Over the course of my career I’ve done a lot of voice over recording for Nickelodeon and PBS. Working with animated kids’ TV and games is a total blast! However, recording dialogue with child actors is very different from working with adult actors, so I thought it would be helpful to share a few things I’ve learned.
- Give kids lots of breaks. Because they are eager to please, often kids will not admit when they are tired, hungry, or thirsty. Make sure to insist on a 5-10 minute break at least every hour or so to ensure the actor is comfortable and to keep his/her energy up. We also keep healthy snacks around for the talent.
- Schedule shorter sessions. Most actors seem to produce diminishing returns around three to four hours. I wouldn’t recommend scheduling sessions lasting any longer than that.
- Always double check headphone sends and levels. Since young actors are less vocal about something being off in their headphone mix, prepare and double check the headphones before they get started.
- Really pay attention to the actor’s placement and mic control. Most kids and young actors are less experienced and have little-to-no microphone technique. A few words at the top of the session can really help them out and make sure they are aware of how close to the microphone they should be. Also, explain that the microphone picks up everything, not just their voices, so if you hear page noises, fidgeting, or off mic deliveries, gently remind them that those things are not good for the recording.
- Let kids be kids. Often, vocal directors will rely on kids parroting back line reads. Sometimes the best and most genuine acting comes straight from the kid. It can really pay off to get unscripted reactions or original line reads. In my experience, the best sounding kids aren’t really playing a role. They were cast for their own genuine voices and personalities.
- Let kids be creative. If the script has any walla or ad-lib lines, really encourage the kids to come up with their own responses. Often their ad-libs will totally surprise you and the vocal director, and can produce hilarious results.
- Move the voice director around. At Dubway we have control rooms and sound rooms that are interlinked with TV screens instead of studio glass. Sometimes, the kids are more comfortable with the vocal director inside the recording room with them, and sometimes they are more comfortable with the director inside the control room. If one method isn’t working, try the other. Also, if the director is in the sound room (or booth) with the talent, make sure to always give him his own mic, instead of relying on off-axis sound from the talent’s microphone. Everyone will be able to hear the director much more easily and naturally.
- Stand up! For long sessions it’s nice to let kids sit, but often they will deliver more energetic and involved performances while standing.
- Move on if it isn’t working. A lot of kids are more sensitive than adults and when a line isn’t working out, it can be really tough on them to keep hammering it over and over. Move on and come back to the line at the end of the session.
Script Management Tips
- Place scripts in binders. A nicely hole punched script in a binder allows for easy and quiet page turns. Never staple actor’s scripts!
- Highlight Scripts. Highlighted scrips (by character) is a nice convenience for the actor. I recommend highlighting only the character names and not the actual lines.
That’s it! Let me know if you have any other tips and tricks in the comments section.