Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Appreciating Voiceover Artists and Voice Actors

Don LaFontaine, the "King of Voiceovers" passed away yesterday at the age of 68 (see Variety's article on his passing here). You may not know his name, you may not know his face, but I'm willing to bet that you know his voice. I first learned his name and face a few years ago when I watched this funny video featuring LaFontaine and four other top voiceover artists. I still remember seeing it for the first time, wondering why the man in the limo was lipsynching to the voiceover, when I realized that he was the voiceover man himself! It was somehow very comical seeing an actual person speak with a voice that has grown so familiar over the years--a voice that I recognize but can't quite place simply because I have heard it in too many places. LaFontaine provided the voiceovers for the trailers of over 5,000 movies. He certainly kept busy. We have lost a great talent in an important but under-recognized art.

Voice actors, while distinct from voiceover artists, are similarly underappreciated. The current fad in animated movies seems to be assembling a star-studded cast to provide all the lead and featured voices in the movie. Some of these big name castings work out better than others--I myself get annoyed when an animated creature looks and sounds exactly (and sometimes disturbingly) like, for instance, Will Smith. But the big names can frequently lead to big returns at the box office (there are some notable failures, as well as notable successes that do not feature celebrities), further encouraging studios to cast the stars for their voices. This trend makes life even harder than it already is for the career voice actors--people generally more versatile, more creative, more dedicated to shaping a character out of a distinctive voice than the celebrities increasingly replacing them. It is an unfortunate trend.

To show my appreciation for these hard-working voice actors, I'd like to recognize here my favorite voice actors--basically, the people who have caught my attention through a variety of voices in computer games and cartoons.

Jim Cummings
I know Jim Cummings oh so well as the voice of Minsc in the great Baldur's Gate series. Everyone I know who has played Baldur's Gate has agreed that Minsc, with his miniature giant space hamster Boo, is their favorite character. Who wouldn't love that big oaf, on a valiant quest to give evil a good butt-kicking? Hilarious dialogue by the talented BG writers still needed Cummings' eccentric voice to bring it to life and turn Minsc into a lovable character whom players can feel like they really know. In addition to doing assorted other voices in the BG series, Cummings has provided his voice talents to such classics as Shrek and Aladdin, as well as for the beloved characters of Tigger and Winnie the Pooh!

Jennifer Hale
Dynaheir, Mazzy, Bastila, and Commander Shepard (female, obviously)--I have become very familiar with Jennifer Hale's voice through her roles in Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate 2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect. Her voice is my voice in Mass Effect (Commander Shepard is the player character), as well as the voice of the ship's computer and a couple people on Feros, I believe (her flexible voice and accents can make her difficult to recognize). I was also pleased to pick her out in a number of guest roles in the Justice League cartoons I recently watched.

Rob Paulsen
One of my small personal triumphs came when watching a Honda commercial and thinking, Hmm, that voice sounds oddly familiar... somewhere between Anomen and Yakko... Hey, it must be Rob Paulsen! In addition to providing the voice of Mr. Opportunity in those persistent Honda commercials, Paulsen voiced a number of notable characters in Animaniacs--Yakko Warner, Pinky, and Otto Scratchensniff--and in Baldur's Gate 2, including both party member Anomen and his hated nemesis Saerk (when I recognized the voice on my second play through, it added a bit of comedy to their confrontation). That's right, the same guy who did Anomen did Yakko and Pinky. Try to picture Anomen singing "United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama..." or exclaiming, "Narf!" For those who don't know who Anomen is, he's the knightly prick third down in my compilation of pictures in the sidebar of the blog (and unfairly the only romance option for us playing female PCs in BG2). Paulsen does lots of other versatile voices as well--I picked him out in Justice League, plus I know he has done the voice of Ninja Turtle Raphael.

Jason Marsden
I remember Jason Marsden in live action back in my elementary/middle school days on "Step by Step". I didn't clue into the fact that he was an active voice actor until watching the DVD extras for Spirited Away (he's Haku), and realizing that he had also done a number of voices in the Baldur's Gate series, including party members Ajantis (original BG) and Cernd (BG2) and Lilarcor, the talking sword. I have since then picked him out in KotOR and in--sense a pattern here?--the Justice League cartoons.

Mark Hamill
Unlike the others on this list, I have not grown familiar with Mark Hamill's voice acting through a number of computer games. In fact, the times that I've heard his voice in assorted cartoons, I found it totally unrecognizable even knowing it was him. I have him on this list because so many people wonder, Whatever happened to Mark Hamill after Star Wars? Well, he is a busy voice actor, that's what. While he has had many roles on many different shows, I know his voice best as the Joker in a number of DC cartoon series (including, as you may have guessed, Justice League). I find this fact pretty wild.

Now, I feel I should note that I may have omitted these actors' most famous roles in my selected filmographies. I have merely listed the places that I know the actors from off the top of my head. All I mean to say to these and other voice actors is this: While your faces and names may not be as well known as those of Jerry Seinfeld or Bruce Willis, your voices are a much more welcome sound. I, for one, am listening.

1 comment:

voice over artist said...

You have very well described about the voice artists and voice actors specially I liked about Mark Hamill
who is unlike the others on this list, I have not grown familiar with Mark Hamill's voice acting through a number of computer games. In fact, the times that I've heard his voice in assorted cartoons and commercials.