“In a world … “ is the compelling movie trailer phrase made famous by the iconic voiceover artist, Don LaFontaine. Even after his passing, he is still remembered and celebrated. To this day, his profile on VoiceoverUniverse.com remains active, allowing fans to share their thoughts and admiration. He recorded more than 5,000 film trailers and hundreds of thousands of television advertisements, network promotions, and video game trailers. You might enjoy this 2007 video interview with LaFontaine in which he shares his approach to his voice work. The video also includes snippets from some of his sessions.
Ever since we had the technology to record sound, the microphone became the portal for our imagination. Certainly, Walt Disney made good use of it as the voice of Mickey and Minnie. Goofy and Pluto were voiced originally by Vaudeville actor, Pinto Colvig from 1932 to 1938, followed by Jimmy MacDonald. Bill Farmer, a voice actor and comedian, later assumed the role of Pluto.
As radio and film evolved, and eventually television, so did animation. The need for voice talent opened many doors for radio personalities, actors and comedians. Enter Mel Blanc, the “man of a thousand voices”. An actor and radio personality (Jack Benny Show), Blanc’s destiny led him to Warner Brothers in 1936. His first major role came in 1937 as Porky Pig — and the rest is history: Bugs Bunny (who debuted in 1942), rapidly followed by Daffy Duck, Tweety, Sylvester, Speedy Gonzales, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Pepe Le Pew, Elmer Fudd —- it’s a long list including Woody Woodpecker and a long run as Barney Rubble (Flintstones).
Other historic voice artists left huge legacies; Daws Butler (Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Snaggleopuss, Tom (Tom and Jerry), and Sesame Street’s Mad Scientist; Alan Reed (Fred Flinstone).
Fast forward to the 2000s and viewers find themselves in an animation revolution turning out witty and bizarre shows like the Simpsons, Family Guy and others. Not only were new voice talents climbing the ladder of fame, so were their paycheques. This new breed of voice artists started commanding salaries that make Mel Blanc’s net worth of $25 million seem incidental. (Blanc’s salary started at $65 a week.)
Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and the voice of Peter Griffin, Brian Griffin, and Stewie (among others) earns $50K an episode, but also gets paid as the creator, writer and producer putting his net worth at $200 million. Enjoy a glimpse at his talent in this 2012 video featuring a number of sessions.
Don Castellaneta earns $300,000 per episode playing Homer Simpson and boasts a net worth of $85 million. Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants) is worth $16 million; Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson) rings in at a net worth of $60 million; Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson, Yeardley Smith) beats them both with a net worth of $85 million. Hank Azaria (Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Moe Szyslak, Chief Wiggum, Carl Carlson, Comic Book Guy, and others) commands $400,000 per Simpson episode.
The Southpark creators top them all. Trey Parker (Stan Marsh and Eric Cartmen) and Matt Stone (Kyle, Kenny, Butters) each boast a net worth $500, million. (Yes, EACH.)
Turning the focus to advertising, advertisers and their agencies have capitalized on the dulcet tones of A-list actors to create a brand, which can sometimes be a risk. Up until he was hit with allegations of sexual harassment, Morgan Freeman brought his narrative skills to Visa.
Many film actors enjoy picking up a few extra shekles (anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 plus residuals) to supplement their income, especially if they are away from the screen and on the theatre stage. Here’s a short list.
Jeff Bridges (Duracell, Hyundai)
George Clooney (Budweiser)
Sam Elliot (Dodge)
James Spader (Acura)
John Krasinski (Blackberry)
Kiefer Sutherland (Bank of America)
Julia Roberts (AOL)
Tina Fey (Walgreens)
Juliana Marguiles (Pampers)
Susan Sarandon (Tylenol)
Queen Latifah (Pizza Hut)
Lisa Kudrow (Yoplait)
In the last few years, video games have attracted some of the biggest names to fill the major character roles. Oscar winner Gary Oldman was tapped to provide voiceover for the Spyro Games (Ignitus) and Call of Duty (Daniel Clarke, Sergeant Viktor Reznov). Mark Hamill (Starwars’ Luke Skywalker) found himself behind the mic as the Joker in Batman Arkham City. Star Trek Captain Jean Luc Picard, aka Sir Patrick Stewart, brought his elegant voice to Emperor Uriel Septim in Oblivion. Kristen Bell, who voiced Anna in Disney’s Frozen, cut her vocal chops as the voice of Lucy from the Assassin’s Creed series. Other actors who appear in various games include Mickey Rourke (Rogue Warrior), John Goodman (Rage), Samuel Jackson (Frank Tenpenny in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), and Ray Liotta (Tommy Vencetti in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City version).
Although these actors are well compensated, there are more and more voice actors who, although unknown, are earning six figures. It’s no surprise that this has given rise to many websites dedicated to voice talents.
…. we’ll dive into that in “In A World of Voiceover Artists – Part 2”, where we take a look at voiceover websites. We’ll also explore the best microphones to consider — in case you want to give a — voice— to your career.