Vocal placement is the bane of most character voice performer’s existence! It is profoundly rewarding to capture a unique sound vocally and equally disturbing when the placement wanders and morphs into another texture or is lost completely. The voice performer can adapt the instrument through compressions and aspirations, textures and structural props, creating absolute vocal magic.

 However, maintaining these character choices shatter the nerves of even the most seasoned professional. For some it is like cupping water in their hands, so refreshing and yet frustrating as it seeps through your fingers...the prayer gone.  How do we SUSTAIN a specific placement so that it can withstand the rigor of all the emotional switch ups that most animation scripts require?

This is the plea of the animated voice performer, who tends to lose emotional, physical, mental and spiritual truth while trying desperately to support a chosen placement. We tend to find an accent, placement, rhythm or texture and forget that this does not enliven the character or inspire its' truth.  The placement is secondary to the character development and cannot take precedent over the emotional truth of the character.

You must always be an ACTOR/ACTRESS first and foremost when creating and maintaining a character. Never sacrifice the emotional, mental, physical, spiritual integrity of the character for a placement, accent, texture, etc.  There are certain fail safes that you can rely on to help you sustain specific catalogued characters that you may like to choose from your bag of tricks.  Know that structurally, placement is key and you must have the muscular strength to hold these placements through the vocal gymnasium that scripts require. To strengthen these placements (see my article on vocal placements) you MUST develop the muscularity required which means that you MUST work the instrument daily to achieve optimum strength.

If you wanted to have a great body, you must go to the gym every day and work out. I work my voice every single day and it serves me quite well as my ENT specialist says I have the largest chords he has ever seen, which is why I can support the kind of gravel required for characters such as the Nicorette monster, Lubriderm alligator, Beerain, Madame Liesel and Megamum (to name a few). In particular, you must make sure that your soft palette is completely strengthened and capable of supporting the kinds of textures, aspirations, gravel etc. that certain vocal characters demand.

Yawning is your best friend and you must push it to the farthest capable place for your instrument every day! Once you have strengthened your instrument and feel it is capable of feats of great strength~ Go for the GOLD! When tackling a character, find an 'ism' that helps you hook the character. This may be anything from tongue placement inside your lower lip or pursing your lips laterally, screwing up your nose, pulling your lower lip to the side of your face, finding a catch phrase like "yep, yep, yep" or "you know" or "darling' to help specify the character. It may be a vibrato, or slight stutter or repeat of words, it may be a swallowing effort or breathy hum, it could be opening the back of your throat and sucking in, or clearing your throat or creating jowls!

There are infinite 'isms' that make your character unique and it is the ism that will help anchor the dynamic of the character no matter what emotional situation they are in.  Physically become your character. If you are ultra feminine, know how this character would stand and how she uses her hands just as if a male character may hunch over with his belly sticking out, or the chin may jut forward, or the head may shake slightly, or the butt is shaking. Create the character and create every part of it's being.

Determine how your character vocally assists its emotional situations. Do they "ah" or "oo" or "sniffle" or "grunt"? Do they have certain efforts just in walking? How do they breathe, how do they show fear, how do they express vocal excitement? Write all the traits down that will help you maintain the overall health and truth of your character. Always and most importantly, you must know the character LAUGH

This is key and will get you out of any situation when you feel that the character may be slipping. If you don't have the character laugh, you do not know the character.  For, JOY is the basis of all animation characters even if they are villains and evil.  Be conscious of the age, size, weight, gender of your character, stay lighter for the younger characters, do not press into the copy or overwork it, keep a naieve truth and playfulness to them.  With age press into the weight. Remember, neither youth or age are played slowly, which is a constant mistake.

Buoyancy is key for the emotional truth of all characters. Keep a reference catalogue for yourself of your trusted and favorite characters, so that you can remind yourself of specific placements that you may have found. So many of my students find amazing characters and do not record them for posterity and then cannot remember what they sounded like. You will constantly be creating new characters, so keep your recorder close at hand so that you always have a reference! Revisit the characters that you have created when you are doing your homework. Don't leave certain placements to rot, all characters will come to play at some time or another and you never know when a certain one will be called upon.

If you haven't played with the catalogue then you will not strengthen the placements! Have your specific villains, heros/heroines, characters and 'others' that you call upon and then make additions to these specifics that you have for different genres of animation. There are infinite possibilities for character placement and sustainability and it is your responsibility to maintain the creative source that brings audiences so much pleasure.  Do your homework and create your catalogues inspiring both yourself and the listeners that desperately need your storytelling skills to help raise the vibration of this planet.

 Live the DREAM!

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Comment by reed rudy on September 10, 2012 at 12:39pm

great insight! thanks for the generous post. 

Comment by Pat Fraley on September 10, 2012 at 11:34am

This is gold. Of the six elements to the sound of a character voice (Pitch, Pitch Characteristic, Tempo, Rhythm, Placement and Mouth Work, Placement is our greatest ally to versatility, and it's not rocket surgery. Find them and practice sustaining them. THANK YOU you, Elley-Ray.

Comment by Kat Bawcom on September 9, 2012 at 11:30pm

I am a newcomer and feel very fortunate to be a part of these discussions. This is indeed "greatness" -- Cheers.


Comment by Sonny Melendrez on September 9, 2012 at 11:08pm

This is brilliantly written and truly captures the essence of what we character artists search for each time an original person-ality is asked of us. Finding that magical key can cause door after door to open and what the listener doesn't know is that we are just as entertained by how the character behaves as they are.

Applause to you, Elley-Ray!

May your chords continue to be struck with child-like delight.

Sonny Melendrez

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