Voice Over Education Blog

August 2016

Voice actors are told “Be the animal.” Is that too esoteric?


Played any animals lately? How do you play one? We advise not playing an animal, but rather, being the animal. It may seem like a small distinction, of mere academic interest to only some actors. But it can be an important distinction, especially as you seek to find some quality in an animal character that helps make you unique. Not so important, maybe if your character is just drawn like an animal but meant to sound like an ordinary human. However, it can be very helpful if you’re trying to come up with an original animal character.

The New Yorker magazine recently carried an article about some artist-types who have taken this thinking to the extreme. It opens interesting lines of thought.

The article is about two men who (separately) tried to physically become animals for awhile ... in their real human lives, actually living and even trying to think like a different species. Their experiences provide lessons even for those of us who only need to be the voice of an animal.

In “The Metamorphosis; What Is it Like To Be an Animal” Joshua Rothman relates these individuals’ approaches, putting them into a literary context that goes way back. As far back as Homer, even. (If NewYorker.com archives are not available to you, check out the May 30, 2016 edition of The New Yorker magazine at the library.)

One of these individuals was Thomas Thwaite. You may have heard of him when he made news by building a toaster from scratch. (He even mined the metal and made his own plastic. It didn’t work, but did wind up in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s permanent collection.)

This week’s voice-over accent is on accents. Just saying.


In the voice-over marketplace, the most widely saleable U.S. accent is the “neutral” American accent (“standard”), typified by the northern Midwest. For example, Nebraska, where Johnny Carson hailed from. But as you’ll see in this Dialect Map of American English, there are a LOT of other U.S. accents, and among the many VO genres, there are various markets and uses for them. When you’re playing a character, or evoking a sound, how do you choose accurately?

Even within this tremendous range, the map’s author (admittedly) lumps some together – including the various accents traditional to New York City. So, for example, let’s look at that...

New York City is not just one accent. But it’s fewer than it used to be.

Out-of-towners might not be aware of some distinctions, so it’s important to note the difference between a “stereotype” accent and an authentic one. The stereotype might play okay in a comedy or a commercial, but there’s the danger of offending the locale’s natives, and mostly likely won’t fool anyone in the neighborhood for a minute.

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