As the creative industry of animation and video games have grown larger in recent years, voice talents are becoming more important to breathe life into the beloved characters we know today.
Voice talents, Azman Zulkiply, Ida Rahayu Yusoff, Su Ling Chan and Steven Bones sat down in a panel of Voice Acting for Animation and Video Games at Star Supa Comic to discuss how they started their careers and shared what it’s like to be a voice actor in Malaysia.
Azman is known for his roles as Ejen Rizwan, General Rama, and Viktor in Ejen Ali while Ida voiced the eponymous hero. Steven and Su Ling played the musician duo, Mayday and Zuke in the upcoming Metronomik’s No Straight Roads. Each of them have been in the voice acting business for more than a decade and have put their fingers in every pie including TV and radio commercials, animations and video games.
How it all began
Steven was practically glued to the television while he was growing up. “During my time, I watched stuff like Bugs Bunny, Looney Tunes, commercial and all of that, so I copied everything I heard,” he shared. More than playful imitations, those voice characters wired into his Bones (no pun intended) that he eventually described himself as a ‘character voice over talent’ when he broke into the industry. He delivers a wide range of persona from voicing every character in The Lion King parody to a clumsy chicken turns superhero in Chuck Chicken.
As for Su Ling, her voice acting career began in an unconventional way. Previously, she worked in the advertising industry as the person in charged of the recording booth. She wasn’t keen enough to be in the recording session until she accompanied her friend to an animation voice over audition. Now, she is the English voice of Ying in BoBoiBoy and about to star in her first gig for video games as Mayday in No Straight Roads.
The voice of Ejen Ali and Comot the cat, Ida got her first big break as a magical creature who loves to eat durian, Oopet in Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula. She landed her first opportunity as a voice actor when Les Copaque Production conducted an open audition at the studio for the role of Oopet while she was working there. As an animator, she said it helps her with the character preparation for a voice over. Similar to Steven, she also likes to copy voices from television, anime, and comics and perform together with her brother when she was a child.
Azman got his start in voice acting when he was required to do voices for the characters in his own animation during his university years. “Me and Ida were from the same school and we were studying animation in Cyberjaya. During the last phase of our final year project, we’re doing animation so we had to do voices for our show. And we had no money, of course, to hire real voice actors so we had to step in and bring our own voices in the project,” he said. Since then, he has played the villain Borara in BoBoiBoy: The Movie and Krom and Beaks in Rimba Racer.
How to get a role: 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated will power
To prepare for voice acting jobs, Steven walked us through the audition process. There are two types of voice over audition calls: for professional voice talents only and for the general public. Most of the auditions don’t give a full description of the character, but if you’re lucky, you might get the general brief of the character such as age, gender, appearance, and characteristics. So you have to work on a different range of voices in order to envision what kind of voice they want.
Voice actors have the incredible ability to switch or manipulate their voices to sound the total opposite of their normal speaking voice. Ida and Su Ling both have a high-pitched voice so they tend to be casted as small children, regardless of gender. One of the reasons why female voice actors are chosen to do the voices of boys in animation and video games are because boys’ voices could change drastically from high to low pitch during puberty. Other than Ida as Ejen Ali, some of the fans might not notice that Naruto, Goku, and Monkey D. Luffy share one thing in common: they are all voiced by female voice actors.
What matters is it all comes down to your instinct, which can take years of practice to find your voice type and sometimes, it depends on pure luck. Practice and luck may be crucial factors in landing a voice over job but perseverance is also part of the job. “For every audition you do not attend, (sic) that would just reduce your chances of getting a foot in the door,” Steven said.
Another hardest aspect to know as a voice actor is to be able to interpret the direction and the feedback given by the director or producers. He gave an example, “Let’s say, the director asked you to say, “Welcome to Supa Comic!” and he was like, “Can you do it with a little bit more smile?” / “I want it to be more warm.” / “Oh, it’s a bit too warm now. Just try to hold that down for now.”
It might sound like crazy talk but this is part and parcel of the job, which you need to have a good sense of information and direction processing to perform a role.
The best (and worst) experience as a voice actor
In the span of 10 years in the voice acting industry, Azman revealed his worst (and the funniest) experiences he’s had. “I was trapped in the recording booth for the longest time just because the director was pretty pissed that I couldn’t make my voice more ‘yellow’ or ‘red’,” he laughed. “I was like, what does it mean? But still, I was stuck there in a very long time until I pretty much walked out because it’s just not working.”
The best experience in the job as a voice actor for Azman so far is to be given the freedom to interpret the script in his own way and all that work including the ad-libs (spontaneous and improvised voice lines) made it into the final cut of the product.
Ida also shared her concerns, “I’m frustrated when the studio is not ready with the final script. So, you ended up reading and finished 3 episodes. In the next two, three days, I get a callback to ask to reread the same episodes. It was tiring!” Her most special experience is that she got to do creature sounds in Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula.
Su Ling, a Chinese herself, shared she was asked insistently to sound more Chinese by the director for a radio commercial. “I spent two hours to sound more Chinese. In the end, I don’t know what it means by more Chinese and then, after 2 hours, I guess we were very tired and that’s it. Thank you,” she giggled.
When asked about her favourite experience, she said it was the process of making No Straight Roads, especially watching a recording session between her colleague, Steven as Zuke and a yet-to-be-named famous actress.
“Who knew that voicing a tiny potato chip can be so exhausting? The task was simple: there was no line at all and the advertisement was only for 15 seconds long”. The downside was Steven had to cackle non-stop for 2 hours. Another odd voice over job was that Steven had to read bank contracts for the blind.
“I have to read a whole stack of bank contracts that we don’t even read! I have to read all of it and turns into a CD for blind people. I know it’s for a good cause,” he joked. However, he unveiled that the actual worst job that he ever took was the voice of an angry husband in a domestic abuse PSA. After an intense recording session, it took a toll on his emotional and mental state that caused him to stop for a moment.
Ejen Ali will return to the big screen in Ejen Ali The Movie coming soon while No Straight Roads will be released on PC and PS4 early 2020.