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How to Create Different Voices for Your Characters [VOICE ACTING 101]

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Creating character voices in voice acting is a creative skill that is nurtured over time. While it might seem a little silly to set aside time to practice talking to yourself in different voices, this activity is one of the best ways to improve your voice acting skills and create distinct characters for your repertoire.

So how do you go about creating new characters for your voice-acting portfolio? Read on to learn more about the different aspects of voice that can affect characterization and what kind of exercises are useful for creating distinct characters.

Techniques for Crafting Character Voices

Creating different voices for your characters in voice acting involves using techniques that address the individual aspects of your voice used to denote character.

Below you’ll find some features of the human voice manipulated by voice actors to craft new character voices.

Noise in Voice Acting

Noise added to the voice can give it a sharp, rasping, or growling sound useful in creating characters with a dark edge. Noise can also be added to your voice to provide it with an older or more weathered sound for elderly characters.

When people think of the iconic rasping voice that Christian Bale uses in his depiction of Batman in the Christopher Nolan film, this is the type of voice acting noise we’re talking about.

Listen to a voice comparison of Bale and the other Batman actors over the years. Each one uses different inflection to infuse the character with varying noise levels to convey his grim personality.

Pitch in Voice Acting

Pitch is the highness or lowness of a tone heard by the ear. In voice acting, pitching your voice higher or lower can convey either the scale of the character or their age.

Deep-pitched voices are used to indicate a character that is large or imposing, while high-pitched voices are used more often to depict a child or weaker character.

Pitch in voice acting is also an effective tool for getting across emotional content in the character’s voice. High-pitched sounds in the voice are generated by vocal resonance in the head and nose, while low-pitched sounds in the voice are generated by vocal resonance in the chest. (Source: VoiceScienceWorks)

When learning how to create characters in voice acting, you can adjust pitch by humming a flat tone and then trying to change the resonance of your humming by pitching your voice either through your nose and the top of your vocal cords (high pitch) or at the base of your throat in your chest (low pitch).

Rhythm in Voice Acting

Breath pauses, emphasis on certain words, and other rhythm indicators in speech can go a long way towards differentiating between characters in voice acting.

In voice acting, rhythm is the sound of the voice as interrupted and influenced by natural pauses, pacing, and diction over time.

Along with character creation, achieving a fluid rhythm when emulating a character is crucial for voice actors since being able to smoothly operate in character without losing the diction and speech rhythms that make the character distinct is a skill that comes with lots of practice.

Rhythm in voice acting is also influenced by the cadence of a person’s speech. Cadence is how the pitch and rhythm of a person’s speech change as they speak.

These changes occur not just in general but also in a specific speaking situation. Cadence is used to convey shifting emotional states in a given scene with a character. (Source: Such a Voice)

Accent in Voice Acting

Developing accents is an important skill for voice actors to learn, and mimicking geographical accents is often one of the first ways a person gets into voice acting as a hobby or career.

Many actors employ dialect coaches so that their character voice in an accent sounds authentic.

A great way to get an idea of how each accent sounds to the ear, especially for more rare accents, is to check out accent videos on YouTube or other media sites.

Listening to these videos lets you hear how an accent sounds over and over again, allowing you to repeat the sounds back until you’re able to reproduce them consistently.

Some accents are more sought-after in voice acting roles than others, such as British or Southern-American accents, while other accents like French accents are considered difficult to pull off convincingly. (Source: Voices)

In creating different voices for characters, accents are a good way to give the audience an idea where a character is from and their social class. A Southern accent with poor grammar will convey a very different character than a clipped, educated London accent.

Tips for Trying Out New Character Voices

When you’re developing new character voices as a voice actor, there are many different exercises you can try to improve the distinct qualities of your character voices and make them easier to tell apart.

A large part of learning to convey different characters accurately is learning how to listen to various characters carefully to pick out the nuances in their speech.

Here are a few tips for trying out new character voices you’re developing:  

  • Lip read over a muted television show or movie. Lip reading over a TV show or movie is good practice because it gives you a visual reference to serve as a concept for characters. Playing with different voices for different fictional characters in shows or movies can give you a jumping-off point to create your own hybrid voices and variations.
  • Get in lots of practice. Practice makes perfect in many learned skills, and voice acting is no exception to the rule. The more you practice differentiating between your original character voices, the more distinct those voices will become from each other over time.
  • Think about your character backgrounds. When you’re coming up with different characters as a voice actor, it’s important to think beyond what a character sounds like. Consider a character’s emotional depth and education when you’re coming up with their voice as well. What do they like to do when they’re alone? What makes them angry?
  • Read the dialogue in books aloud. Practicing reading books aloud improves your rhythm and diction in oration and gives you the chance to practice all the voices by reading the dialogue of different characters. If you become skilled in this type of voice acting, you can even specialize in audiobook narration as a voice actor.
    (Source: Bunny Studio)
  • Come up with some visual references. If you’re trying to develop completely original character voices for voice acting, collecting a few visual references like some concept art or photographs that remind you of that character can help you get a better idea of what they would actually sound like.

Voice acting well is about learning how to manipulate your voice, and the practice techniques above can help a voice actor solidify their skills. However, it’s also about learning how to read fictional characters and people too. This is how to come up with interesting voices that stand out in a pitch session.

Creating Different Character Voices Takes Time

Like singing or playing a musical instrument, the vocal mimicry needed to become a skilled voice actor can only be achieved over months or even years of practice and study.

If you’re trying to stand out as a character voice actor, it’s well worth the time and effort to practice if you want to become known for producing great character voices.