I draw heavily on my early acting training when making my own choices as a voice over artist and coaching others. In honing my craft over the years, voice acting with intention is something that I’ve found to be the most decisive action for professional voiceover artists. Acting, character, script, and beat analysis are often divided into three pillars: Objective, Intention, and Action.
What is Voice Acting with Intention?
Those in the theatre or acting training know them well. Our faces light up when we are reminded to act with intention. Acting the intention is the most decisive choice for a voice over artist. It provides context and, well, intent.
- Objective: the want or goal of your character
- Intention: The meaning behind the words, subtext, what’s going on in your character’s mind concerning the goal
- Action: what a character does or says to achieve their objective and intention
Don’t get hung up on the words intention, objective, or action. Find a language and interpretation that works for you, whatever acting techniques make sense to how you approach the acting craft, and then roll with it. The results will speak for themselves.
Achieving Intention in the Real World of Voice Over
For example, take a job spec with a direction like real people, believable, plus whining, complaining. The problem is the director is focused on the finished product. We (as voice actors) have to put in the work to get there authentically for optimal results. To achieve the real people, believable sound, we need to explore and understand the intention. If the voice actor playing the moaning kid dove straight into moaning and screaming, they wouldn’t achieve the authentic element. It needs to be realistic and to get to that, we need to get to the roots behind the character.
These specs and directions are often given by someone who doesn’t speak or think actor but is just trying to describe a vocal quality or demand. This can be very confusing to the voice actor and leads to superficial performances. Focusing on the result will only generate flat, predictable reads. Instead, look at that scene (commercial, corporate narration, eLearning gig, museum tour, etc.) and figure out what you (as the character/narrator) want. Then sort out ways that the character can get it.
Put more simply: if a kid wants some candy, maybe he will plead and cajole, perhaps he will beg and moan, or maybe he will be a model of good behavior and manners. The intention is the style of action to achieve the objective. Significantly, it can change moment by moment, way more often than a goal. Perhaps the kid asks pleasantly for some candy and receives a terse No for their efforts. They move on to more whimper, a beg even. Again they get a no, the kid steps it up to begging, crying, and wailing. For an authentic focus on intention, a child doesn’t start by screaming, he builds to it.
How Does Voice Acting with Intention Apply to Your Work?
Acting the intention is part of the imagination work voice actors do. Thinking about intention helps solidify the connection with either the other people, the characters in the scene with you, or the audience. It opens up your performance and makes it real and exciting. It’s more important for voice over artists than for stage and screen actors; all our intention and action need to come across through our voice.
Some scripts are going to make the search for intention more challenging. Sometimes there is no getting around it. So what’s a voice over artist to do? Make it up. Use that imagination. Don’t go too far, but there are some excellent fallbacks that you can keep handy. Commercial voice over sometimes has the conversation happen between the character and the viewer, rather than another character.
So what’s the intention of your character? To sell them a product? To help them? To establish brand loyalty, convince them the brand cares? All of this will inform your delivery, if you’re sympathetic from the start, or if there’s a build-up as the character gets more and more stressed until, finally, the relief of a perfect product.
Practicing Intentions – Voice Actor Performance Work
The more you practice finding and performing intentions the better and quicker you’ll get. And with enough practice, you can find the purpose, objectives, and actions of any script without having to sweat over it.
- Keep reading scripts, plays, and books, look for the intention, note how they evolve and change.
- Practice finding the intention behind the words in movies, tv’s shows, commercials, and more. Try thinking of different ways to do the delivery. Imagine Darth Vader had intended to make Luke laugh, or if he had been angling for a father’s day present or in a hurry- not realistic examples of intention. Still, it never hurts to make things entertaining for yourself while learning. And it will stretch your imagination.
- Study the intention behind your own words and conversations. When you’re debating (or fighting) with other people, how do you go about trying to win the argument? How do other people win you over? What was the intention behind their words? To convince, to educate, to be reasonable, or bulldoze you?
- Record yourself as your practice, listen back for deliveries that sound too similar, that aren’t evoking the intention the way you intended. Practice.
For more information on how to master voice acting with intention, check out my blog library, or schedule a call!