Even though the first voice-over was given in the 1900s, it took a while for it to be recognised as a skill. As communications developed, voice acting became more common in radio and cartoons. But even today, especially in Bangladesh’s context, the actors behind these voices are rarely known by the public. While voice acting has grown into a large industry and voice artistes are in demand, it still remains “behind-the-scenes.”
Among television and theatre activists, it is a well-known fact that at least 70 percent of one’s acting capabilities depends on how one uses one’s voice. The ability to use the bass of one’s voice is something that actors of both media get special training for – how to use it in particular instances, the intensity of the bass, how to get rid of it when the moment calls, so on and so forth. Although you use your voice in voice acting, it’s much more than just talking. It is delivering the dialogues with the same mood and emotion that is being displayed on the screen in front of you.
“Voice acting is always challenging. One of the first reasons, I believe, is because sight has a stronger impact than sound. When there is visual aide to any sound, it is easier for the audience to perceive. So when you are voice acting, relying solely on your sound, it gets challenging for the actor to dominate the power of visuals,” says Shahadat Hossain, actor and Dubbing Director of upcoming TV channel Duronto Television.
The main part of voice-over work is to read your script in a style that is suited to the type of work you have been commissioned for. The art is to make it sound like the words flow naturally, fit with the character (e.g. animation character) or context (e.g. documentary), and does not sound like you are reading the words from a piece of paper in front of you. It is almost like acting without the physicality or appearance.
In many cases, the actors and voice actors of a particular character are two different people, depending on the voice quality and use of bass. Whether dubbing an international show, an advertisement, or a film, sometimes dubbing your own voice can be a gargantuan task, whereas playing the voice for someone other than yourself can be even more unnerving.
“It gets even more challenging when one has to give the voice of another actor. The voice actor then has to get into the mind of the actor, think the same thoughts when delivering the dialogues. Sometimes, it’s up to the voice actor to rectify the actors’ mistakes as well. And then, of course, there is international content where one might have to dub content of different languages in Bangla. From lip-syncing to expressions, to making sure the true meaning of every dialogue remains, everything has to be considered,” says Shahadat.
The art of a professional is that they can not only adapt, provide the voice that fits, but also require little preparation or direction. So whilst having a good voice is important, it is being able to adapt it to fit the client that matters. To do that you need to learn the essential skills that are required of a voice-over actor so that you can compete for and get work.
It is very easy to misconstrue the skills required for voice acting—just having a good voice does not really do the trick. When creating characters, or voicing characters, it is very important for you to get entirely into it. The physical aspects of your character are just as important as the voice. When one plays an 8 year old trying to pick up an axe, the person will have a different input of energy, which will affect the sound of the voice accordingly. And thus, the actor will imitate picking up axe while creating the voice so that the impact sounds original.
“Unless you’re a mime or playing a character that does not speak or have dialogues, one’s voice is possibly the most important tool in any kind of performance. Especially, in the radio, where you cannot act with the help of your facial expressions, you have to know how to use your voice well enough to help the listeners visualise. It is, through our voices, our job to put soul into the playwright’s words,” says renowned actor, Suborna Mustafa, who has done many a radio drama throughout her acting career.
Veteran actors like Raisul Islam Asad, Suborna Mustafa and many more, have been lauded time and again for their excellent manipulation of transitions, lifts and lows during performances to paint their characters on television. After a generation of actors and performers like them, the current situation is bleak—we now see the voice given little importance in front of the camera, or even beyond. There is no recognition, acknowledgement or award given to those giving their voice to bring a character to life.
“Voice acting used to be given a lot of importance before, when we would pay a lot of attention to the pitch and bass of our voices. But in recent times, it is hardly recognised separately from acting. Even with the sprouting of FM radio stations, people don’t really work on their speech, accents, dialects, voice or any of that anymore, like we once used to. Maybe the radio stations themselves can take initiatives to give more importance to the use of one’s voice and bring back the glory of proper voice acting,” says Suborna.
With the kind of effort, dedication and practice that one has to put in behind voicing a character, it is undoubted that these artistes need more recognition. With deserved credit and appreciation, maybe we too will one day find and cherish our own like Mel Blanc- ‘man with the 1000 voices’.
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