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90% Of The Animation / Character Demos
Are Terrible. Here's Why, And What To Do
May 25, 2016

By Roger King
Voice Over Talent Agent
Performance Network (PN) Agency

Ninety percent of voice over animation/character demos are pretty much flat out terrible.

There, I said it. Letís take a minute to let that sink in.

Okay, I think my number one problem with a lot of character demos is that most of the characters are totally out of context, if you can even recognize them as characters at all.

A lot of these demos sound like someone just trying to make funny noises or voices in their bedroom.


I'm not referring to the quality of the audio recording as much as the difficulty for someone listening in terms of placing these "character voicesĒ in anything that would resemble broadcast material.

Itís like the demo clips are taken from some kind of animation workshop where participants were encouraged to explore potential voices/characters, but the listener wasnít present during those workshops, so is at a total loss to understand what the voice talent is even trying to do.


Another issue is the temptation to include impersonations of famous people or even well-known animation characters.

A little of this can work in a demo if the talent has already shown a nice range, but if you were hoping to land regular character/animation work by just impersonating people, itís likely not going to work.

If you listen to commercials or cartoons, the character voices you hear are still rooted in reality. They are more likely to sound like everyday people, just exaggerated a bit for comedic or dramatic effect.

For instance, I have probably heard 100 voice demos with Sean Connery impersonations, but have only received the request once in the 15 years of running my voice agency. Ditto for Simpsons or Family Guy characters.


Another problem with a lot of character demos is that the talents often just arenít very good at voicing unique characters.

There is a mistaken impression that in order to do character work, you must be a master of all trades: funny characters, accents, impressions, age ranges, etc.

But in fact, some of the most successful character voice actors are one- or two-trick ponies. As long as the trick is really good, you can find work.

The woman on my roster who sounds like a 12-year-old girl doesnít work every week, but whenever thatís the casting call, she has a good shot at landing it.

Same with the guy with the deep booming voice who is really good for villains or powerful leaders of fictitious planets. He couldnít do an accent or play a wacky, stoned out surfer dude if his life depended on it, nor does he attempt to do so.


The general rule for voice demos certainly applies to characters, too:
Do what you do well and donít bother with stuff that is not in your wheelhouse.
A character demo is not like a commercial or narration demo. It is simply meant to show that you can do a few things and that there is some kind of actor there.

Almost all character-based voice projects will require auditions. It is rare that a character project is cast just off voice demos. So, there is no reason to stress about having 100 different voices on your demo or worrying because you canít do a character type.

The characters you choose to put on your demo should be easily identified in terms of type and/or situation. And remember that comedic commercials qualify as character reads!

There's no reason to put on some really wacky voice when you can just add a clip of a well-written commercial script that shows character.
Roger King is the president of Peformance Network (PN) Agency, which provides voice over talent to the radio, television, film, multi-media and animation industries. In 2004, he launched a sister agency, Ethnic Voice Talent (EVT), and now represents over 100 voice over talents and translators in more than 15 different languages. He also writes a lively and informative blog, Voice Over Canada.

PN Agency:
Ethnic Voice Talent: 
Twitter: @voiceovercanada

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Comments (5)
Bob Bergen
5/25/2016 at 2:52 PM
Roger gives some darn good advice here. I'd like to add my 2 cents.

Folks looking to get into animation and character voice work have the luxury of having Voicebank. There you can surf the talent represented by every vo agent in the world. Not every vo agent reps animation, but most if not all will have a stable of actors who do characters for commercials, games, etc. Surf those actors. That's what those agents DON'T need! They already represent actors who can do those characters and voices.

What this means is, your character demo needs to drip of originality. No one needs another old man, or another villain, or another little kid. They need an ORIGINAL old man, an ORIGINAL villain, an ORIGINAL kid. 90% of the character demos consist of been there/done that voices and not original characters.

This leads me to one of my golden rules in animation: All characters have a voice, but not all voices have character. It's the nuances in personality that make up a character.

It's all about acting, not sounding funny!

The other thing missing in 90% of all character demos is intent. This is also missing from 90% of animation auditions which is why only 10% get callbacks. There are three things you ask yourself with every character, be it on a demo or an audition: 1) Who am I talking to? 2) What's my relationship with the other character? 3) Where are we?? With most animation demos, I hear actors doing funny voices in a booth. There's no variety in intent. There's no thought process from the actor regarding the scene partner and their surroundings. The scene partner is unheard on the demo, but the characters are still in conversation, and they have a relationship with each unheard scene partner. The characters still need to relate to the scene partner, even in a quick clip on a demo.

The mic is the ear of your scene partner. Where you are on mic from character to character reflects where the characters are in relation to each other in the scenes. But the actor needs to make these choices. Are they nose to nose? Are then in a large room? Are they indoors? Outdoors? On a spaceship being pummeled by meteors? How many meteors? How big?

The villain threaten to destroy everything! What is everything? What does this mean to the villain? What does this mean to the scene partner? How is the villain going to destroy everything? How does the villain feel about the possibilities of the outcome? Is it pure evil bliss or is there a tad of guilt? What's the villain's relationship with the scene partner they plan to take advantage of? We're they once friends? Was the villain betrayed? IS THE ACTOR RECORDING THEIR DEMO THINKING ABOUT ANY OF THIS??? Probably not. At least, 90% probably aren't. And these choices can be subtle. But it's those subtle nuances that add to the richness in character. Without these choices it's just a buncha voices!

It's all about the acting.

This brings me to the ever repeated topic of the e-generation of vo. The generation who has a Mac that comes with a built in recording program, a relatively inexpensive mic, access to voicebank/agents and good demo producers online. These people may be able to do a ton of voices. They do impressions. They invest in a demo that goes nowhere.

My generation studied acting and improv, and then studied vo. It was in the vo workshops where we took our honed acting skills and married them to the technique of vo. All those choices of who I am talking to, etc., is second nature to the trained actor. It's instinct. It's acting technique. It comes with training. A trained actor makes a choice, a non trained actor makes a guess. Now, I do believe you are born an actor, just like you are born a singer, a dancer, etc. You are born with talent. But acting training gives you the tools to repeat your skills at will consistently.

There's a lot that goes into doing characters in vo. But 90%, as Roger so eloquently pointed out, don't have a clue what that 90% is.
Howard Ellison
5/25/2016 at 9:59 AM
It's good to be assured that originality pays! Default tropes and impersonations are tempting when the perception is that busy producers will reach for what's familiar, just as print publishers may get stuck on tried and tested Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica... and not make time to explore what's fresh.

Fortunately, the best think outside the box.
Randye Kaye
5/25/2016 at 8:51 AM
Thank you, thank you! You've pinpointed with clarity what throws me so much when I hear character demos! Can't hear another collection of catchphrases imitated. I always tell VO students that the acting skills come first, not he "characteristics" like accents, etc. So many want to jump straight into those imitations that make their family hysterical at parties.

I do characters in commercials and audiobooks, sometimes video games, but seldom animation (yet). So I will keep this article in mind when I update my demo in the future, too. Thx!
Patrick Sweeney
5/25/2016 at 8:23 AM
Excellent article, Roger!
Bev Standing
5/25/2016 at 6:59 AM
This is brilliant advice. Thanks for sharing.
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