Archive for the ‘Voicetrax’ category

New character demo uploaded

May 29, 2012

Exactly what the headline promises…

My new character demo has been produced and uploaded! Check it out at the link below:

CHARACTER DEMO (:90)

It’s an entertaining sampling of my character stylings for animation and video games. Not an exhaustive catalog, by any means — just a few of the voices inside my head.

My sincere thanks to the team at Voicetrax San Francisco: the incomparable Samantha Paris, who directed and co-produced; and the inimitable Chuck Kourouklis, who co-produced and engineered.

Enjoy!

The Mic Guy at the mic (where else?)

January 31, 2011

Yikes… it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here. This occasion, however, warrants the resurrection.

On January 19, I recorded my new commercial demo at Voicetrax San Francisco. That’s Samantha Paris, my beloved mentor and coach, in the director’s chair; voice actor and technical wizard supreme Chuck Kourouklis manned the sound board and video equipment.

This video demonstrates two essential facts: (1) Samantha is an amazing director; and (2) I should stick to acting off-camera.

My new demo, however, will be awesome.

Thanks to Samantha and Chuck for a fantastic experience!

Internationally speaking…

August 14, 2009

After four weeks of toiling in my dialects and accents workshop, here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • My British accent isn’t too shabby. I did a credible Claude Rains riff for the final exercise. And in Prototypes class last evening, my Hugh Grant takeoff favorably impressed some of my fellow actors, who didn’t even realize that it was me.
  • Two years of high school German 30 years ago? I got nothing now.
  • Two years of living in Greece 35 years ago? Ditto.
  • Never attempt an Italian accent in front of a bona fide Italian.
  • I can do a pretty effective Southern dialect. But I’d rather not.

Accents are definitely not my strong suit, which is exactly the reason I enrolled in this course. But I now have some tools to work with, and some resources to utilize when the situation demands.

More than anything, I need to listen more.

That’s probably good advice for my life outside of voiceover, too.

Studied prototypical

August 5, 2009

Given that I’ve been working so much on character acting of late — I’m three-fourths of the way through a class on dialects, and I just wrapped a workshop on acting for animation and video game projects, with another of the latter coming this weekend — I haven’t been working much in my natural voice.

Which is just fine with me.

I’m always intrigued by other people’s perception of my unaltered sound. A while back, one of the directors at a workshop I attended told me that I sound like Seth Rogen. I don’t hear that at all — for one thing, Seth’s speaking voice is a good deal deeper than mine — but since at least one person with good ears hears me that way, I’ve been watching a number of Seth’s movies lately and trying to incorporate cues from his delivery.

In the workshop I took last weekend, the rest of the group was convinced that I’m a vocal ringer for Albert Brooks. That one makes more sense to me — Brooks’s flat, southern California affect is admittedly similar to the one I’ve developed over 30 years as a resident of the Golden State — so again, I’ve been checking out everything from Out of Sight to Finding Nemo to see what I can learn.

My current Thursday evening workshop is built around prototyping — using other actors as models for tonality, rhythm, and character type. The great Thom Pinto assigned me Willem Dafoe as my primary prototype. (Why do I always get the sinister ones?) As anyone who has heard him speak knows, Dafoe has several vocal eccentricities that are uniquely his, and difficult to imitate without his particular instrument. Working at modeling him, however, is helping to ground me in the deeper, more modulated range that appears to be my money voice for straight commercial and narration copy.

For character reads, I’m modeling Paul Giamatti as my primary prototype. Of all the actors I’ve mentioned in this post thus far, Giamatti is the one who sounds the most similar to me in my own ears. Like mine, his voice has both a reedy edge and a darker texture underlying that, creating a sort of indefinable quirkiness in the sound. Giamatti’s voice also reflects an intellectual-intense-yet-insecure quality that resonates with me. I’ve been practicing some of Paul’s short monologues from Sideways, and — for the benefit of contrast — a sampling of his lines as the over-the-top villain in Shoot ‘Em Up. Between the two, I’m fleshing out a couple of strong characters that I’ll be able to draw from again and again.

It’s funny…

…the more I work at becoming someone else, the more I discover of myself.

Making it do what it do

July 30, 2009

If I’ve learned anything in my recent voiceover workouts — and let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I have — it’s about the essential importance of acting over voice quality.

Or, as Sirenetta told our accents and dialects class, “Play the scene, and the voice will follow.”

It’s taking a while — okay, like, a year now — for that message to penetrate my skull. But I think it’s beginning to sink in.

I’m trying to train myself to be less conscious of what my voice sounds like, and focus completely on acting whatever role I happen to be playing in the moment, whether a character, spokesperson, or narrator. When I manage to suppress that sometimes overwhelming compulsion to audit my voice and tinker with the sound, there’s no question but that I get more effective performances. Still, when that microphone and copy stand appear before me, that sneaky self-editing demon creeps in and starts tugging at my ears.

Deep down inside, I know it’s a crisis of confidence. I don’t always fully trust my voice to do what my acting choices require of it. Foolish, I know, because when I let it work, it works just fine.

I need an infusion of the great Ray Charles, who once said of his prodigious talent, “I just make it do what it do, baby.”

When I’m in the booth this evening, and throughout this weekend, I’m going to try to shut the editing demon off, and just make it do what it do.

Blimey!

July 24, 2009

In an effort to expand my vocal repertoire, I’m taking a four-week seminar on accents and dialects.

One might suppose that this aspect of voice acting would come easily to me, given that (a) I’ve lived on three continents, as well as in both Hawaii and the polyglot Bay Area, and (b) I have friends who speak with a variety of accents — Mexican Spanish, Australian, East Indian, and so on — and thus am frequently exposed to different approaches to spoken English.

Well, if that’s what one supposed, one would have another supposition coming.

The focus for the first workshop session was the British accent. In fact, as I discovered — or perhaps already knew, but had never given it much thought — there are a number of British accents: Received Pronunciation, as is familiar to anyone who’s listened to programming from the BBC; Cockney; Estuary, which combines elements of both of the preceding; Manchester; Liverpool; Yorkshire (if you’ve ever seen The Full Monty, it’s that Sheffield one); plus national derivations such as Scottish and Welsh. I’m sure there are several others as well.

Already, the task was tougher than I’d figured.

As instructed, I prepared for the class by watching a couple of films from the Harry Potter series, and attempting to mimic the accent of one of the characters. I chose Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley as my model, both because Grint’s accent is distinctive to my American ear, and because Ron is sufficiently prominent in the films that I had ample material to listen to. And, although young Rupert’s vocal characteristics differ somewhat from my own, his timbre is similar enough that I didn’t have to manufacture a texture or tone to copy his accent.

When I arrived at class and began reviewing the copy for the first exercise, I immediately identified a shortcoming in my preparation. I’d done a fair amount of listen-and-repeat with Ron’s dialogue from two of the Potter films. I had not, however, considered as much as I should have how to apply Rupert/Ron’s speech pattern to words and phrases that didn’t occur in the film scripts. My greatest challenge, then, became trying to think of how to use that accent to pronounce words I’d never heard Ron Weasley pronounce.

My success was, at best, mediocre.

The next two exercises produced better results. Freed from the requirement to copy a specific individual’s accent, I was able to give more attention to the problem of acting effectively while maintaining a (more generic) British dialect. By the time we got to the third batch of copy — sides from a video game featuring English-accented characters — I felt that I was back in my element. The actor in me could take over, and just allow the accent to flow from the character I created and the acting choices associated with that character.

Ultimately, acting with an accent or dialect is not so different from speaking a foreign language. To become facile with the speech, you have to learn to think in that voice. Which is why my foreign language skills stink… and why I’m taking a course on accents and dialects.

Next week, the American South. We’ll see how I do with that… y’all.

Who says I’ve got no class?

June 4, 2009

The incomparable Shirley, the office manager at Voicetrax, called this morning to review my course schedule for the upcoming term.

I managed to score most of the classes that I wanted to take. I’m on the wait list for one course that was rescheduled, but aside from that, I’ll stay pretty busy through early October.

Among the workshops in which I’ll be participating:

  • A pair of classes on character development. Since character work appears to be my unexpected strength, I might as well maximize my growth there.
  • A prototypes workshop. Fun stuff there — using successful VO professionals as models from whom to learn.
  • A class on exploring the vocal instrument. I can always benefit from more self-discovery.
  • Two classes on script analysis, because I need all the help I can get.
  • Another scuffle with my old nemesis, narration. I’ve been focusing my daily reads in this area, so this should be a much improved experience.
  • A weekend workshop on audition strategy. I’m really looking forward to that one. Can you ever really learn too much about how to book gigs?

Looks like a veritable cornucopia of skill- and knowledge-building opportunities. I can hardly wait for July to get started!

Positive direction

May 22, 2009

My four-week workshop on self-directing skills has concluded, and what have I learned?

That my self-directing skills need work.

Not that that’s a shocker.

Actually, I’m proud of the work I did during these four weeks. My script analysis, though still light-years from perfection, is improving. I’m getting better at asking the right questions about the copy in front of me, and coming up with answers that align with the copywriter’s intention (as opposed to what I would prefer to do). At the same time, I’m finding more success at not overthinking my way into performance paralysis.

I’m also finding myself more consistent. I’m having fewer truly wretched first takes, and more frequent final takes that would be strongly competitive in the marketplace. And with less adjustment needed in between.

So that’s progress.

I received an encouraging compliment last evening from another student who’s already a working pro: “You make good choices before you go into the booth.” If that’s evident to anyone besides myself, I must be doing at least a few things well.

Two months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say that.

My audiobook workshop, originally scheduled to start next week, has been rescheduled for late June. That means I’m entirely on my own for workouts over the next month. I have a plan for approaching this time period that I’m looking forward to implementing. (One of the things I’ll be working on is my entry for Scott Brick’s audiobook narration contest.) I now have ample tools, gained in my classes since the first of this year, that I’ll spend focused hours sharpening each day.

Besides which, the extra month will give me time to come up with a plausible excuse for forgetting Lisa Baney’s name in front of Scott Brick.

What’s your chain?

May 20, 2009

The other day, I was musing about the fact that, even though I hold a four-year degree in broadcast communications (from San Francisco State University‘s acclaimed Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts department, no less), my technical skills are rudimentary, to be polite.

Okay, I’ll confess… I sleepwalked through my audio production classes. (Ask Professor John Barsotti if you think I’m kidding.)

Since getting into the VO field, I’ve been wishing that I’d paid more attention in those classes. Yes, they were a quarter of a century ago (egad!), and audio technology has changed immeasurably in that time. Still, I’m sure that the basic principles would be standing me in good stead now… if only I could remember them.

Wherever voice actors congregate, whether in meatspace or cyberspace, they love to talk tools. Microphones, preamps, digital audio interfaces, recording software — all are grist for the VO chat mill. Taken together, the various elements used to capture, preserve, and manipulate a vocal performance are called a recording chain. Thus, at the voice actors’ watering hole, the traditional pickup line, “What’s your sign?” gets transmogrified into, “What’s your chain?”

In case anyone’s interested, here’s my chain.

I own two microphones, mostly because they cost about the same, and at the time I was putting my setup together, I couldn’t decide which I preferred.

The mic I use most frequently is a Rode NT1-A, a steady, solid performer that’s quite flattering to my individual vocal characteristics. The NT1A adds a pleasant richness to the lower end of my range, and is my go-to mic for most copy when I’m using my natural voice or a close permutation thereof.

My second mic is a Studio Projects C1, another fine piece of equipment that emphasizes the brighter notes in my tessitura. I’ll often plug in the C1 when I’m working on character scripts, or copy where I’d like to have more youthful sparkle in my sound. The C1 is also the mic I use on the rare occasion when I record myself singing.

Since my home office doubles as my studio, and the space lacks acoustical treatment of any kind, I surround my mic with a RealTraps Portable Vocal Booth. It’s not exactly like being in a fully treated environment, but for my money, it’s the next best thing.

My preamp and digital audio interface are the same simple device: a cEntrance MicPort Pro. This phenomenal little gizmo shoulders triple duty in my chain. It (1) provides 48 volt phantom power to my mic of choice; (2) converts the microphone output into binary code so that my computer can understand and manage it, via a USB port; and (3) provides a headphone output for either monitoring (which I don’t use; I don’t like to wear my cans when I voice) or playback (which I do use). Most amazingly, the MicPort Pro handles all of these tasks in a sleek, compact unit the size of a cigar. It adds no discernable color to the recording — just serves up clean, accurate sound. And, it’s small and lightweight enough that I can toss it into my briefcase to record when I’m traveling. Everyone who records into a computer should own one of these.

I use the simplest and most basic recording software available: Audacity, available as a free download all over the ‘Net. So far, I haven’t needed anything more elaborate. One of these days, though, I’d like to upgrade to Adobe Audition, if only because that’s what the engineers at Voicetrax use, and I’d like to be able to understand what they’re doing when I’m in the booth.

As noted above, I don’t often wear headphones when I record. Doing so feels awkward and unnatural to me, and introduces an unnecessary stumbling block to my performing. Since I don’t own a set of studio monitors, however, I do use my cans (that’s tech talk for “headphones,” a vestige of my long-ago radio days) for playback and editing. Mine are Sennheiser HD 280 Professionals — comfortable, clear, and efficiently noise-dampening.

My notebook computer is a Dell Inspiron 9400, running the much-detested (at least, by me) Windows Vista. My aging eyes love its ginormous 19″ display.

That’s my chain. It’s inexpensive and simple, but it works for me — and that’s the bottom line.

Horatio

May 15, 2009

At last evening’s workshop, one of my fellow actors shared an epiphany she’d experienced in a private coaching session earlier in the day.

“How would you describe yourself?” the coach had asked her.

“Strong,” my colleague replied. “Authoritative. Forceful.”

“But you’re not that way at all,” said the coach. “You’re funny. Friendly. Lively. Engaging. And warm.”

“Then I realized,” continued my actor friend, “that I was describing the persona I put on when I’m at work. That’s how I think of myself. But that’s not the person I really am. Or, at least, it’s not the entire person I am.”

I’ve come to that same realization along my voice acting journey. There are aspects of my existence where I put on, not a false front, but a persona designed to craft a certain perception. Certainly, that persona is a facet of me, but it’s not the complete me — nor even the greater portion of me.

The me that comes out at the microphone is often quite different from the me that I once expected to find there. Like my friend, I anticipated a voice that would project the aura that I often project in my non-acting life. But the microphone reveals facets of my personality that I often conceal — some, in fact, that I didn’t even know were in there.

More often than not, it is those hidden facets that seem the easiest, the most transparent, in the voiceover booth. It’s those voices and colors that shine in my performances, whereas those that I am more accustomed to exposing in daily life require far more nuance to ring true.

As Hamlet once said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

It appears that there are more things within each of us than we’ve dreamt of, as well.


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