For those of you who watched the Academy Awards last Sunday, you may have been irked by how the In Memoriam was handled. Apart from it not being shot very well, it also left out a few people, including one of the most influential people in the movie industry: Mr. Don LaFontaine who has probably announced your favorite movie in a preview on television. Only in recent years did his ubiquitous voice and over-the-top lines become a bit of a running joke, but not one of disrespect. Here’s a great video detailing some of LaFontaine’s history and his life’s work. It’s sad that this was missing from the Oscar’s this year. I would have been happy to exchange one of the musical segments for a special honor to Don LaFontaine.
The older I get, the more of a fan I become of voiceover talent. When I was younger, I still recognized and appreciated voiceover talent, but in a very peripheral or superficial way. When Don LaFontaine’s voice announced a movie on television, there was a distant voice in my head that said, “Yes, this voice is appropriate for this kind of film.” Or when I watched Transformers the animated series and Optimus Prime spoke with Peter Cullen’s voice or Jazz with Scatman Crothers’, I simply accepted those voices as belonging to the characters. I even accepted Casey Kasem’s voice as Robin on SuperFriends.
I think it was when video games started to add voice to their characters that I became aware of the differences between good and bad voiceover talent. It was the Baldur’s Gate series that really opened my ears to it. The voice actors really had nothing more to work with than a composite of their character and excellent writing. They had no other help to convey to the listener – in this case, the player – the emotion they were trying to convey. Yet, when Yoshimo utters his responses with Maurice LaMarche’s fake Asian accented voice, the player can’t help but feel like they have a great understanding of the type of person that Yoshimo is. He doesn’t even have that many lines. On the flip side, I could also tell who the game developers just grabbed to do voice work in a pinch.
It’s like they saw the Marketing Manager walk by and said, “Hey Brian, you have a good voice. Why don’t you do it?” And then Brian does his best, but the character comes off wooden. Since it’s just a bit part, like a guard let’s say, the developers don’t care, but when the player – who’s deeply invested in the game, amped and ready to kill the bad guy – hears the terrible lines, he or she is reminded that it’s just a game and the magic is broken.
So, it is with my deepest sincerity when I say Thank You to all of the wonderful voiceover actors that make animated film and video games awesome. Don LaFontaine, you will be missed.
At my core, I’m a performer. When you don’t do it professionally, people call it being an attention whore. I tend to agree, but I think my case is a little different, because I had aspirations to become a professional actor. I did some theater in high school and a few regional theater productions. I was the out-of-place Asian Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and I was the token effete Asian in 12 Angry Men among other roles. I also performed speeches in contests and was asked to read aloud more often than not because teachers enjoyed my speaking voice. I never considered doing voiceover work, however, until (once again) I played Baldur’s Gate. Part 2, to be exact.
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn gave players instructions on how they could insert their own voice as their character’s responses in the game. For instance, when your character went into battle, he or she had a stock battle cry. You could change it to say whatever you wanted. The same went for every other game-recognized action, like stealing, unlocking doors, etc. I decided to insert my own responses with my own voice. It was terrible. I couldn’t communicate the kind of character I was trying to play. You know the fat kid with glasses and rosacea splotches on his cheeks who wears a long black coat and a scowl on his face? In his mind, he’s a badass! Just look at the coat! But stick a mirror in his face and you dispel the delusion. Another good example is LARPers (Live Action Roleplayers). When they’re out in the woods, fighting beasties, it looks ridiculous to outside observers.
But when you’re caught up in the moment and there are beasties to slay, honor to defend and damsels in distress to rescue, it probably seems like this.
At my core, I’m also pretty practical. So I can recognize when I’m not putting out something quality, like my voiceover work for Baldur’s Gate II. That was OK. I was new at it. My forte resided in non-character-based voice work. That idea kept me from closing the door on voiceover work in the future. Not that it really mattered in a significant way, since I wasn’t considering voiceover talent as my career path.
In any event, the future became the present and my company was investing in product videos. Read my previous post about hiring a narrator. Anyway, as bad luck would have it, my company wanted to do more videos, but didn’t have the money to hire someone professional. Since I had already been in the running last time and had been told that I had a pleasant voice, I was the obvious go-to person.
So, without further ado, I share with you the fruits of my labor. In hindlisten, they’re not the best recordings, but overall I’m pleased with them. Comments are appreciated.