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Voice Acting vs. On-Camera Acting

Acting Secrets from the On-Camera World

Acting for voice over is not so different than acting for the camera. Although perhaps a bit harder, since there’s no one else in the room to interact with. And it’s typically in a VERY small room, at that.

The primary difference is the medium of expression. On-camera work is close-up, often focusing on the face, and especially on the eyes. This is where actors in a scene most connect. And it’s where we register the truth behind a character’s emotions and reactions to the other people and events in the story. Often, our sense that a scene feels REAL is because the actor has internalized his or her character’s wants and the struggle to overcome obstacles – and expresses that honesty through the eyes. A number of acting schools, particularly those that teach the Meisner technique, train their actors to connect with their scene partners visually, to search for the real meaning of a word or phrase in the eyes and thereby react viscerally and honestly.

Voice actors have a microphone. That’s it, no one else is in the booth. Perhaps a photo of an imagined scene partner may be propped up as a point of connection, but there’s no other living, breathing human being inside that rather constricted space to react to. The story, the emotion, the truth of the moment must be conveyed solely through the voice. This doesn’t mean that the voice actor doesn’t use the rest of the body – far from it! – but that the inflection, tone, tempo, volume, and pacing of the voice is the sole medium of expression.

The same acting principles, however, apply to voice over as they do to on-camera work. The trained voice actor analyzes the script in very much the same way as the on-camera actor. What is the story that is being told? If the script is a commercial piece, then what is the problem that the target audience is wrestling with and how does the client’s product or service resolve it? If the voice over is intended for internal corporate use, perhaps as a presentation or an eLearning module, there may be a call-to-action (CTA), as well. The actor analyzes the script from multiple angles and asks a variety of questions to bring clarity to its purpose. The relationship between speaker and receiver, the purpose of the voice over, the placement in time and space (even if not seen) to ground the scene, the obstacles and conflicts that must be recognized and overcome, and perhaps even a change of perspective or understanding by the speaker himself/herself … the process is the same. Voice over IS acting, not just reading a script in a pleasant voice, and the successful voice artist has trained in both acting and improvisation work.

The goal for both voice and on-camera actors is the same: to create a believable, “real person” to convey a message.

Sanford Meisner famously teaches, acting is "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances." And this applies whether the medium is visual or purely auditory.