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

The Creatures Walk Among Us

Insights and inspiration from our spineless community of friends

It’s no wonder that voicing things that chirp, purr or roar is my career because I have always loved animals. Tadpoles, salamanders and snakes took their turns in my childhood’s bedside terrarium. I would have had a bat and an alligator had Mom allowed it. She took me to my first movie, “Dr. Doolittle,” which apparently made quite an impression on me.

My critter curiosity blossomed into a fascination with movie monsters, dinosaurs, Bigfoots and other cryptids, all of which I have ended up regularly voicing at the microphone. 

I’m pleased to have stumbled upon confirmation that we are indeed surrounded by monsters. They lurk seemingly everywhere. In fact, I consult them regularly for artistic fuel and inspiration. 

I’m talking about bugs.

I recently supercharged my fondness for all things spineless with the help of a small macro lens I affixed to my iPhone’s camera. The ubiquity and variety of invertebrates I found blanketing my neighborhood boggled my mind. I even made a website dedicated to showcasing the creeping abundance surrounding me.  

Under any rock you’ll find perfect little ancient robotic monsters, each with its own unique solutions to whatever challenges Planet Earth has thrown its way. As a freelance artist, I can relate to this. 

Bugs have much to teach. They have enviable time management skills and unwavering discipline. Looking for a life coach? Insects have eluded humanity’s curse of self-doubt that would obstruct their path forward. Want an endless wellspring for character inspiration? Look under that leaf…

While we humans stumble over each other in this recently improvised experiment called “society,” the insect world surges inexorably forward en masse, sometimes solo (a bumblebee) or as a team (honey bees, a society so profoundly coordinated, it resembles a distributed brain with thousands of legs). No run of “Les Mis” was pulled off with greater collaborative aplomb than a beehive. 

Fretting over prioritizing your career goals? Bugs get the job done without waste, hesitation or excuses. An ant colony is a model of collaborative productivity any show runner would drool over. 

Lamenting the vulnerability of an actor’s life? Millions of years of evolutionary trial and error have blessed most bugs with an exoskeleton of unparalleled aesthetic resilience. Would that a performer’s ego could spring back as quickly from an insult as the carapace of a tick. 

Any aspiring freelancer would appreciate an insect’s survival track record. They’ve thrived for hundreds of millions of years longer than we humans- many essentially unchanged since prehistoric times. 

Consider the cockroach: A timeless, classic design requiring no evolutionary revision. A Precambrian survivor with a staying-power to rival Betty White. Who wouldn’t want a career with legs like that? 

A spider’s actions speak louder than words: “Leave my babies alone,” “Back off, Jack!” or “Where’s dinner?” Any student of Shakespeare would profit from observing the arachnid displaying its intent with such patience, such resolve, such listening. Uta Hagen would surely smile at such unclouded authenticity of behavior. 

A spider’s web is an effortless daily masterpiece that captures lunch. Isn’t that an actor’s ultimate dream?

But how do these mostly silent insects help with my creature vocalizing? Well, voice acting isn’t only about words. Words are but window dressing- cutlery to be wielded by the artist. And I’m not hired to make sound effects. I’m really hired to act. At its heart, acting is about contextually relevant, clear motivation. I aspire to the motivated commitment of a mantis or a butterfly larvae.

You’ll find no better acting role model than a bug. They always have their objective in mind as they move with unalloyed focus towards their goal. Good improvisers with killer Lamboughini-styling. They’re not bad at managing their own careers, either. What agent wouldn’t sign that?

So, I invite my fellow voice actors: Open your eyes and hearts to the mentorship of the spineless terrestrial monsters that creep nearby. They have much to share, even in their silence. 

Give a centipede a hug. And perhaps bring it along with you the next time you enter your recording booth. They’re quiet and tend to keep those pesky crickets away. 

-March 20, 2021

© Dee Bradley Baker 2023

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