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Saigon's Young Voice Actors Learn There's More to Dubbing Than Pretty Voices

Voice actors are rarely given enough attention, for they are always working behind closed curtains, giving the movie its "life." Nonetheless, many young people continue to be drawn to this nascent career, falling in love with the art of "playing dress-up" with their voice.

Read the article in Vietnamese here.

I met with Kim Ngân and Như Quỳnh after seeking out an introductory class on voice dubbing. They both are pretty early in their career, and both previously had other full-time jobs before taking a turn to pursue voice acting.

Kim Ngân was a university student majoring in Korean studies. Unfortunately, she had to suspend her education while in her second year due to family financial problems. Amid feelings of loss and confusion, Ngân was lucky enough to have been introduced to this job by a friend. She began by enrolling in a training center, while at the same time broadening her knowledge through social media as well as fellow voice actors who have more experience.

Most students in dubbing courses are fresh faces with no previous experience in the field. Hence, they find difficulties in controlling their tones and acting at the start.

Quỳnh, on the other hand, has worked in media, so she was constantly surrounded by voice actors during television commercial shoots and recording sessions. Her initial curiosity turned into considerable interest, so she found herself a dubbing course with good reviews. She immediately signed up because the field fascinated her ever since she was little.

To their pleasant surprise, the more Ngân and Quỳnh become familiar with the field, especially after enrolling in GREEN Voices, the more they were amazed by the fact that the reality of voice acting isn’t how they always imagined it to be. “A voice actor needs more than just great vocal skills to become the voices of lives they never lived,” Quỳnh shared.

Beyond simply a pretty voice

To become voice actors, they had to go through various challenging courses. The most surprising thing about the first session was that it wasn't focused on voice, but actual acting. “A voice actor is also an actor. Thus, learning how to act teaches us how to control our emotions and voices in a smarter and more skillful way,” Kim Ngân shared. Every session, they would transform into characters of different genders, ages, and personalities. They strove to explore various individual tones that may fit in different circumstances. The objective of the lesson is to help voice actors become familiar with picking the right elements for each character they take on when entering the studio.

Ngân reading a dialogue out loud in class.

The two took a great amount of time to improve the quality of their voices: how to speak clearly, pronounce accurately, how to lower their voice or bend their sounds when in character. Despite not having researched every character, the common techniques are all taught to them in class. “It took me forever to get into the voice of very soft, girly girls, because in real life I’m the total opposite!” Kim Ngân revealed.

Playing characters different from their real-life predisposition, voice actors get to live a new life with every role. In the last 10 days of the course, the two young women and their classmates began practicing at the studio, recording voice-overs for many movie scenes, just like how a professional voice actor would. “It is an indescribable feeling,” Quỳnh told me. “It is nerve-wracking, exciting, yet I kept fumbling over my words.” In these practice sessions, none of them gets to know in advance which character they will be playing until they enter the studio. Hence, they are forced to stay prepared for whatever is to come, exploring outside their comfort zone.

The class instructor doing a sample voice-over with an excerpt from Moana.

“Being a voice actor is very different from what I imagined. But the more I get to know it, the deeper I fall in love with it,” Ngân shared. She loves being in the studio, especially when she gets to play the extras with her classmates. Scenes as such are not scripted, each person will have to improvise the lines, pick the right tone, and somehow interact with the group smoothly. “In those scenes, everyone works very well together. Though it is only a minor scene, everybody enjoys it!” she cheerfully shared.

Opportunities come with great competition

After completing the dubbing course, Ngân began working as a voice actress at a studio specializing in voice-overs for Japanese animation. She had always believed that the voice acting industry has not been developing very much; however, she was wrong. With a non-stop influx of foreign movies, along with the rise of television commercials, audiobooks, and more, the demand for voice actors has also increased.

Ngân (third from right) in a voice acting class instructed by Khánh Hoàng (fifth from right), former director of the HCMC Performing Arts Theater.

With demand comes supply, so there are now a great number of voice actors. “For this job, there is no need for a specific age or qualifications. The most important thing is capability,” Ngân opined. Thus, in a casting pool for a male lead, there might be a 10-year-old girl, a 20-year-old boy, or a man over 40, and it would be normal. At Kim Ngan’s current agency, the most promising voice actor is only eight years old.

Additionally, more and more training centers for voice acting are sprouting up. However, not every place ensures the same quality in teaching. In the past, Ngân said she had also enrolled in another reputable training center advertising thorough teaching techniques, while ensuring future career opportunities. But as she began her course, she was greatly disappointed. All she did in class was practice by herself with lines on a computer, not gaining much knowledge, nor receiving much feedback or suggestions. Teachers came to class merely to take photos for advertisements. After four months of persistence without feeling any progress, she gave up.

Quỳnh practicing dubbing in a soundproof room.

Finding a trustworthy place to nurture her dreams is the first and biggest lesson that Ngân learned in her career path. Her advice is to look for training centers that guarantee a certain number of hours of practice alongside instructors; only when one practices in the studio and gets familiar with various types of characters would make noticeable progress. “As long as you choose the right center, dubbing lessons promise to be valuable even for people who don’t wish to pursue this career. In fact, having a clear voice, awakened mind, and flexible emotional control is something essential to everyone,” she added.

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