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Need tips on creating voices, & Practice regimen  (Read 18367 times)
mrbumblepants
« on: November 21, 2014, 01:12:19 am »

I've started out with a Peter Lorre impression for my spooky puppet Cadaver Dave, and am now working on Iggy with a cross between a surfer & a bored teenager. I've played with a few other puppets, but have had trouble coming up with the voices for them because I don't have enough experience . I realize that practice and time are key for gaining new skills - but are there any exercises, books or websites anyone knows of that will help point me in the right direction? I've tried reading voice acting books, but so far I've mostly found suggestions to do different accents, and then the ins & outs of voice acting as a career.

I am also looking for suggestions about a practice regimen. Right now I try to cycle through the following every two days:
- tongue twisters & reading aloud from kid's books (studying my mouth movements, figuring how best to replicate them with the puppet.)
- curls & balding ball exercises, to build up my arm/.hand strength
- posting short film clips to show my improving skills, practice performing, & get rid of any lingering anxiety about people seeing my work
- tapping out syllables in words to help me better plan my puppet's mouth movements, and help my rhythm while speaking
- lip synching to various music
jeezbo
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2014, 03:31:35 am »

WOW!! I think you are definitely on the right track and probably one of the most determined people I have come across!! I am not entirely sure of names of books/learning materials, but I know that 'One way street' and 'Axtel expressions' do books on creating character voices, vocal exercises for puppeteers, etc.. and could well be a big help, but personally I have never needed any of them, but ill admit it does take a while to get into making new voices and characters for puppets, but at the same time is relatively easy and I'm sure you have found when you put a puppet on, it takes on a personality of its own and its just a case of playing around with this to get into the mind set of the voice that the personality has. I have probably made it sound quite complicated, but it really isn't!! there is one good thing to helping with voices and I am sure you have come across these before, I cant remember the correct name, but they are basically two googly eyes on a ring, you put them on your fingers and use your hand as a puppet and when I am teaching puppet building classes or puppetry classes I always take a bunch of these along as they help people to come up with voices and characters, we always find that by adding a temporary extra feature to the hand/eyes, the little 'person' seems to take on a certain voice or becomes a certain way (for example- little eyelids on the eyes can make the puppet look angry, tired, stupid, sad, etc.. and that in turn really helps the voice to flow) all I would say in the long run is, don't try to force it, just let it happen and eventually you will find it easier to create new voices with a process that works well for you.

hope this helps a little.

Ben.
Shawn Sorrell
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2014, 07:02:40 am »

I have to agree with Ben, I think you are doing all the right things.  Accents are actually a good tool for creating character voices, which may be why the books you have read focus on that. This might sound odd, but have you thought of taking singing lessons?  You may be able to find a teacher in your area that could help you gain some control over your voice. Let them know what your ultimate goal is. I am thinking that it might be easier for you to find a singing coach in your area then it would be an actual vocal coach.
Chris Arveson
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2014, 09:31:23 pm »

One of the difficulties with accents in this day and age is that people are quick to take offense, assuming that you are being demeaning in some way. This is mostly true with ethnic accents. Just a note of caution.

In creating voices, you've already started with one voice, a Peter Lorre imitation. You don't have to be completely original. Depending on the character, distinctive speech patterns of other movie stars might be helpful. Cary Grant comes to mind for me. Also, start watching cartoons! So many voices, done actually, by so few voice artists. If you find a voice you like, watch the same cartoon repeatedly. Work on imitating the voice to the best of your ability. The imitation  doesn't have to be perfect, after all, you don't actually have Scooby Doo on your arm. Keep watching to learn the dialog, and then start doing the dialog with the cartoon. That will help you be consistent with the voice.

One thing is certain, practice the voice over and over again. It is difficult to keep the same voice from one line to the next unless you are completely familiar with how the character is supposed to sound. You can imagine how much work Jeff Dunham does when he's having a conversation with Peanut and Jose Jalapeno, for example.

I haven't watched my videos on creating vent characters for a long time, but one thing I remember is voices for little children. If you make their voice a little breathy, it creates a more youthful impression. Think Marilyn Monroe. Her breathiness created a sense of innocence which in her case was part of her sex appeal.

One more thought: don't assume that the appearance of the puppet has to coordinate perfectly with the voice. I have a flower puppet that I made, just to learn the mechanics of it's mouth mechanism (It's a rod puppet). I didn't use it for years, because I tended to think that a delicate little flower should have a delicate little voice. I can't do delicate little voices, lol. I suddenly had a brainstorm that the puppet would be far more entertaining if its voice didn't fit the appearance. So suddenly Pilsbury Flower (My folks were a mite confused when I sprouted) came into full-flower as it were, with a deep booming voice and a Texas accent. The moment I figured out the voice, his entire personality came through to me, and I was able to use him in a number of shows.
mrbumblepants
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2014, 10:56:08 pm »

I have to agree with Ben, I think you are doing all the right things.  Accents are actually a good tool for creating character voices, which may be why the books you have read focus on that. This might sound odd, but have you thought of taking singing lessons?  You may be able to find a teacher in your area that could help you gain some control over your voice. Let them know what your ultimate goal is. I am thinking that it might be easier for you to find a singing coach in your area then it would be an actual vocal coach.

I have a background in singing, and I'm using some of what I know there too. (Tried for countertenor, but unfortunately my social anxiety makes proper breathing while singing too difficult.)  When I first seriously got started with it, I realized that a lot of the same skills are required. Would love to take voice classes again, but alas too expensive right now.
mrbumblepants
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2014, 10:58:53 pm »

WOW!! I think you are definitely on the right track and probably one of the most determined people I have come across!! I am not entirely sure of names of books/learning materials, but I know that 'One way street' and 'Axtel expressions' do books on creating character voices, vocal exercises for puppeteers, etc.. and could well be a big help, but personally I have never needed any of them, but ill admit it does take a while to get into making new voices and characters for puppets, but at the same time is relatively easy and I'm sure you have found when you put a puppet on, it takes on a personality of its own and its just a case of playing around with this to get into the mind set of the voice that the personality has. I have probably made it sound quite complicated, but it really isn't!! there is one good thing to helping with voices and I am sure you have come across these before, I cant remember the correct name, but they are basically two googly eyes on a ring, you put them on your fingers and use your hand as a puppet and when I am teaching puppet building classes or puppetry classes I always take a bunch of these along as they help people to come up with voices and characters, we always find that by adding a temporary extra feature to the hand/eyes, the little 'person' seems to take on a certain voice or becomes a certain way (for example- little eyelids on the eyes can make the puppet look angry, tired, stupid, sad, etc.. and that in turn really helps the voice to flow) all I would say in the long run is, don't try to force it, just let it happen and eventually you will find it easier to create new voices with a process that works well for you.

hope this helps a little.

Ben.

I'll get those books, thanks! It is easier than I thought it would be to make voices for puppets, but I still feel like I want some more help with it. And we have a bunch of those little ring puppets! I think I'll put one in the bag I keep the baoding balls in so I can practice whenever.
mrbumblepants
« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2014, 11:08:53 pm »

One of the difficulties with accents in this day and age is that people are quick to take offense, assuming that you are being demeaning in some way. This is mostly true with ethnic accents. Just a note of caution.

That's the main reason I don't want to do them. If I'm going to do accents, what I would prefer is to learn how to do realistic ones, and then use that with a character that could exist independent of the accent.

Quote
In creating voices, you've already started with one voice, a Peter Lorre imitation. You don't have to be completely original. Depending on the character, distinctive speech patterns of other movie stars might be helpful. Cary Grant comes to mind for me. Also, start watching cartoons! So many voices, done actually, by so few voice artists. If you find a voice you like, watch the same cartoon repeatedly. Work on imitating the voice to the best of your ability. The imitation  doesn't have to be perfect, after all, you don't actually have Scooby Doo on your arm. Keep watching to learn the dialog, and then start doing the dialog with the cartoon. That will help you be consistent with the voice.
I'll do some thinking on famous voices I think are interesting - maybe Christopher Walken, as he's got a really interesting way of speaking.. I think the Peter Lorre voice works for me because I like the gentle quality he put in a lot of his characters, even if they were creepy. I could pull up some of the old Looney Toons and practice imitating them.

Quote
One thing is certain, practice the voice over and over again. It is difficult to keep the same voice from one line to the next unless you are completely familiar with how the character is supposed to sound. You can imagine how much work Jeff Dunham does when he's having a conversation with Peanut and Jose Jalapeno, for example.

Indeed. I remember being surprised when first hearing the cast of Sesame St. talk to each other with their puppets off-camera, but it makes total sense to me now.

Quote
I haven't watched my videos on creating vent characters for a long time, but one thing I remember is voices for little children. If you make their voice a little breathy, it creates a more youthful impression. Think Marilyn Monroe. Her breathiness created a sense of innocence which in her case was part of her sex appeal.
Good to know! I have avoided trying to do voices like that because I would prefer my puppets be all ages appropriate, and I figured it made things too adult. Very interesting how that works.

Quote
One more thought: don't assume that the appearance of the puppet has to coordinate perfectly with the voice. I have a flower puppet that I made, just to learn the mechanics of it's mouth mechanism (It's a rod puppet). I didn't use it for years, because I tended to think that a delicate little flower should have a delicate little voice. I can't do delicate little voices, lol. I suddenly had a brainstorm that the puppet would be far more entertaining if its voice didn't fit the appearance. So suddenly Pilsbury Flower (My folks were a mite confused when I sprouted) came into full-flower as it were, with a deep booming voice and a Texas accent. The moment I figured out the voice, his entire personality came through to me, and I was able to use him in a number of shows.
One of the things I love is having a character with a look incongruous to how they behave.
Chris Arveson
« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2014, 01:55:04 pm »

I just watched "I Know That Voice," and here's a few things that I got from the documentary.

CHARACTER
First, last and always, it's about character. Sometimes the voice follows the character, sometimes the character follows the voice, but no matter what, the character must be a completely intrinsic part of the voice. If the voice is slow in coming, then I would write down as much as I could about the character. Who is it? Where does it come from? What kind of background? What are the characters general emotional components? Quick temper or slow fuse? Shy and retiring or bold and brash? Fast talking confidence man type, or slow and contemplative? Does the character have a back sory? Write one out. Give the character a lot of character. That can lead to a voice.

ACCENTS
I will say one more thing about accents. Some seem relatively safe. I've not heard British complain about being put down, nor Germans nor Russians/Slavs in general. There may be other accents you can think of that folks generally don't object to having imitated. Part of that is how good you are. Watching the documentary was interesting as white people played black people, black people played white, etc., etc., etc. In fact, that's one of the things the actors mentioned that they liked about their work. They could be anyone. On stage, on the screen, that wasn't a possibility. One of the nice thing about a Peter Lorre voice is that it was clear that he wasn't American, but his fairly light Hungarian accent was very difficult to place. It was just a general, "European" accent. Patty Duke did something similar on her old "Patty Duke Show" when she played her cousin Cathy. Cathy's accent was just some sort of European accent, not specifically British, or anything else.

If you can do a good, non-demeaning accent, folks will accept it.

PHYSICALITY
This is both easy and difficult for puppeteers depending on the circumstances. Puppeteering is by nature, physical. That can be used by the puppeteer in the voice. Jeff Bergman, the current voice for Fred Flinstone demonstrated that as he threw his chest forward to do the Flintstone voice. That goes back to character. You are acting, both through your voice, and through the puppet. You have to do that completely.

Some of the physical needs are more difficult. If you have your hands busy manipulating the puppet, then you have lost some of the tricks that the voice actors use. I was fascinated to watch Jeff Bennett pull one cheek out to do the voice of Smee. I've been trying to do Smee for my foster-Grandkids for over a year, with no success. I saw that, and within moments was doing a passable Smee that they loved. The other trick that interested me was when one of the actors did his growling, etc. into a large glass. The echoing sound really changed the voice. If you have a free hand while doing the voice, then there are obviously tricks available.

Watching the actors mouths as they did other voices was helpful to me. Making marbles-in-the-mouth voices seemed obvious, once I watched them doing it. It also just helped me realize how many kinds of voices are out there that I had not previously considered.

Also, there's a reason why the actors cup their hand over their ear as they perform. They are hearing themselves a little more externally that way, and it helps them get a little better control and consistency in the voice. We hear our own voices more through bone conduction than through the air. Cupping your hand over your ear helps balance that a little bit.

Last observation on physicality-When Jim Meskimen was doing his George W. Bush imitation, he even had the mouth characteristics of the President while doing the voice. I don't know if that was necessary to make the voice sound, if it is just part of his impersonation shtick or what, but he actually looked a bit like Mr. Bush while doing the voice.

MUSICALITY
I'm having a harder time putting this into words, but they did too, which is why they put graphics up showing how the voices went up and down a "musical" staff as they said a line. That can really affect a character's voice. I know that my Russian accent improved a great deal when I learned that in Russian, the voice does not inflect upwards at the end of a question the way it does in English.

Basically, musicality is, "how does the voice flow?" and "What are it's rhythms?" You mentioned Christopher Walken. He's a great example. Although I can't remember the flow of the voice, my impression of the rhythm is that it is somewhat synchopated. There are pauses in non-natural, unexpected places. That's part of what makes his voice unique.

I think this area can also include singing and character. Can you sing songs in the character's voice? That can really help you cement the voice and character together. It will also help you improve the range of the character's voice.

REGIMEN
The last comment leads into your question about regimen. I have done a lot of singing with my characters, it was the nature of a number of my shows. I'm certainly no singing star, but singing in the character voices did force me to consider how that character would actually sing. I'm still not convinced that Jim Nabors Gomer Pyle voice is in any way his natural voice. There is such a disconnect between that voice and his singing voice. When my puppets sing, I want it to sound like my puppets' speaking voices as well. At any rate, it's good practice, and could be fun to imagine how a character might sing a Beatles tune or Jingle Bells.

One of the actors also mentioned that he kept his voice in shape by singing on the way to the studio and on the way home as a warm-up and cool-down. Makes sense to me. You can sing quietly, just to loosen the vocal cords without strain.

I loved the portion of the documentary where all the actors were reading Shakespeare in their character voices. They each did it differently, as their characters would do it. What fun! As part of the regimen, go to your favorite news website, and read the news in your character's voice. In a sense, do the evening news as your character would. Read stories aloud, try poetry. (I'm imagining Clint Eastwood doing Emily Dickinson for example.)

Puppeteers tend to be few and far between, but if you have a fellow performer nearby, do what the Sesame Street actors were doing. Just hold conversations with one another, puppet on hand, in character voices. Personally, unless you are having a conversation with the puppet, I think the best thing to do is always use the character voice whenever the puppet is on your hand.

I think that's most of what I gleaned from the documentary about creating and using character voices. I know it was helpful to me, I hope it will be for you as well.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2014, 01:57:46 pm by Chris Arveson »
Skitstorm
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2014, 03:05:56 am »

Fantastic thread! Great advice so far, guys. One more thing worth remembering is that a little alcohol really loosens your inhibitions and can help you overcome this initial hurdle until you become more familiar with your character's voice. Get a friend over, pop open some whisky and let it fly. Once you're both sufficiently 'warmed up', just leave the mic running. Get him/her to join in with your silly voices, impressions of celebrities, cartoon characters (the Azaria, Castellaneta and Shearer characters on The Simpsons are excellent places to start. Ones like Mr Burns and Chief Wiggum are some of the easier ones, and all come with a library of fantastic quotes and Youtube-clips for reference that are virtually guaranteed to make you laugh, which again is important to loosening up). As you go along in your session listen back to yourselves every now and then, you'll be amazed at what comes out. Hone in on the funny bits, the bits where you were really 'zinging' and then just continue to develop those lines, in those voices, soon it'll go off in its own direction through your puppet and it'll be talking and telling its own stories. Allow yourself to ad-lib complete nonsense. Your puppet can get 'drunk' too. He can say things you never would. Go with it.

Then, once you get really confident, try making your puppet sing or even have it do an impression of another puppet or politician or actor or a British accent, but an impression that's still distinctly in its own voice. It's at that stage you'll know you've really nailed it, and will be confident performing with your puppet whatever the occasion and/or blood-alcohol level...!
« Last Edit: December 02, 2014, 03:13:24 am by Skitstorm, Reason: spelling errors glaring at me... »
Shawn Sorrell
« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2014, 07:11:24 am »

Cross linking thread here: http://puppetsandstuff.com/community/index.php/topic,8793.0.html  This is an off shoot discussion on this topic about the video that Chris mentioned "I Know That Voice."
mrbumblepants
« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2014, 12:45:23 am »

The stuff they said about musicality was really helpful to me, because it just seems super easy now to take what I know about singing and then put that directly into character voices.

I've heard that Swedish people don't care much one way or the other about people trying to fake their accent.
Chris Arveson
« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2014, 08:36:58 am »

I've heard that Swedish people don't care much one way or the other about people trying to fake their accent.

This person of Norwegian ancestry certainly doesn't mind folks faking a Swedish accent, lol. I think you are right, I've not heard of a Scandinavian Liberation Front fighting for the dignity of Scandihoovians everywhere. Certainly in your neck of the woods there is no shortage of folks with that ancestry. If folks were likely to object, you would have heard about it by now.
mrbumblepants
« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2014, 12:35:57 am »

Indeed, people here just seem delighted anytime something Scandinavian, Norwegian, etc comes up. I'm also under the impression that everyone loves the Swedish Chef, no matter where they're from.
Andrew
« Reply #13 on: December 19, 2014, 06:45:30 am »

Fantastic thread! Great advice so far, guys. One more thing worth remembering is that a little alcohol really loosens your inhibitions and can help you overcome this initial hurdle until you become more familiar with your character's voice. Get a friend over, pop open some whisky and let it fly. Once you're both sufficiently 'warmed up', just leave the mic running. Get him/her to join in with your silly voices, impressions of celebrities, cartoon characters (the Azaria, Castellaneta and Shearer characters on The Simpsons are excellent places to start. Ones like Mr Burns and Chief Wiggum are some of the easier ones, and all come with a library of fantastic quotes and Youtube-clips for reference that are virtually guaranteed to make you laugh, which again is important to loosening up). As you go along in your session listen back to yourselves every now and then, you'll be amazed at what comes out. Hone in on the funny bits, the bits where you were really 'zinging' and then just continue to develop those lines, in those voices, soon it'll go off in its own direction through your puppet and it'll be talking and telling its own stories. Allow yourself to ad-lib complete nonsense. Your puppet can get 'drunk' too. He can say things you never would. Go with it.

I really don't like to be critical in the middle of an otherwise positive thread, but this comment really needs to be called out. I'm sure your advice is well intentioned, but this is a terrible idea. Please, no one use this approach.

I've never worked in a professional environment where it was acceptable to do this or known a talented performer who legitimately had to rely on alcohol to be creative or "warm up". I have met people who thought they did, but they were actually suffering from alcoholism, or had personal issues they weren't confronting, or both. Performing and voice work is a craft and the people who do it well rely on discipline, even when they're being silly or zany. While it's true alcohol lowers your inhibitions, it also impairs your judgement and interferes with your timing, reflexes and ability to concentrate. Trust me, you're never as funny as you think you are when you're drunk.

If someone wants to hang out with their friends, get loaded and make silly voices to have fun, by all means. However, if your goal is to be a serious entertainer and work professionally, learn to do it without alcohol.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 08:48:52 am by Andrew »
Andrew
« Reply #14 on: December 19, 2014, 08:36:09 am »

On the subject of accents, I don't have a wide vocal range myself, but if you are going to learn to accents I think it's really helpful to learn to do them authentically. Chris mentioned above that people sometimes become offended by accents and I believe that's partially because the person doing the accent often butchers it and has little proper understanding of it. They're doing a caricature rather than a character and haven't taken the time to know or understand the difference.

For example, there isn't really such a thing as a standard English accent. When we talk about an English accent what we're usually referring to is received pronunciation, which is a non-regional British accent that's derived from London English that most of us know from movies and television. There are hundreds of accents and dialects in Britain like Cockney, Midlands, Southwest, Geordie, Welsh, Scottish, etc. Most people outside the UK have trouble distinguishing between these or don't even know that they exist because we don't encounter them on a regular basis.

German is another example. My father used to tell me about moving from Canada to Germany in the 1960s and being teased by Germans because he spoke High German (sometimes called Standard German), which is a very formal German dialect that is taught in schools and heard on television. Most Germans speak some form of Low German in their day-to-day life, so talking to my father on the street was a bit like meeting a person in New York who speaks in Shakespearean English. Another example is that supposedly when Star Trek was first brought to Germany no one watched it because someone - probably with a poor understanding of German - had it dubbed in High German. Eventually it became really popular after it was redubbed in Low German to make it more accessible and relatable to a German audience.

While I don't personally believe that an accent has to be authentic when you do a character, I do believe its authenticity should be a deliberate choice, rather than being done in ignorance just because a performer doesn't know any better.

This is one of my favourite YouTube videos about dialects:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldAKIzq7bvs
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 09:04:20 am by Andrew »
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