Many professional acting roles are not performed on a public stage or in front of motion picture cameras. A voice actor's workplace is often a cramped sound booth in a small recording studio with little more than a script and a microphone for company. A voice actor could be hired to narrate a documentary film, voice-over a television or radio commercial, or provide a voice for animated characters in cartoons. Sometimes producers of these projects will hire recognized actors with distinctive voices, but they may also hire a relatively unknown but instantly recognized voice actor.
A voice actor uses many of the same skills and techniques to create a convincing animated character as he or she would to create a film or stage character. Because a voice can convey subtle nuances of character or emotion, a voice actor must often rehearse the scripted lines with a director before recording the actual performance. A voice actor hired to create a cartoon voice needs to understand the motivation and background history of the character in order to create a believable performance for the eventual audience.
Because large-scale animation projects may take years to complete, a cast of voice actors may record their dialogue in a studio and not see the results of their efforts for a long time. Many animators prefer to have the voice actor's performance on hand in order to synchronize the character's mouth movements and general appearance. It is not unusual for producers to film voice actors as they record their dialogue as a means of incorporating the actors' own personalities into the final renderings.
Another venue for a voice actor is narration. Documentary filmmakers often hire distinctive voice-over professionals or established actors to narrate their films. While their faces may not be as familiar to audiences as Dustin Hoffman or Clint Eastwood, younger actors such as Liev Schreiber and Billy Crudup have become well-known for their voice-over work on documentary films and television commercials. Schreiber narrates many PBS programs, while Crudup has been associated with the "Priceless" MasterCard® ad campaign for a number of years.
Becoming a voice actor can be just as challenging as breaking into any other aspect of the entertainment industry. Some production companies ask for an audition tape containing previous voice-over work or demonstrations of different characters and accents. Others may ask voice actors to audition live with scripted lines, also known as a "cold reading." Some animation companies have a specific type of voice in mind for a character, and a voice actor may be asked to improvise several different ideas in different vocal registers.
Although a career as a voice actor may not be as physically demanding as a career in television or movies, years of performing exaggerated cartoon voices can become very taxing on the performer's throat. Many professional voice actors are represented by a labor union, which can protect its members from working excessive hours or performing characters which are too vocally demanding. Some voice actors for cartoons literally perform as dozens of different characters, and spend much of their day traveling from recording studio to recording studio.