What does a Voice-Over Actor do?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Voice-over actors may provide narration for a movie trailer.
Voice-over actors may provide narration for a movie trailer.

A voice-over actor is a person who performs, typically with voice alone, in a variety of media. These actors work in animated films and series, and lend their voices to dubbed foreign films, video games and commercials. They’re at once prominent and behind the scenes. Though generally not in front of a camera when they’re acting, the voice-over actor is the principal talent of many shows or other productions that require acting, and the degree of talent may make productions a success or failure.

Many people are familiar with animated films like those produced by Disney® and these films usually use well-known traditional movie or television stars for major voice acting parts. This tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

Voice-over actors may provide narration for commercials.
Voice-over actors may provide narration for commercials.

In contrast, a person who spends his life being a voice-over actor may never be very well-known or achieve celebrity status, though there are a few exceptions. Some of the most famous actors in Japanese animated series or video games have huge followings, but principally the voice-over actor is known by his or her voice, only. The most prolific actors are probably recognizable when they voice new characters, but it would be their voices and not necessarily their face that would be recognized.

A voice-over actor may provide narration to help further the plot of a film.
A voice-over actor may provide narration to help further the plot of a film.

This does not make these actors less talented or skilled in their craft. When they act the part of animated or video game characters, they must rely most on vocalization, inflection, tone, and accent that make up the character in order to be effective and believable. Gone is the ability to gesture, to move, or to use facial expressions, and instead, actors get cues from what is already filmed or animated to determine how the voice should match, or sometimes animators get cues from the actors on how to animate.

Voice-over actors may work on children's shows.
Voice-over actors may work on children's shows.

Other voice-over actor parts don’t even have these types of cues. People may narrate TV commercials, participate in radio commercials, or possibly be part of books on tape or radio and podcast plays. In these cases, actors must draw from themselves and whatever instructions they’re given by directors to determine how to effectively use the voice to make a point or excite listeners.

Ryan Seacrest-- a famous radio and television show host -- has performed as the voice of characters in films such as in "Shrek Forever After."
Ryan Seacrest-- a famous radio and television show host -- has performed as the voice of characters in films such as in "Shrek Forever After."

Many voice actors have training in acting and they may be especially good with voicing characters with different accents, and in different pitches and tones. Since the actor loses the ability to convey by visuals, honing their ability to turn their voice into a diverse instrument that reaches people is very important. Some people train in traditional acting, others have had specific voice-acting training, and a few people come to the business naturally talented.

Many voice-over actor parts are located near major recording venues, but some actors can make a living outside Hollywood or New York. The need for voice acting in so many different venues means some people make a decent salary in smaller urban or suburban environments. Greater fame typically means living close to television or movie studios to obtain the more high profile jobs.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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    • Voice-over actors may provide narration for a movie trailer.
      Voice-over actors may provide narration for a movie trailer.
    • Voice-over actors may provide narration for commercials.
      Voice-over actors may provide narration for commercials.
    • A voice-over actor may provide narration to help further the plot of a film.
      A voice-over actor may provide narration to help further the plot of a film.
    • Voice-over actors may work on children's shows.
      Voice-over actors may work on children's shows.
    • Ryan Seacrest-- a famous radio and television show host -- has performed as the voice of characters in films such as in "Shrek Forever After."
      Ryan Seacrest-- a famous radio and television show host -- has performed as the voice of characters in films such as in "Shrek Forever After."