Animated voice gives life to ideas

2011

It should come as no surprise that Steve Jobs is being mourned world-wide by many people who know little or nothing about his role as the co-founder of the company symbolised by that famous bitten fruit or about the way his legendary voice and presentation skills made people believe that owning the beautifully designed products the Apple logo represents could make their dreams come true.

For many he was known only as the wizard who filled their dreams and wowed their world with fantastic characters and animated presences in films created by Pixar - the company that he bought from George Lucas in the mid-Eighties and still retained a holding interest in at his death.

Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), all were made under Steve Jobs' ownership, and though Disney bought the company five years ago Steve remained actively involved in the production of Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), and in 2010, Toy Story 3.

Pixar films are wonders of artistic and technological design. But blobs of colour however cleverly animated by artistic designers could never have touched the hearts or disturbed the minds of audiences around the globe as impressively as they did had not Jobs been aware that this company's greatest asset - the one that would dive straight to the bottom line and bring him up the richest treasures - would be voice. Voice that could imbue shimmying fish, mewling monsters or vacuous vehicles with believable and distinct personalities.

Persuasive use of facial expression and expressions from BEHIND the face where voice conjures up words and tones to express a speaker's meaning are crucial to any successful presentation.

By choosing actors prepared to use the often farcical facial expressions that would have been necessary to create the weird and wonderful tones of Pixar's characters, Jobs and his team were onto a winner. And by getting those actors to try out multi-faceted labial positions that drove tones, syllables, and words through all possible resonant spaces inside their mouths and throats to accomplish the final trick of talking - their coup de theatre was complete.

All those who animated the scripts that accompanied Pixar's animated graphics were able to pull out the right sound for any word chosen. They then either expressed them instantly or framed them with silence allowing graphic facial expression to do its part to make their meaning absolutely clear when the words were eventually spoken.

All of us who have to speak to audiences large or small would benefit from putting ourselves through the obstacle course Steve Jobs and his team set up for Pixar's actors, by fooling around with how we would sound if we were supposed to be a whirlpool or a toilet roll, a teapot or a ladder, a crane: either bird or construction contraption, or - as it's almost Halloween, - a toad or a pumpkin. Come to think of it, how about an apple with a bite taken out of it.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.