Animation is a magical world, making us believe in talking animals, fantastical lands, and superheroes. But it’s the voices behind these characters that breathe life into them, giving them depth and soul. Over the decades, several voice actors have left an indelible mark on the industry, setting the gold standard for those who followed. Let’s honor some of these titans who are the animation pioneers that defined the craft. Though it is not all about being star-struck or recognizing talent, it also invites a great opportunity to learn from those who set the trend and helped this amazing medium become a globally recognized form of entertainment today.
No discussion about voiceover legends can commence without mentioning Mel Blanc, affectionately known as "The Man of a Thousand Voices." His versatility was unparalleled. Having voiced Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, and countless others from the Looney Tunes universe. His legacy is that of unique talent from giving each character a distinctive voice to how he set the foundation for animation voiceover work. His genius lay not just in creating voices but in building characters with personalities that resonated with audiences of all ages.
June Foray’s career spanned decades, and her influence is felt across multiple generations of animation. Having voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel in "Rocky and Bullwinkle", Witch Hazel in "Looney Tunes", and Granny in "Sylvester & Tweety" she certainly was a trailblazer, proving that voice acting wasn’t just a male-dominated field. Her vast range, spanning from villains to sweet characters, showcased the depth and diversity female voice actors could bring to the table in an otherwise male-dominated industry. An uncountable number of women now work in voiceover and historically speaking June Foray broke that boundary for the women of today.
Frank Welker's repertoire is mind-boggling, with his voice gracing both popular and obscure characters in animation. Of course, we can't mention Fred Jones without mentioning "Scooby-Doo" or Megatron in "Transformers". As well as these iconic figures, Fred has voiced numerous animal sound effects across various animations. Fred's talent lies in his uncanny ability to mimic almost any sound, from roaring lions to chirping birds. He expanded the boundaries of what was possible in voiceover, proving that it was as much about creating atmospheric sounds as it was about dialogue. Today in voiceover, emotes and sound effects are common across the board. In fact, emotes and sound effects are one element of the job that lot of voice actors aspire to get the opportunity to deliver.
Billy West is a name synonymous with modern classics. His vocal dynamism is evident in the myriad of characters that he’s brought to life. Think of adult comedy, Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg in "Futurama", and the modern voice of both Ren and Stimpy too. His strength lies in his adaptability, seamlessly fitting into the evolving animation landscape. Whether it’s voicing multiple characters in a single episode or adapting old characters for new audiences, West’s contributions to the modern era of animation voiceover are invaluable. What is even more amazing is how his voice has stood the test of time. With new content of Futurama being developed through 2023, it is astounding how West continues to deliver such a strong consistency with his characters.
From superheroes to young adventurers, Tara Strong's versatility has made her one of the most sought-after voices in the industry. From childhood classics in the form of Bubbles in "Powerpuff Girls" and Timmy Turner in "Fairly OddParents" to heavier roles such as Raven in "Teen Titans" and Twilight Sparkle in "My Little Pony" Tara incapsulates versatility as a voice actor. Tara is a strong beacon of inspiration for aspiring voice actors, demonstrating that with enough range and adaptability, one can voice characters across genres, from action-packed superhero series to heartwarming tales of friendship. This skill is not to be taken with a pinch of salt, it is very rare and highly sought after skill from a performer.
Jim Cummings is renowned for taking over iconic roles and making them his own, in addition to creating new memorable characters. Of course, we are referring to the links of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Darkwing Duck, and the Tasmanian Devil (post-Blanc). Cummings’ unique talent lies in his ability to honor legendary characters' origins while adding his unique touch, ensuring they remain relevant for new generations without losing their essence. Take Taz for example, this character historically was a Mel Blanc original. Cummings has stayed true to the essence of this character whilst making it his own. All the while he has done this whilst building beautiful and unique iconic characters of his own origin.
These voice actors have not only given life to memorable characters but have also shaped the industry’s trajectory. They've set benchmarks in versatility, emotive depth, and character consistency. Their legacies remind us that voice acting in animation is an art form, one that requires dedication, passion, and an innate understanding of the characters one portrays. Through their iconic performances, these titans have ensured that their voices will echo through the corridors of animation history for generations to come. Learning from the standards they have set, the techniques they have implemented and the legacy they leave is a critical step for an aspiring voice actor in the animation field. It is easy to wish for roles that belong to those who have gone before us. However, the truth of the matter is, if one aspires to obtain these high-caliber roles one must endure the same hardships as those who already own them.
Animation Pioneers by Alan Shires