’m editing it a few days later I find that it’s actually the best one.

Even if I’m not happy with a line when we try it a different way, I’ll still at least give a “Cool”, “Okay”, or “Got it” without giving off a vibe that I won’t be using the clip. It’s often good to phrase changes to a line’s delivery as a separate idea, rather than a correction. Instead of “Oh, I’d prefer you to do it this way,” say “Nice! Now this time let’s try it this way.” The latter is much more encouraging and motivates the actor.

Some lengthier scripts can be very daunting. A few characters that we’ve had voiced have had lengthy monologues of up to two minutes to reel off. This can be quite overwhelming, and with some of the intricacies of voice acting I find it better to cut the script up into smaller lines. This makes it easier not only for the actor but also for you, as keeping note of all of the minute details that you want changing in a huge piece of text whilst recording can be confusing for both parties. The only danger to that way of recording is having your lines not flow properly into one another. Just be wary when using this technique.

Honestly, I’ve had a great time doing recordings and so have the voice actors. It’s great fun and often ends with an awesome product.

If you are interested in tips for NPC character development, check out our other post “I Don’t Want to Talk to You” – Tips for Character Development for NPCs in Video Games