Creating Sustainable Characters


    Are you able to sustain the characters you create? Do remember how to get to the place where each voice came from? Elley-Ray Hennessy delivers a comprehensive lesson on how you can use your entire instrument to differentiate characters, make them real and how to document them so that you can quickly get into the voices you have made. You never know when a voice from your catalog of characters will be called upon to audition so do your homework now starting with these tips from actress, writer and voice director, Elley-Ray Hennessy.

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    Elley-Ray Hennessy

    Your Instructor this week:

    Voice Over Expert Elley-Ray Hennessy
    Elley-Ray Hennessey, voice actress, directorElley-Ray Hennessy is an international, award-winning actress, writer, director and producer who has been in over 290 stage and film productions, voiced thousands radio and television commercials and appeared in countless animation series and animation feature films. A multiple Dora, Jesse, Gemini, and Pauline McGibbon award nominee and holding Ken McDougal and Harold awards, her recent accomplishments include the feature film “Then Again,” St. Francis of Millbrook directed by Sky Gilbert, directing and voicing “Z-Baw” for Imagination Films, commercial spots for Zellers and TD Bank and two 3D animation feature films (Alley of Dreams, Papagiorgio the Great).
    She was chosen as one of the Mille Femmes in LuminaTO for outstanding contribution to the arts including hosting the red carpet at Dora Mavor Moore awards and serving as a juror in the “Best Voice” category for the Emmys and was a VIP presenter at Voice 2012.” Some of her voice credits include: Sidekick, My Big, Big Friend, Spider Ryder, Franklin, Babar, Busy Town, Yam Roll, Bernstein Bears, Robo Roach, Get Ed, Bakugan, & Carl Squared just to name a small few from her resume.


    [Opening Music]
    Welcome to Voice Over Experts, brought to you by the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform and succeed from the privacy of your own home, and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else. Now for our special guest.
    Elley-Ray: Okay. Creating sustainable characters. Vocal placement [laughs] is the bane of most character voice performers’ existence. I mean, it is profoundly rewarding to capture unique sound vocally. And it’s equally disturbing when the placement wanders, and morphs into another texture or it’s just lost completely. Youch. The voice performer can adapt the instrument through compressions, and aspirations, textures and structural props creating absolute vocal magic.
    However, maintaining these character choices shatter the nerves of even the most seasoned professional. Now, for some, it is like cupping water in their hands. It’s so refreshing and yet frustrating as it seeps through your fingers. A prayer gone, bye-bye.
    So how do we sustain a specific placement so that it can withstand the rigor of all the emotional switch-ups that most animation scripts require. Hm, okay. This is the plea of the animated voice performer, who tends to lose emotional, physical, mental and spiritual truth while trying desperately to support a chosen placement.
    We tend to find an accent, placement, rhythm or texture and forget that this does not enliven the character or inspire its truth. The placement is secondary to the character development and cannot take precedent over the emotional truth of the character, okay?
    So you must always be an actor or an actress, first and foremost, when creating and maintaining a character. Never, never, never sacrifice the emotional, mental, spiritual, physical integrity of the character for a placement, accent, texture, et cetera.
    There are certain fail-safes that you can rely on to help you sustain specific catalogued characters that you may like to choose from your bag of tricks. Know that, structurally, placement is key and you must have the muscular strength to hold these placements through the vocal gymnasium that scripts require. And they are huge.
    Now, to strengthen these placements … see my article on vocal placements … you must, you must develop the muscularity required, which means you must work the instrument daily to achieve optimum strength. Daily. Let me repeat that, daily.
    If you wanted a great body you would go to the gym, every day and work out, whether you liked it or not, so you looked all buff. I work my voice every single day. And it serves me quite well, as my ENT specialist says, that I have the largest chords he has ever seen, which is why I can support the kind of gravel required for characters such as the Nicorette monster, Lubriderm alligator, Beerain, Madame Liesel [MagnaMom], those are just to name a few.
    But, in particular, you must make sure that your soft palate is completely strengthened and capable of supporting the kinds of textures, aspirations, gravel, et cetera that certain vocal characters demand.
    Yawing [yawns], it’s your best friend, okay? And you must push it to the farthest capable place for your instrument every day. Now, once you’ve strengthened your instrument and feel it is capable of feats of great strength, go for the gold, babies.
    When tackling a character, okay, find an ism that helps you hook that character. This may be anything, from tongue placement inside your lower lip and pushing out laterally, and screwing up your nose, or pulling your lower lip to the side of your face. You can find a catch phrase, like, “Yip, yip, yip, yip,” or, “Duh, you know,” or, “Darling,” to help specific the character.
    Now, it may be a vibrato, uh, uh, like, Katharine Hepburn or a slight stutter, [stuttering], or a repeat words totally, “Because, because, because,” all right? It may be swallowing [swallowing loudly], or a breathy hum [makes sound]. It could be opening the back of your throat [makes sound], and sucking in or clearing your throat [clears throat], or creating jowls, jowls are always fun.
    There are infinite isms that make your character unique. And it is the ism that will help anchor the dynamic of the character, no matter what the emotional situation they’re in, okay?
    Physically become your character. If you’re ultra-feminine, know how this character would stand and how she would use her hands. Just as if a male character may hunch over and stick his belly out, or jut his chin forward, or his head may slightly shake or the butt may be shaking. Create the character and create every part of its being.
    Okay. Determine how your character vocally assists its emotional situations. Do they, “Ahhh,” or, “Wooh,” or [sniffing], or [makes sound]. I mean, what do they do. Do they have certain efforts just in walking, how do they breathe, how do they show fear, how do they express vocal excitement. Write all of the traits down and that will help you maintain the overall health and truth of your character.
    Always, and most importantly, you must know the character laugh, [laughs]. Know it, inside out. That will help you determine who the character is.
    This is key. It will get you out of any situation when you feel that the character may be slipping. If you don’t have the character laugh, you don’t know who the character is. For joy is the basis of all animation and their characters, even if they’re villains and evil.
    Now, be conscious of the age, size, weight, gender of your character. Stay lighter for your younger characters and do not press into the copy or overwork it. Keep a naïve truth and a playfulness to them. With age now, press into the weight. Remember, neither youth nor age are played slowly. That’s a constant mistake, okay? Just because you’re old or you’re young doesn’t mean you’re slow.
    Buoyancy is key. Buoyancy is key for the emotional truth of all characters. So keep a reference catalogue of yourself or your trusted and favourite characters so that you can remind yourself of specific placements that you may have found.
    I mean, so many of my students find these amazing characters and do not record them for posterity and then they can’t remember what they sounded like. You will constantly be creating new characters, so keep your recorder close at hand, all right, so that you always have a reference. Revisit the characters that you have created when you’re doing your homework.
    Don’t leave certain placements to rot. All characters will come to play at some time or another. And you never know when a certain one will be called upon.
    If you haven’t played with the catalogue then you will not strengthen the placement. So have your specific villains, heroes, heroines, characters and others that you call upon. And then make additions to the specifics that you have for different genres of animation.
    And there are infinite possibilities for character placement and sustainability. And it is your responsibility to maintain the creative source that brings audiences so much pleasure.
    Do your homework and create your catalogues, inspiring both yourself and the listeners that desperately need your storytelling skills to help raise the vibration of this planet.
    Come on, live the dream.
    Thank you for joining us. To learn more about the special guest featured in this podcast visit the voice over experts show notes at Remember to say subscribed. If you’re a first-time listener, you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple iTunes podcast directory or by visiting To start your voice over career online, go to and register for a voice talent membership today. This has been a production.

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    Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.



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