How can you get your character vocalizing even before they’re supposed to speak?
“Pre-life” is the improvised audible utterance you might make before delivering a scripted line. You could also see it as a vocal form of preparation for what is to come.
Find out how pre-life comes into play and how you can use the technique to improvise in character while adding more context to your read.
What is Pre-Life?
When I was in Bob Bergen’s Advanced Animation Voice-Over weekend workshop, Bob told us that writers give voice artists “Pre-life” cues by writing words into the script such as Er, Um, Ah, or Ouf.
These short, staccato words are the director’s attempts to give you the shape of an exertion or pre-life sound without actually telling you how to vocalize the utterance verbatim.
I trust you can imagine how challenging it might be to even anticipate what your interpretation will be let alone try to write out exactly how they might expect a scream, howl, or cry to sound.
Having Artistic Direction and Improv Skills Come in Handy
Your task is to interpret what the writer is hinting at and run with it! The onus is on you to vocally create what the writer is limited in scripting.
Don’t read these pre-life words as they appear, for instance, don’t say “Um.” Work with the copy and improvise.
Ask yourself how your character would deliver the pre-life utterance. If you get to know your character well, you can improvise anything from how they might breathe, cough, laugh, hesitate, and more.
One suggestion that I have is to give a little pre-life before an action takes place, even if the pre-life utterances don’t appear in the script. This is voice acting, after all!
You can also squeeze some of that pre-life into the line that you’re reading. It doesn’t have to be separated by a clear glottal stop or decisive breath… it can organically flow into what you’re about to say. Even the way that you inhale can be used to fuel pre-life delivery.
Have You Been Making Use of this Acting Technique?
Some people do this without even being aware that they are doing it. Perhaps it comes naturally to you!
Others need to work at this technique and might have to write out the pre-life to a degree considering its duration, motivation, and how the voice may modulate to achieve your goal.
Comment if you’re a fan of this technique! I’d love to hear about how you employ this technique. Reply either by email or by commenting directly on the blog.