How to direct voice actors for your GoAnimate video

Don LaFontaine. Does that name ring a bell? You’re forgiven if it doesn’t; after all: he was simply heard, not seen. Universally acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest voice actors, he narrated an incalculable number of movie trailers, video game trailers, network promotions, TV documentaries, and commercials.

Suffice to say, LaFontaine didn’t need much direction when performing. He was an exception to the rule, however. No matter how talented voice actors are, they’re not mind readers. In other words, to get your GoAnimate video narrated the way you hear it in your head, you’ll need to provide direction — the right kind of direction —  to turn it into the runaway success you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Here’s how.

Understanding Your Role

Especially if you’re a newbie, voiceover direction can be intimidating. Unlike the role of a voiceover artist, the director’s duties aren’t that clearly defined. Nevertheless, the director’s role is arguably the most important. As the liaison between actors, writers, producers, and engineers, the director has a myriad responsibilities, including:

  • Determining the flow and tone of the voice actor’s performance;
  • Breaking down the script by character, by scene, and by beats within each scene;
  • Conveying expectations to everyone involved;
  • Choosing how to edit and what to cut from the final product.

Stepping Into the Role Constructively and Efficiently

There’s a fine line between overworking an actor to the point where the words of the script no longer have meaning, and finding that perfect inflection so the script comes to life.

What to do before the recording session

Just as a lawyer doesn’t walk into the courtroom without an outline of his argument, when directing voice actors, you should never walk into a production without knowing what you want. The first step is to define your voice profile. Determining the voice profile is one of the most important steps in achieving your goal. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is the intended audience? If you’re trying to sell a product to a middle-aged woman, you’ll likely want a very different tone than if your target demographic is a teenage male. Consider these factors before finalizing your script and choosing a voiceover talent.
  • What is the desired outcome? It’s helpful to work backwards in the process. That is, know what you hope to accomplish before anything else. While the overarching goal is to generate more business, what do you want the immediate response to be? How do you want listeners to feel when they listen to the voice?
  • How much are you willing to pay? Fees for voiceover talents vary considerably. Consider all the variables carefully (including how many revisions you anticipate making), before deciding on a budget. With a price in mind, you’ll be able to narrow down potential candidates.
  • What audio examples can you find that actually convey the style you are seeking? It does little good to say: “Sound like Will Smith,” or “be just like X commercial,” without the actor being able to listen to what you mean. Provide a sample of what you like. Some actors can mimic voices well; if they’re able to hear what you like, they can decide if it’s within their vocal and performance range. Alternatively, you can listen to the actor’s portfolio and reference a specific sample that conveys what you’re looking for.

Convey your wishes to the actor

Once you have a voice profile in mind, it’s time to tell the actor what you want. Begin by using descriptive words to convey the tone you require. Keep in mind that words like ‘upbeat’ and ‘nice’ are highly subjective. Instead, when directing voice actors, try words that are more specific, such as emotive, sassy, concerned, or over-the-top. Provide a detailed brief that includes keywords to use and also words to omit, such as the one available on VoiceBunny.

Give your actor a well-written and proofread script. Read it aloud beforehand to make sure it reads easily and well. Offer a pronunciation key for unfamiliar words or words that you want expressed in a specific accent or dialect.

Let your actor know what visuals and music are to be paired with their voice work. It can even be helpful to provide them with headphones to listen to the sound effects and music in advance so that they can shift into the appropriate mood.

Lastly, before starting production, talk to the actor to clarify specifics. Part of directing voice actors is ensuring you are on the same page with regard to synchronization, and flexibility the script may offer. This is a good time to specify preferences, such as numbers (is an area code read as ‘two-zero-zero’ or ‘two-oh-oh’?) and words with multiple pronunciations, such as ‘awnt’ or ‘ant.’

What to do during the recording session

Part of your role when directing voice actors is ensuring everyone feels comfortable. If the actor feels stifled, micromanaged, or harshly judged, they won’t be able to deliver what you want. Likewise, if you have them run through the script 80 times, they’ll lose interest and momentum. Do your best to establish a sense of cameraderie.

Directing an actor is analogous to being a backseat driver. If you tell the actor to go left while pointing to the right, there’s a good chance a collision will follow. If you forget to announce a turn until the last second, you might hit a curb or miss the turn altogether. Ensure your directions are timely and your feedback concise, constructive and consistent.

Timing is often critical. You need to indicate whether sections of the script need to be read in so many seconds, or the whole script in so many minutes. Be sensitive to the needs of the actor so you can feel when it’s time to move on to another part of the script or request another take.

If you aren’t achieving the results you want, consider providing a line reading. Note that this should be a last resort and only after you’ve made sure your directions are clear. It can be detrimental to start out with a line reading—after all, the actor was hired for both voice quality and interpretive skill. Nonetheless, doing so can offer valuable insight.

What to do after the recording session

Now that the last word has been delivered, it’s time to relax… right? Not entirely. Provide all-around feedback. Offer praise and encouragement. Also, be sure to communicate with the audio engineer. This will help you to catch any mistakes early on and discuss alternatives if re-recording is not an option.

As a final step, reflect on what you did well and what can be improved on for the next session of directing voice actors. Ultimately, it’s all about learning, growing, and producing a video everyone involved can be proud of!