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A Day in the Life - Voice Actor

I don't typically get up early, certainly not before 7am. Today, though, I had a special opportunity, something that might actually be worth getting up near sunrise. Today, I would have the opportunity to see what a typical day is like for a profession that I've always been fond of: voice acting.

I've always been a big fan of different cartoons, way back to when I was young. Watching shows like the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Scooby Doo, the Bugs Bunny and Tweety show (the list goes on, trust me)... I can remember imitating the different voices. Sure, maybe I wasn't any good at it (maybe I was?), but I always enjoyed it. As I got older, I continued watching cartoons, (wasn't ReBoot a great show?), and started watching anime, probably around the time that shows like Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Samurai Pizza Cats aired. Up until high school, I probably hadn't even thought that there were people making these voices, people getting paid to do what they love. In high school, I even did some research into what it would take to be a voice actor, and during Orientation Week in my first year at University, I remember saying that I wanted to become a voice actor when asked what I wanted to do (despite being a Computer Science major).

At any rate, today, thanks to a friend, Heather Soeder at Tentacle Tarte Studios, I got the opportunity to meet with a voice acting professional, and, if nothing else, enjoy a day in the life vicariously.

We met with Christian Potenza (6teen, Total Drama Island, and, most recently, Sidekick) at his home before he was kind enough to lead us to his place of work, Studio 306. Admitedly, it was a long commute for us, but it was worth the drive.

It wasn't much to look at, but, as you can see, we wound up in a small lobby of the recording studio decorated with various placards of some of the programs and artists that had been recorded there.

While Christian waited for his session to begin, he told us a bit about what was going to take place that day to get us properly psyched for the day's events: I'd learned a bit about voice acting from panels at Anime North, and some research that I'd done independently, but nothing first-hand.

He told us a bit about what had already happened in the studio. Namely, that, understandably, the script had already been written for the episodes that he would be recording, and that the voice actors don't generally see much before they start recording other than the script. None of the animation would be completed until after the episodes had been recorded, so it was interesting to know that the voice actors, effectively, fly blind, with only the script and the voice acting director to guide them.

What was also interesting is when he talked about the "Laika" storyboards (named after the first animal to enter orbit). At this stage in the production, the director has the script and the Laika, which is just a very rough storyboard. This blew my mind a bit because of the disconnect between the director and the actors. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but in an animated program, you'd think that the voice actors would get to see something.

He showed us the scripts that he'd be working from that day, every line numbered, with some stage direction usually (in addition to the line of course). I was suprised how vague lines could be: some were simply "<GROWWWLL>" or something to a similar effect. I'd learn later that there is, obviously, more direction, but it doesn't give the actors much to work with either.

Voice actors typically work solo, but the recording session we would see would have two other voice actors in the studio at the same time. Usually, the voice acting director picks lines for the actors to run through, and they do three-ish "takes".

  • Take 1: The voice actor reads their lines as they see fit
  • Take 2: The voice actor re-reads lines with feedback from the first take
  • Take 3-ish ("Pickups"): Any lines which aren't quite right are redone with feedback from previous takes.

I've said a lot about what he told us, and it seems like a long time, but we were probably only in the lobby for half an hour while one of the other voice actors recorded their takes.

What got me really excited was, while we were waiting, we had the opportunity to meet several other voice actors who happened to be at the studio, such as Ron Rubin (Artemis from the English adapation of Sailor Moon), Scott McCord (Skull Boy from Ruby Gloom) and one of Christian's co-workers, Denise Oliver (Kitty on Sidekick). It was interesting to hear them just talk about the things that they were working on, especially when Ron was talking about what to do at a convention; I guess he had never been to one, and the Sailor Moon series passed its 28th anniversary? We didn't get the chance to meet Stephanie Mills (Vana from Sidekick).

After that, the magic happened. They sat us down on a comfortable couch in behind the recording booth, but in front of the recording staff.

At first, I wasn't sure who all the people in the room were, but afterwords, Christian was kind enough to explain. The six people in the room were:

  • The producer
  • The voice acting director
  • The director (e.g. the director of Sidekick)
  • The sound technician
  • The recording assistant (Steph Misayo Seki)
  • The coordinator

...I wish I would have gotten all their names, but unfortunately, I didn't. I also wish I could post a video of the recording session, but unfortunately, I can't (as far as I know), and pictures like this...

...do the experience no justice.

The actual recording itself was pretty straightforward (and hilarious). The voice acting director would play each actor's 'reference take' (a previous reading of the character, which is important since the actors, in this case, hadn't reprised their roles in a year) and ask the actor to read through their lines from line X to line Y where the voice actor would go through three-ish takes, then move on to the next 'run'. What was really surprising was the speed of selecting the takes. Immediately after each take, it would only take the crew a few seconds to determine which of the takes they wanted to keep and which should be redone. The whole process of recording probably only took about an hour for two episodes (with three characters).

The crew of the show was kind enough to sign a piece of artwork for my friend. Take a look at all those signatures! And that's not even including the voice actors, that's just the crew! A lot of people go into a TV show.

Afterward, Christian showed us around the studio a bit...

...And he took the opportunity to record a short video about an awesome painting my friend did as fanart for him. I'd like to show the video, but he mentioned that the video won't be out for a while.

We also went out for lunch where he told us a bit more about what it's like to be a voice actor. He told us that he started as a (for lack of a better word) "ordinary" actor. He had been in a few different programs, but got his big break 8 years ago when he was selected for the role of Jude Lisowski in 6teen. He told us about how he was the main character of Scaredy Squirrel for 7 episodes before the role was recast (to an actor who had the role before him), and it was interesting to hear that directors ocassionally make decisions like that. He also told us how not all days are like today, and a lot of days he drives into the studio just to audition.

All in all, it was a pretty neat experience. I hope that I get the chance to go again some day.

EDIT: Special thanks to Christian, who has given permission to post videos from the recording session! Just a few examples of what its like to record lines as a voice actor.

Nicholas Terwoord

A self-titled software developer, "code archaeologist" (whatever that means), and professional geek. Spends too much of his time coming up with new projects, and not enough time working on them. Likes video games, board games, anime, manga, and Pathfinder / Dungeons and Dragons (GOTO: Line #1 - Geek).