Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

An Example of Making an Animation VO Demo

Here’s an example of how I would plot out a hypothetical animation demo:

Okay, I’ve done my homework and listened to a bunch of animation demos on local top voice over agency websites and I think I know what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve enough experience with acting, taken a couple voice classes and got very good feedback and I feel ready to finally make a demo. I’ve asked a few voice actors and casting directors or agents I’ve met along the way for recommendations on help with the engineering and producing of my animation demo and am ready to get going on this!

I approach my hypothetical demo by first considering what kind of work I want to attract and what I might be right for. I’m thinking about what is out there, what is hot, what looks like fun to me, what suits my talents.

I want brief scenes that might offer some character archetypes I would be right for that could be casting now. The more specific I am on this, the better.

I’ll spend time browsing around all sorts of sources. This search process will help me come up with scene and character ideas, perhaps from shows I’ve liked or video games I’ve played or even movies I’ve seen that might provide source material for my script.

I’ll change the names and dialogue enough on my script so it’s not an obvious lift, but I’d retain the scene’s idea and “flavor,” so to speak.

I assemble a number of scenes and character ideas– way more than I will need– and begin whittling it down to my top candidates. I keep in mind that I want to target characters that could realistically fit into a variety of projects (e.g. a superhero-type, a dad, an insane wacky sidekick, an bad cop, a scary peddler, a nervous teacher, etc).

For my example, I want my final demo script to cover television, movies and games, leaning towards television. I’ll aim for all the main animation networks, Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network, Marvel, Lucas, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. I’ll try to keep a eye on what is currently doing well on these networks that might be a good fit for me.

I’ll also keep in mind what is happening in video games that I might be right for.

I write out my scenes, hone them down, discard what doesn’t feel right or too repetitive and begin locking in a sequence for my demo, mixing up status of character as much as possible. As I assemble a sequence of scenes, I aim for radical disparity in tone of character and scene.

I break down the essence of each little scene in italics afterwards to make sure I’m covering a good range of archetypes and tone. Notice there is an implied relationshiop in each scene, not just a bunch of words or monologs of characters talking to themselves. A scene partner can be silent (it can be in the middle of a scene) or implied. This is very important.

So, here’s my lineup for my hypothetical demo:

1. A super hero under fire, escapes to discover and then comfort a dying friend (Warner Bros., Marvel) —heroic, young man, powerful, realistic, high energy to low energy dramatic

2. Wacky sidekick delivers a eulogy then accidentally sets self on fire. (Nickelodeon comedy cartoon, e.g. SpongeBob)–broadly comedic character, off-kilter, starts somber then transitions to high energy

3. Deviant teen cornered by police transforms into a monster (videogame, superhero series, action fantasy)–teenage, evil, powerful, contained energy, realistic, transitions to creature sounds

4. Sweet miniature elf flies down and land and begins explaining a puzzle. (pre-school, Playhouse Disney)–gentle, sweet, parental, sparkling energy, magical teacher

5. Bizarre, vaguely threatening foreign weapon salesman offers more than originally requested (t.v. action fantasy, a la TMNT or Legend of Korra- even super hero,)–foreign accent, threatening, possible villain, odd, mid to late middle age, low energy

6. Oddball pompous mayor making a P.A. announcement that turns sociopathic in flavor (Adult Swim, Fox TV, Adventure Time)–authority figure, realistic comedic, mid-aged, vital energy

7. A doomed rural gas station mechanic explains the fastest route out of the city to a terrified woman. (Walking Dead-type zombie show, video games, super hero TV series) —adult, low status, regional accent, realistic, resigned energy

8. Dying wizard mustering the energy to pass on a secret before expiring. (straight ahead dramatic- Harry Potter-esque-super hero tv series, online MMORPG games)–very old, theatrical, heroic, magical, Shakespearean, slow, low energy

9. I might sprinkle in some combat effort sounds in my demo and a few creature-like sounds that might fit in with a scene or two, since I specialize in that. (If just vocalizations- it must show acting, not just making sounds!) I’ll make sure to mention these extra vocalizations when I post it on my website.

Edit this down:

This sequence may well be too much after we record, add music and sound effects and listen through it. Perhaps we could lose the gas attendant or weapon salesman, after all. Maybe the teen didn’t sound convincing enough so we re-record it after a character adjustment. (If I’m working with an engineer producer, they may offer one re-record session in their original fee, while more tinkering may cost me extra.)

That brings us down to six bits strung together. If I allow ten seconds per segment, we’ve got a generous one minute demo, which perhaps could still be trimmed down even further when we listen with objective and honest ears.

It’s hard to cut it down, but you gotta do it! Holding the listener’s interest is vital! Think of it this way: A demo is only as good as its weakest segment. If the listener experiences boredom at one section it taints the entire demo and kills interest in your acting.

Final touches:

When I’ve finished my first run at this, my engineer edits the segments together as a rough cut, adding music I’ve selected from soundtracks and other sources along with sound effects.

I ask trusted ears (including my agent) to give it a listen, compare it again to demos of my competitors and start cutting. It is consistently great? Is it tight? Impressive? Hit all the types I might be cast in? Does something need to be added? I delete all segments that don’t shine or that drag on. Make my fixes. I reconsider the whole thing again with friendly ears, make final trimmings and I’m done…for now.

Your demo must impress otherwise don’t submit it:

Never submit a mediocre demo to an agent or casting person. A bad first impression is worse than none at all. You don’t want to have to walk back a bad first impression at a later date. You’ll probably never get that chance.

30 Responses »

  1. Is it common to use copyrighted materials [in making a demo]? I’m hesitant to use copyrighted scenes/scripts for a demo […]

  2. Should the video have titles like “Young Hero” before you read a scene
    or will the general tone and timbre of your voice clue in the execs/casting people listening to it

    • I would never make a video voice over demo, only an all-audio demo. Visuals distract from focusing on what is important- your acting and range. You don’t want someone listening to your voice acting thinking about shows that are already in the can, produced by others. You want them thinking about your acting in a show yet to be.

  3. You mention adding “music and sound effects”, would it be ill-advised to add effects to the actual voice – to replicate a character like James Spader’s Ultron, for example.

    • What’s important is your acting and I wouldn’t want anything in the way of communicating that. They are not looking to hire an engineer from a VO demo. I myself avoid any vocal processing-especially of the weird stuff I do. I want the listener to understand the performance comes from me, not from a plug in. Any performance can be modified, pitched or otherwise enhanced by a good engineer post-performance. That’s their job- not mine.

  4. Would it be wise to add animal sounds [to my animation demo]?

  5. Hello! My question is, given that you instruct to piece together different segments with much disparity, does that mean my reel doesn’t need to be one cohesive scene with the segments flowing sequentially? I can just have ten random segments cut together even though one doesn’t relate to the next at all?

    • Yes. But, as I detail, never “random.” Disparate and targeted to the specific market/projects/companies/networks you want to appeal to is what you’re going for. And only stand out, good acting performances- nothing mediocre or sub-competitive.

      Random choices never get an actor anywhere.

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