So what’s it like performing for an animated TV show, using just your voice?
Well we wanted all the forest-dwelling characters in Olobob Top to be voiced by real, genuine children – because like the watching audience they have real, genuine children’s voices. Of course Stephen Mangan voices the Narrator and all the created-characters, which the Olobobs make during each story, as we loved the idea he was a parental figure joining in their fun and games. But Tib, Lalloo, Bobble, Crunch, Lemon, Norbet, Deeno, and even Big Fish, are all voiced by children.
Plus, we love the little imperfections in children’s un-trained voices. They have a natural tone that’s not contrived (like groan up voices can be), unpolished yet warm, real, believable and trustworthy.
We didn’t want our children to travel too far to record their voices, so all but one of them were local to the production base, which is vital if you don’t want them wiped out before they even begin! Plus it was essential we were all in the same room to record, not beamed in from another town or country, as the interaction between director and child gets the best performance from both. So we cast around, listening to voices in the schools around us and trying to match character with voice. They had to be distinctive, and distinct from one another, and reflect the size and shape of their character (even if we chose to subvert that with Big Fish’s tiny voice!). They also had to be up for what was ultimately a LOT of recordings spread across a year – as a child it’s pretty hard work to stay interested in something you’ve done repeatedly and yet not see the end result for many months. But we found a wonderful bunch of lung-tastic kids who, at varying speeds, all got in the zone and enjoyed working with us to create what you hear in the show.
So what happens in a voice recording session?
Typically we record for 30-mins to an hour maximum. An hour is a long long time for everyone when recording voices as it’s vital to keep energy levels on MAX. Often we’d have a little queue of actors waiting in the wings for their turn. Once in the voice booth we’d warm up with some silly sounds, to break any inhibitions and find the right character voice (it’s not necessarily simply the child’s own voice). Then the director goes down an episode’s script line-by-line, with the child parroting back. But it’s hard to know exactly how a character might say a line when the rest of the story is, as yet, silent. Are they happy? Sad? Worried? Running? Quiet or loud? There’s a lot to think about! So every line is recorded between 3 and 20 times. Yes, TWENTY. Or THIRTY. Basically however many times it’s necessary to capture a bit of magic!
Perhaps the hardest thing of all is to listen out for vocal ‘pops’ or ‘slurs’ or pronunciation faux-pas. These are common in everyone’s speech. And in everyday chit-chat that’s not a problem. Humans are good at reading between the lines, glossing over inarticulate words in a sentence and still making sense of it all. But in a TV show every line needs to be clear, in case some important meaning or plot-point is lost, and the viewer loses interest in what’s happening. And of course humans lip-read, or at least follow the nuances of expression projected by a speaker as they tell their story, flitting their attention between the speaker’s eyes and mouth, which all helps to follow what they’re saying. With animated characters this subtlety of ever-changing expression is just not possible, so the vocal words themselves need to do more of the work, and be crystal clear.
After each voice session every recorded line is cut-up and listened to by an editor, and the best, or most suitable take is chosen and placed on the story timeline. Over a few weeks that builds up, character after character, until the whole ensemble is suddenly there talking to one another as if they were all in the same place at the same time. And like alchemy the story comes alive and makes sense, and it’s a wonderful moment… Now all that needs doing is the animation. But that’s another story!
To hear more about this fascinating process, take a look at the following article. The character of Crunch is voiced by Veronica Painter, and her school wrote a little something about her experience: www.somptingabbotts.com/blog/sompting-abbotts-pupil-veronica-painter-makes-cbeebies-voiceover-debut