Five Myths of Voice Acting for Child Actors (with video)
It seems like animation is everywhere! Feature films, television shows, commercials, video games and web series. With animation come several needs for performers like voice actors and motion-capture artists. How do some actors become the voice of a cartoon character? And what about voice acting for child actors? Take a look at Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel at work recording in the studio for Disney’s animated feature film Frozen:
While talented adults can recreate the sense of youth, Hollywood casting often shows it sometimes takes an actual child to bring just the right sound to a voice over role. As early as 1939, 12 year old Dick Jones was cast to voice Disney’s Pinocchio. In Disney’s Frozen, the young versions of Anna and Elsa got their voices from young actresses Livvy Stubenrauch, Eva Bella, Spencer Lacey Ganus, while yet another two young ladies performed Anna’s vocals for the song “Do You Want To Build a Snowman?” And the leader of the Duplo aliens (a product designed specifically for preschoolers) was voiced by 3 year old Graham Miller in the 2014 blockbuster The Lego Movie. Our own Sanai Victoria from our acting school for kids in Los Angeles voices several animated characters and is a series regular on two different animated television shows!
So how does voice acting work, exactly? Like acting for any medium or audience, voice acting takes interest, training, confidence and commitment. To start, let’s dispel some common voice work myths.
Myth 1: Voice work takes a great voice.
Actually, voice work requires versatility, and versatility comes from acting skills, talent, confidence and commitment. What gets voice actors cast? Their acting! First and foremost, voice actors must do what actors do, communication emotions and real-feeling experiences to their audience. Voice actors do this almost entirely with their voices (though the animation itself certainly contributes!). So most important for voice actors is their acting.
Myth 2: Voice work is only for adults who do lots of voices.
There is a major trend in American animation and voice acting to use “authentic” voices for child characters when possible. If you’ve seen (and heard) animated television series like The Backyardigans, Fisher Price’s Little People, and Disney’s Palace Pets, you’ve heard youthful voice work by real child actors, like 3-2-1- Acting student Sanai Victoria. Sometimes, actors go back and forth between voice and on-camera acting. Other times, they specialize and those child castings become life-long adult voice acting careers.
Myth 3: Voice work ends when your voice changes.
Change and growth are an actor’s bread and butter! Tara Strong’s career took off at the age of 13 when she was cast to voice the television title character for the animated series Hello Kitty. Her thirteen year old voice fit the character and her acting skills were up to the task. Melissa Altro voiced the title character Muffy for 16 years, starting at age 12! Her natural voice changed over time, but so did her vocal control as she matured as an actor. Today, Tara does many voices for many different projects, but she credits her acting and commitment to developing as an actor overall for her great success.
Myth 4: Voice acting is easier than other kinds of acting.
All forms of acting are uniquely their own, and all rely on the actor’s willingness and ability to access their instrument (their body, voice, imagination and emotions) and communicate with others. Recorded performances are by nature removed from the audience. The work flow of animation is such that some voice actors record their performances with only a little concept art and the script to go on.
For Disney’s Frozen, actors Kristen Bell (who played Anna) and Idina Menzel (who played Elsa) got to work in somewhat in sight of each other for at least some of their voice work on Frozen. However, most voice acting tends to be more isolated from other cast members, who might each record their half of an argument a month apart. Often voice actors are cast in multiple roles in the same project (because they can pull it off and it’s budget friendly, reducing costs and production time), so they might be arguing with or interrupting…themselves!
Myth 5: You need an “in” to get cast as a voice actor.
Networking, knowing people and personal references are tremendous assets in every profession. And in every profession, every success begins somewhere. If you or your youngster are interested in voice acting, acting classes are a great place to start! Find acting classes for kids that include a record and playback component so you can review and react to your own performances, see (and hear!) your growth. Voice actors don’t have the advantage of feeling out a live audience to temper delivery, pace or tone, so recording and playing back are essential. For youngsters, look for an acting school for children that specializes in working with young people.
Your acting school may also be able to direct you to coaches who specialize in voice work, voice demo reel services, and casting sites that are specific to vocal professionals. You might even seek a talent agent who specializes in that field. Are you a parent who likes to be involved? Just as “real family” casting has become a trend in commercial and reality programming, there are voice over families with parents and children involved in voice acting!