Animation, Part 2

By Stacey Turner
Click here to read Part 1 of Animation


Once a voice actor has stocked their proverbial toolbox with skills and recorded a strong animation demo, how can a newcomer get on a casting director’s radar?

“I think agents are a great way to do it because we rely on agents as our partners,” Sherman said. “While I would love to remember every single actor that has ever auditioned for me, or has ever been in a workshop with me, or has ever sent me a LinkedIn demo, I don’t. Selling yourself is hard, so I think having agency representation is great. That’s first and foremost the easiest, the best way” to stay on her mind.

McSwain warns that it can be difficult to get representation.

“Agencies, if they are clever, are always looking (for new talent),” McSwain said, “but they already have solid stables of voiceover people that they are trying to keep employed. I think women suffer a little bit more because there aren’t as many female parts in an animated series, film or project.”

Sara Jane Sherman

Sara Jane Sherman

Sherman suggested that voice actors research agents, notice what their roster is missing and pitch themselves as the missing piece of the puzzle.

If an actor is lucky, McSwain said, they may contact an agent when changes are afoot with the talent roster. If an agent expresses interest, brings you in and gives you 3 to 5 minutes to read copy, “that’s your Las Vegas crapshoot,” she said.

“Don’t be afraid to send your demo (to big established agencies). If it were me … I don’t think I’d stop at anything. I think there are still many people that will get in because of that (fearless) attitude,” McSwain said. “But a start-up could be your ticket in.”

Classes hosted by agents and casting directors allow actors to meet decision-makers and show off their skills, Derryberry said. Participating in voiceover workout groups are a great way to keep your acting muscles toned and keep you plugged into what is happening in the VO community, she added.

Sherman said she and her team are always scouting for new talent at comedy clubs, theatres, improv performances, musicals, TV and film. “We’re trying to see as much as we can,” she said. Postcards touting upcoming performances can be beneficial, she said. If an actor is appearing in a local production, a member of Sherman’s team might attend.

Ben Hoppe

Ben Hoppe

Hoppe’s Disney Character Voices is a small group that handles about 400-500 projects a year, so his team needs to be as efficient as possible when casting roles. “With that much to do … we need people to be able to step into the booth and get the project done in an hour,” he said. Typically his team works with agents and talent that they already know. “They can get the work done in the time you have, for the money you have.”

“That’s why the industry, like any industry, is hard to break into. Most of the people already in the industry know they can get the work done by working with people they already know,” Hoppe said.

He’s willing to try fresh voices, but 90 percent of Disney Character Voices’ mission is based on established characters that must be consistent, so they tend to work with the same people repeatedly. When they cast actors, they are typically looking for sound-alikes, so it’s a narrow search. Hoppe’s group also casts some video games that need non-established character voices. The games require actors who can do two to three background roles. Because of time and budget constraints, “the easiest thing to do is think about the people we know; then think about the people we have heard about from other actors, directors or agents; and then you start going to people completely new to you.”

Hoppe meets new prospects at the four to five voiceover workshops he attends in Los Angeles each year. “In a class of 12 people, I usually walk away thinking that two to four of them are people that I would hire and then everyone else probably just needs more time.”

If a friend or colleague passes along a demo, or an agent calls to pitch new talent, Hoppe said he’ll listen to the reel, but he doesn’t routinely listen to demos to find new talent.

McSwain said she has met some brilliant talent in workshops. “It makes me sad that I don’t have a place to put them,” she said.


After pouring money into classes and workshops, it is important to avoid silly mistakes that undercut your efforts.

It seems obvious, but apparently, some voice actors must be reminded to submit clean, clear, professional auditions. “You’d be surprised. I get poorly edited auditions, which is the easiest way to get deleted. If (actors) have a misstep on the first sentence or their slate, or are auditioning in the bathroom or with the microphone across the room, I can’t get a sense of their voice and their character,” Sherman said.

“I get 200 to 500 auditions per role; I’m looking for ways to cut auditions down to the top 10 percent. If there is poor production quality, or poor editing—like someone just talking and then they launch into the audition—I’m not going to edit it and I’m not going to send it on to my executive producers,” Sherman said.

When auditioning, don’t just glance at the artwork accompanying a script, Sherman advised. There is important information contained in the character description. Ask on which network the show will run. Each network has its own vibe, style and type of comedy, which should be considered, she said.

Is it OK if actors don’t adhere to the exact specifications outlined in the audition script?

“I would say audition to your strengths”, Sherman said. “If you think what you are doing has a nice comedic spin to it and actually makes you laugh and entertains you, why not submit it? Have you been getting callbacks on anything else? If you haven’t been, maybe it’s time to try to change things up. If you’ve been consistently getting callbacks from doing exactly what you’ve been told, maybe you don’t need to.”

Sherman said she doesn’t mind if actors occasionally submit two takes for an audition. “I’d like them on two separate MP3s,” Sherman said. “If they get submitted on the same MP3 and I don’t like the first voice, I may not get to the second voice. That said, my 200 to 500 auditions could then go from 400 to 1,000 very quickly, so use that option only when you feel ‘I really can’t decide.’” Agents often make the decision for you and submit one track, she said.

“I’m all about … thinking outside the box,” said Sherman. “Sometimes I might say ‘Wow, that isn’t right for this character, but there’s this other character that it totally fits. Do what entertains you. You want to sell yourself as a character that you love and wouldn’t mind doing for 52 episodes.”


McSwain, Sherman and Hoppe have all worked remotely with talent outside of Los Angeles, but it is the exception and not the rule. Usually it is to accommodate celebrities’ schedules or to work with an established actor who has moved away. Studio time and ISDN increase production costs. With a huge pool of talent in LA, casting directors don’t need to look out of state. That appears unlikely to change anytime soon.

“You are talking about asking me, and whomever the client is, to spend money and resources on somebody they can’t see, which I know in our modern age shouldn’t be a big deal, but people like to be in the room,” Hoppe said.

“Actors need an audience, feedback and a relationship with the person they are performing for,” Hoppe said. “Even if you are only creating theater of the mind in a VO booth, that actor wants to look up from the page when the director says ‘cut’ and hear ‘that was great’…because it is the only audience they have. So while we do work remotely, and we could do all of our work remotely, we’d miss out on the part of the puzzle that makes it human and enjoyable and, in my opinion, more real and more important.”


  1. Really great tips and advice from some awesome casting folks. I appreciate their candidness and bluntness on what to expect when trying to break into animation and how difficult it could be, but that it’s not impossible if you take some specific, focused steps, network with the right people, and always, ALWAYS work out and build your chops with great coaches and workshops – as with anything else! 🙂

  2. Thanks for a great perspective from the casting director’s POV. There are so many folks (and even non-actors) who want to march into animation without truly doing their homework, understanding the demands of the market, or even being ready to compete. As mentioned, if you’re not in LA, it’s pretty difficult (or impossible) to break into network animation. There are other VO niches that are not as “glamorous” that may be a good way to wade in before leaping to the big leagues of animation. But it’s all a learning curve and requires time to develop one’s own craft, as well as understanding the in’s and out’s of the biz.

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