Arts & Entertainment

What is voice-over acting?

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Recording microphone
A microphone - not a camera - records the work of a voice-over actor
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Voice-over actors are not recognizable by sight, but by sound.

Have you ever been watching a commercial and recognized the person's voice doing the announcing? It seems more and more celebrities are doing voice-over acting these days. We can hear Gene Hackman telling us to shop at a certain hardware store or Patrick Dempsey telling us which kind of car to buy. But we never see the faces behind the voices we hear in cartoons, commercials and video games. So, what is voice-over acting?

Voice-over acting has many different faces. Or, maybe I should say voices. The main place we hear voice-over actors is in cartoons. Animated motion pictures and TV cartoons need actors to give voices to all of the characters.

Stars in Cartoons

Sometimes, the voices are very recognizable, like when Robin Williams provided the voice of the genie in the Disney picture Aladdin. In fact, that was the film that started the flood of Hollywood actors doing voices in animated films. Before that, voice actors were recognizable by their voice alone. Paul Winchell was the voice of Tigger, John Fiedler was the voice of Piglet and Sterling Holloway was the voice of Pooh Bear in Disney's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. They all voiced many other Disney characters, but most people had no idea what they looked like because they didn't appear in live action films.

Boys Played by Females

In cartoons, the voices of young male characters will often be provided by female actors, especially in a long-running television series or a movie that is expected to spawn sequels. If a young male actor is employed, his voice will inevitably change as he grows, but a woman's voice will not change. One example of this is the character Bart in The Simpsons, which is voiced by Nancy Cartwright.

Live-action Movies

In live-action movies, voice actors will give the voices to characters that are only heard on the telephone or over the radio, like police dispatchers. Majel Barrett, the wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, provided the voice of the computer on the Enterprise.


Many voice-over actors will become known for a vocal type like the movie trailer voice. Don LaFontaine is one of the most famous voice-over actors, providing the voice for over 5,000 movie trailers. You can watch a CBS interview with him.

Other Realms of Voice Actors

Voice actors also provide voices for video games, radio and television commercials, and movies or TV shows that feature puppets. They are also used to dub English dialogue over the dialogue in foreign language films. You can hear voice actors telling you to "press 1 for English" on those annoying automated telephone systems.

So, what is voice-over acting? Well, it is an art in and of itself, and a way for actors to put the talent of their voices to a good and financially lucrative use.

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