How are you using gesture, imitation and sound effects to create believable characters and performances? Sunday Muse shares how being mindful of physical gestures and attributes can affect your read and how it comes across. Borrowing the essence of someone’s voice or physical attributes can also serve as a point of reference to build a character upon. Allow your character to build gradually. Sunday finishes her lesson with sound effects that your character makes, whether a sigh, a push or a laugh. These three considerations provide an excellent foundation for developing characters with personality, depth and believability.
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Sunday’s leading voice acting credits include: Total Drama Island, Jimmy 2 Shoes, Arthur, Rolie Polie Olie, Care Bears, Jane & The Dragon, Time Warp Trio, Caillou, and Willa’s Wildlife.
As a leading voice actor and teacher at NYU’s Children’s Theatre Company, and the National Theatre School, Sunday Muse is the “go-to” person in the animation voiceover industry. Her students have gone on to book roles in major cartoons, such as: Franklin (Nickelodeon) Chuck & Friends, Cat In The Hat and Super Why (PBS).
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Sunday Muse: Hi, my name is Sunday Muse; I’m an actress and a voice over coach and an author. And I’m going to be talking to you today a little bit about how to step into character.
A lot of people ask me how do you access characters for cartoon voices, how do you find the character, how do you make it yours, unique, authentic. And so I thought this might be helpful. I also have a book for those who are just getting into the cartoon voice industry; you can find my book on my website at greatbigvoices.com.
So stepping into a character or stepping into characters rather. One of the first things, there’s three that I’m going to cover – three different points that will help you, I hope. And the first one is gesture. You know when you have – you’re to create your own character, you want to think about how they move. So how do they move their arms when they speak? Do they move their arms when they speak? Do they bite their fingernails? You know what are the movements of the body; are they hunched in their upper back? Where is their breathing coming from – is it shallow, is it from the belly; is it higher up in the chest? (Puffs) Is it quick like that? Is it low and deep and you know is it a heavier-set character with bigger feet than someone else.
These things in the body really affect how your voice will come out. So gestures being arms and your face; you know when you move your face your voice changes. There’s always a new voice coming out if you really contort your face and squish your face so it’s really, really small, you’re going to get something very different than if you kind of drop your chin and think you’ve got kind of a hmm, like big belly. You know I’ve dropped my chin there – I know you can’t see me but I’ve let my lower kind of fall. And so I’m giving myself more space in my mouth.
All of these things with the body are so important and if you start to observe people in your life, you’ll notice we’re all so drastically different and we carry tensions in different places and that will affect your voice. And will also allow you to access a new character. So if you’re thinking I want something that’s, you know, really, really skinny and really, really tall and kind of long-sounding, you know kind of Edward Scissorhand, kind of the feeling of everything being long, you want to just play with that physically in your own time, in your own space and start to allow the voice to come out.
You don’t have to have perfect words here, you could use copy from a newspaper or from your imagination, just talking to yourself. In fact the mirror’s a great place because you can watch how much different you look when you start to move with, you know, a hunchback or a great big belly out in front of you – all of those things will really change your voice and help you start into creating more authentic characters.
Pick things that interest you; people that interest you. You know observe people on the subway, keep your eyes open to that and, you know, what kinds of voices do you want to play with? And start to really put that into your own body when, you know, obviously when you’re at home on your own or you’re in an acting class where you can really explore those things.
So that’s number one, is gesture. And I really feel that, you know, when you use your hands, you know to express or you do something with your face, like you almost kind of can’t help but get a voice out – something will come out.
So the second one that I’ll talk about here is, I call it Borrowing the Essence of a Character. Like borrowing the essence of someone in your environment or someone famous, or whatever you wish. People that interest you, just kind of borrowing the sound quality of someone famous even, without this having to be a direct imitation.
For those of you who are really strong at imitations, this would come quite naturally. For those of you who aren’t, you don’t have to be an impersonator to be able to do this. Because we all know what certain people sound like, we all kind of know what Bill Cosby sounds like. So if you think Bill Cosby or Michael Jackson, or you name it – you don’t have to sound exactly like them but you can borrow the essence of that voice and you’d be surprised how immediate your body and your voice will change just by thinking about those people, because you have a point of reference.
And that would go the same for someone in your environment. People that you know well, if you’re kind of imitating someone in your family or someone, a friend or a teacher that you had when you were in high school – it’s just kind of borrowing something from them and stepping into it and trusting that something will come out because it will and it will be different than your own voice.
And there are a lot of tools, you know behind this on, in terms of voice work and how to build a whole being. But these are toils in terms of getting into character, stepping into that world and kind of freeing yourself up there.
Also pictures; so you know you can grab a picture from a magazine or children’s books are brilliant. You know it could be real people, it could be animated, it doesn’t matter, but when you see the picture of the character, you want to try to look like them. You know if they’ve got big lips and a much wider nose than you do or they have a tiny little nose and they’ve got paws that come up to, beside their face, you want to start to take that on yourself and start to look like them, copy them, put your eyes like their eyes are – literally peel off their face and put it on yours – it’s a mask. And when you do that, again your voice will start to find its own sound of this particular character.
And it’s a lot of fun to do this. So you know the idea here is not to get a perfect character, you know you don’t want to do that to yourself – you want to allow something to build gradually. Find the things that you want, the people that you’re drawn to, the voices that you’re interested in doing, and go from there.
And lastly, number three is sound effects. So starting into the voice of one of your characters that you’ve chosen from your environment or that you’ve found through gesture, or that you’re borrowing the essence of from a famous person. Sound effects, starting with something, not a word – a sigh (sighs), a push (push), a laugh (laughs), a kind of like (sighs) (ooh) – any oohs (ooh) (huh) (ahh) (ah-ha) – anything that is not a whole stream of words but is just made up sounds (makes noises), you know I’m like literally improvising here but just start somewhere based on what you already have with the character and how they stand and how they gesture.
And start to let some sounds out and it will really get something going for you. You know sometimes you’ll even find a song out of the character (makes noises).
You know and so those are three points, again its gesture, imitation and sound effects. And I hope those are helpful. If you’d like to follow me, I’m on Twitter at Sunday Muse, my website is greatbigvoices.com and I hope to hear from you soon. Have a great day.
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