Paying attention to emerging trends in Voiceover is something us sound engineers make time to do. I find it much easier when it also intercepts with my leisure interests, like comics! When something remarkable happens, our ears take notice. If you aren’t skirmish around animated gore, watch Invincible, if only for the vocal direction. It’s not your typical creative direction for epic animation!
Don’t want to waste time on a synopsis of the show since there are many people out there who do that for a living, so quickly our super family members are Mark Grayson (think Spiderman mixed with Superboy) his Mother Debbie Grayson (Not powered BUT voiced by Sandr Oh) and Father Omni-Man (think Superman or maybe Homelander). If you liked the comic, you’ll enjoy the series. If you don’t like Robert Kirkman’s style of gory over-the-top violence in a long dramatic series filled with unrelenting trauma and tragedy for his protagonists, well maybe the series was never going to work for you. However, it’s the unique-for-the-genre voice over direction is what we’re talking about here.
Remarkable actors portray every character in this show but don’t expect larger than life superhero performances. These actors are doing very little which I believe accomplishes more.
The series opens on a conversation where Steve the security guard (Jon Hamm) is explaining the struggles of his adopted teenage son. Such a quiet and thoughtful note this series decided to start on. Hamm’s vocal projection is minuscule. His vocal performance is intimate and brings a ton of emotion and humanity to this conversation. Immediately I’m wondering if this sets the stage for the show, is this to contrast this project from all other epic superhero animations? Is it just a set up for an epic fight that breaks this emotional set up? Well yeah, maybe yes to both.
A couple scenes later we see Omni Man (J.K. Simmons) hushed and gentle vocal delivery. First Jon Hamm now J.K. Simmons, both completely pulled back in their performance. These two are fantastic actors and they’re not putting a lot into these reads? Neither of these actors are just phoning it in… they were directed this way. WHY?
We have all gotten used to the non-announcer spec on voiceover projects keeping our VO performances toned down and feeling natural. We do this to create authenticity and avoid an obviously selly/announcery voice. I believe by now we are all tired of being sold to, so instead we are more interested in conversations rather than sales pitches.
Back to our show. Our protagonists seem to be taking this a step further with something I want to call the Ultra Conversational or maybe Anti-Announcer read. It doesn’t seem to matter what’s happening on the screen, voiceover performances by J.K. Simmons(Omni-Man) and Steven Yuen(Mark Grayson) are so turned down they’re just above a whisper.
Even when their characters are flying around the world or at great distances from each other, neither uses any projection. Never raising their voice; never too ‘animated’, never over acting. Which if you really wanted to argue, having super sensitive hearing could mean keeping conversations at a hushed level would be more comfortable. But even the unpowered keep it quietly ultra-conversational.
So how does this help with your voiceover performance? I believe the lesson to learn from Invincible is how to use NUANCE!
The nuances shown in these performances are beautiful. If we had a preconceived notion of how a typical animated series should be voiced, well this is not that notion. The low projection, the soft and intimate delivery all really sells the emotional parts without beating us over the head with ‘this is sad or worrisome.’ Steven Yeun’s (Mark Grayson) delivery feels like an awkward but likeable teenager. JK Simmons (Omni-man) comes off as a thoughtful stoic with some controlled rage. Sandra Oh (Debbie Grayson) delivers every line full of emotion and compassion. All these actors have been directed away from an epic superhero deliver and toward a perfected low projected read full of nuances!
Next commercial audition that says non-announcer make sure to DIAL IT BACK.
This is a hard skill for those coming from radio or from on-stage acting. Lowering vocal projection is a struggle for those who have always needed to push more. The perfected skills of getting a bigger performance, getting more words into a short amount of time, or filling a stage with your voice are all bad habits for most of today’s voiceovers. Coming into Voiceover fresh can be an advantage but even new talent need to learn how to control the power/projection they have. More often than not, voiceover talent need to learn the skill of dialing back their vocal projection. This lets the words and feeling naturally come out of your delivery instead of being forced/pushed out towards that microphone! Stop announcing the script and focus on a more natural and nuanced performance.
Invincible may include some of the most pulled back down delivery I’ve witnessed in an animated series but there’s a great lesson for all voiceover talent here. Listen to these accomplished On-Camera actors shine in their animated voiceover performances. Notice the value in dealing in nuances.
Avoid pushing. Avoid Projecting. See how it sounds. To me, it feels more human, more intimate, more real. This is something a lot more than animation.
Think we will continue to see less and less big time acting and more and more pulled back performances? I’m thinking we will.
Bonus Watch: Even during a prison break with Run the Jewels playing the infamous Kevin Michael Richardson as Mauler twins has a calm natural delivery.