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NYCC2010: Intro to Animation Voice-Acting with Stevie Vallance

Voice actor and director Stevie Vallance about to put some volunteers to work.

On Saturday at the New York Comic Con, Emmy-winning actor and director Stevie Vallance offered a briefer version of her “Tooned In!” one-day workshop, which teaches actors with all levels of experience (including none) how to get started in animation voice acting. Her high energy levels and rich experience in the industry led to a very entertaining and informative hour.

Vallance began the panel with some videos on her workshop and breaking into voice acting. She combined some sobering facts (there is a lot of competition in the voice acting business) with encouraging data (a working voice actor can make $50,000/year for 4 hours of work a week, 52 weeks a year if they land a regular spot on a TV cartoon). She added that she loves getting paid for what she used to get kicked out of school for, and also declared that producers are telling her all the time that they’re looking for fresh, brilliant voices for animation work. She also noted how voice acting as a full-time acting job is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that in the current day, long resumes of experience are not required — a big difference between on-camera acting.

Stevie Vallance helping a volunteer get in touch with her inner crow.

Vallance went on to discuss a number of points to help would-be voice actors be brilliant, adding that animation voice-over acting is very different from acting for theater, on-camera, or even commercial and narration voice-over work. The biggest difference in her eyes is that animation requires big acting, making a clear distinction between that and “over-acting.” Many of her tips which followed were geared towards the fundamentals of voice acting and ensuring that actors can get that “big” acting without over-acting.

Like Bob Bergen, Vallance places great importance on character over voice. Vallance said 10% of a voice-acting job is the voice itself; the remaining 90% is the character that goes along with the voice. The challenge of animation voice-acting is that an actor has to be able to bring “the soul of the character to the surface,” and they have to do that spontaneously. Rather than the six weeks or six months of preparation and rehearsal for a theater show, an animation voice actor will have about 4 hours to prepare for a part, which drops to 10 minutes or less for the auditions that will get you booked for parts. Vallance emphasized repeatedly that if you want to be an animation voice actor, you have to be willing to risk everything (especially your dignity) and be willing to fall flat on your butt. She also emphasized “leaving the adult at the door,” comparing animation voice work to spontaneous play multiple times.

He’s a pretty, pretty little ballerina mouse.

Many of Vallance’s lessons were demonstrated on-stage, as she pulled volunteers from the audience for exercises in finding characters, making acting choices quickly and spontaneously, and getting the big performance rather than the over-acted one. She made sure to note that in animation voice over, it doesn’t matter what you look like—gender-bending and age-bending casting happens all the time, and Vallance demonstrated by getting a massive, deep-voiced man to play a little mouse ballerina girl (and his successes at it led to some thunderous applause from the very supportive audience). Among the other points she raised were the importance of physicality in the acting (as long as your feet are “nailed to the floor”), finding and using a character’s laugh to connect to “the truth of the character,” and the critical difference between an energetic delivery and one that’s just louder and/or faster. As a practical matter, she said to treat the microphone as a human ear, pulling back if you’re speaking loudly and pulling in close if you’re speaking quietly. Vallance added that this technique (taught to her by Don Adams while they were working on Inspector Gadget) was all the mike technique any voice actor really needed, telling the audience that anyone offering a class on mike technique is just taking your money.

Vallance’s “Tooned In!” workshop will be offered in New York City on Sunday, October 17, 2010, from 12:00 – 5:00 PM at the Edge Studios. The class is $299 plus 5% tax, and more details can be found on the Tooned In website. You can also check out StevieVallance.com for more information on Vallance, her teaching schedule, and her upcoming appearances.

Return to Toonzone New York Comic Con/New York Anime Fest 2010 Coverage Round-up.

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