Voice Directors McSwain and Zimmerman Interviewed

Justin Shenkarow has been doing voice-overs since the age of 6. He performed the voice of the iconic Charlie Brown in It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown! (1982), was the voice of Little Sprout in Jolly Green Giant commercials, and has voiced lead and supporting characters for such cartoons as W.I.T.C.H., Hey Arnold, 101 Dalmatians, and Life with Louie.

I recently discovered Justin’s blog — JustIn Time, which includes two interviews from June 2009 with voice directors Ginny McSwain (Jimmy Neutron, The Batman, Darkwing Duck) and Kris Zimmerman (The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, Ben 10, Curious George).

Both interviews are a must-read for aspiring voice actors, beginners, and professionals for the insight they offer on doing auditions and what it takes to break in and succeed as a voice actor. Here are some excerpts:

– Ginny McSwain (official site: GinnyMcSwain.com) on what it takes to break into voice-overs:

You can’t touch it unless you’re a strong actor. Versatility is good, being in touch with the basics, theater people gravitate the quickest to the microphone, they know how to breathe, they know the pacing, and have good energy…I’m looking for people that can cut to the chase really fast, they’ve got all the layers to the part. If you’re not a strong actor, you won’t know the layers, the nuances the flushing out of the character. Forget about the microphone, it’s all about the acting and telling the story. Most importantly you have to know what your voice sounds like. So much of this is creating characters, sides of the character—low key, anger, laughter, crying. Now a lot is listening for natural actors. You need a work out, take a class, sit in front of a microphone continuously figuring out where your placement is for your voice—for an intimate read, over the top, you have to get there fast for voice-over. Training is important, take classes in animation.

Click here to read Ginny’s complete interview.

– Kris Zimmerman on how to break into voice-overs:

Belief in yourself is key; having the acting skills, as well as vocal versatility. It’s not a voice job, or a sound job, it’s an acting job. I don’t like it when it’s pinballed as “it’s just voice-over.” It’s one of the most difficult acting jobs that you can think of, because you don’t have sets, or props. All you’ve got is a microphone and a piece of glass between us and our imaginations. The more that the actor can pull on those tools: imagination, creativity, and self-directing skills, the more successful they’ll be.

– Kris on how to stand-out in an audition:

You have to be in the moment. The actor must have the character live that moment. It’s easy to hear if someone is just reading. If it sounds like they’re giving me the dialogue because it’s written in front of them, I can tell. It’s a medium where you have to read because you’re not going to memorize a 1700 page script, but you have to be able to get your brain off the page and not forget that you’re responding to something that happened.

Click here to read Kris’ complete interview.

Justin also has an interview with Hey Arnold! and Dinosaur Train creator Craig Bartlett, who performed the voice of Brainy in Hey Arnold! as well as characters in Cactus (2008), Party Wagon (2004), and The Adventures of Mark Twain (1986).

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