British Female Voice Over Artist
How to nail the scary voice over – what makes a voice frightening?
The Wicked Witch of The West in The Wizard of Oz was my first encounter with a frightening character voice and it was Margaret Hamilton’s distinctive vocal delivery that scared me more than the makeup or costume and had me hiding behind the sofa.
Years later and it’s my voice scaring people. Characters who are mad, bad and dangerous to know are one of my favourite aspects of being a voice actor. When narrating horror stories, bringing life to witches, ghouls and other worldly beings for games, animation and live events I am in my element. In fact as I write I know my voice is frightening folks at Thorpe Park Fright Nights right now at their Stitches Maze attraction.
But what is it about a voice that raises the hairs on the back of the neck and sends a shudder through the bravest? And how to master it?
Before opening your mouth…
Who are they? What do they look like?
Part of the job for screen and stage actors is to research the role they are portraying in order to give a realistic performance and although a voice over actor is not seen this is also key to their process.
Who is the creepy witch in the wood or the ogre under the bridge, and where are they? Where is the wood? Has she always lived there or was she banished from faraway Siberia? Is the bridge the gateway to a fantasy kingdom or is it The Golden Gate Bridge? Is she young and nimble footed or old and arthritic? Has he a stoop or does he stand tall at 3ft 10 inches? Physicality makes a difference to the voice you use.
You may look ridiculous crouching over the mic with your head on one side in your studio but if this is your character’s posture it will help you find their voice. Or perhaps they wring their hands while thinking up their evil plots. Don’t be afraid to push out the stops with your acting – just don’t trip over or make any unintentional noises!
What’s their motivation?
Even if you are only voicing a couple of lines for a witch in a Halloween project it is helpful for you to know why she is conjuring up her evil spells and why she wants to use them on the local children, nosey villagers etc.
Has she been picked on for her long chin, pointed hat fetish and unusual form of transport and is seeking revenge or is she just a sociopath? These details can make a difference to how you handle those few lines and help give a more believable performance.
Who is the audience?
Are you voicing an evil character for an 18 rated game or a naughty witch for a children’s radio drama? Obviously you will be given the script which will guide your decision on how frightening to sound but just be mindful of how terrifying you need to be.
Can you classify them?
Putting your character into a classification can help you to create their authentic voice.
- Lawful Evil eg Bane from Batman.
They are disciplined and may follow their own personal code or exploit the law to conquer and control. A slower and quieter voice will exude creepiness without resorting to screaming obscenities. Even when all is lost they may stay in control of their emotions.
- Neutral Evil eg The Scarecrow.
They are entirely selfish and act to please themselves. Can be psychopathic or addicted to theft or murder and have no problem in killing or harming others to get what they want. They may use their voice in various styles and tones to be unpredictable and therefore keep their audience in fear of their next move. Think sickly sweet and friendly at the beginning of a sentence with a sinister edge on the final word. Perhaps with a well placed pause. Gotta love a pause.
- Chaotic Evil eg The Joker .
They seek destruction, fear and havoc and are totally unpredictable. They enjoy mayhem and the fear this instils in others and leap from one emotion to another erratically.They often have a manic laugh rather than a sinister chuckle. Huge swings in vocal style and pace and volume will conjure up this character well. Personally I think this is the hardest character to voice as there can be a tendency to over do the mania throughout a script and become wearing rather than frightening so be mindful to reel it in as well as hitting the bonkers button.
Can you sustain the voice?
Coming up with a low, raspy growl may sound a great plan and impress your client but if you have more than a few lines it may ruin your vocal chords for the rest of the day or week and bang goes your other voice over work.
To sum up
- Ask your client and yourself as many questions as needed to create the character in your head.
- Get hold of an image if possible or invent how they look and move.
- Thinking of a specific actor and they way they deliver their villainous lines can help.
- What is their motivation to do what they do?
- Don’t risk ruining your voice.
And have fun scaring the bejesus out of your listeners!
Who is your favourite scary voice?
Check out my variety of vocal styles in the demo page or for a quick idea of my voice click on the audio link below.