What is it like to be the voice of a Disney character?

Best moment EVER!

What little girl doesn't dream of being a princess, especially a DISNEY princess?


Ever since I watched the Little Mermaid as a child, I've been singing to lobsters, and calling forks and spoons, “gizmos and gadgets.” So being invited to be a part of Disney’s Frozen was literally a dream come true.

Frankly, I would have paid Disney to let me play a princess, but don’t tell them that (I still haven’t received my paycheck yet!). But how did I get this opportunity?

To offer some background, I am not a professional voice actor. My main job is as a travel show host for Discovery Travel and Living Asia and also, as a game show host in Taiwan. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas and so, I say “y’all” at least 5 times a day.

In other words, I’m not an obvious choice to be a Mandarin-speaking Disney princess. It has taken me 12 years of living and working in Taiwan for the opportunity be the voice of a Disney character, but it was well worth the wait.



Don't laugh... this really helped me!

TACKLING CHINESE

The narration itself was difficult because I was doing it in Chinese, which is not my native language.

I really wanted to do the character of Princess Anna justice, so I watched the whole film in English first to get an idea of who she was, what her personality was like, and how Kristen Bell brought her to life.

The big challenge was then to figure out how I could not only be a Mandarin-speaking Princess Anna but also, at the same time, be me. Again, because Chinese is not my native language, I actually had to write out all of the script in Romanization (pinyin).

I also had a professional voice coach record all the dialogue for me, and I would just practice the lines over and over again; listening, repeating, making notes, practicing the sounds, and repeating again.  I did this for 4 days.

The studio

Next, we went into the studio for recording.

The whole process was fascinating. There are certain techniques you discover when working in a recording studio. For example, you want the microphone higher so your voice is projecting up and out instead of down and muffled.

Also, it’s important to be as relaxed as possible. I actually asked if I could stand up at times when I needed to scream (because Anna has a lot of screaming scenes), the same as if I were doing live acting.

In fact, there was one point when I was so much into character that I was all out of breath and exhausted by the end of the recording session!

The most difficult part of the process was trying to relax so that my throat didn’t close up. When in the studio, it’s easy to tighten up around the mouth, throat and even the diaphragm due to nervousness. It’s also possible to stress your vocal cords as a singer might, wearing them out after a few hours.

What really saved me was pi pa gao (枇杷膏), an herbal goop that works wonders for a scratchy throat/cough/sore throat, as well as herbal tea with honey. I must have drunk at least 2-3 liters every recording session. I peed a lot. (Yes, even a princess needs to pee!)

After recording, the voice coach and the sound editors reviewed the dialogue to pick out certain words, phrases, or whole lines that didn’t match the animation and I would have do the line over again and again until everybody was completely satisfied.

I am my biggest critic, so oftentimes, I’d ask to do several more takes until I was happy.

Conclusions:

Working with Disney was great fun! It was such an honor to play a strong, independent, silly, and gracious character like Frozen’s Princess Anna. She’s a role model which will hopefully inspire many young girls, just as I was inspired many (many many, too many) years ago.

PS: I originally wrote this post in response to a question on Quora, an awesome question and answer site where you can read firsthand experiences from experts in all sorts of industries. Check it out for yourself! (You can start by leaving a comment on my answer here! What is it like being the voice of a Disney character?)

What is it like to be a travel show host?

Wandering in South Africa

I get this question a lot, so here's my attempt to explain it in just a few paragraphs, even though I could probably write a thousand pages on this topic by now!

First of all, there are several types of travel show hosts so I can only speak for what I do on Fun Taiwan and Fun Asia (on the Discovery Travel and Living Channel).

PROS: 

I get paid to do what most people save up holiday days and hard earned salary do when they’re not working.  And I love rubbing it in. 

Free stuff includes: amazing off-the-beaten-path experiences, overnights in ridiculously luxurious hotels, tons of exotic foods (though sometimes, that includes tarantulas, centipedes, half fertilized duck eggs, tree worms, etc.), meeting some pretty extraordinary and entertaining people around the world, and the occasional illness or explosive diarrhea which takes you out of commission for a few hours/days.

It IS as fun as it looks on TV.  I sincerely love 90% of what I’m doing on TV.  There’s some waiting time, but I tend to use that to talk to the locals, take pictures or find something weird to eat.  We don't have to re-film scenes that often so it doesn’t get too redundant. 

I've seen a LOT of beaches

Skydiving - one of my many loves

It’s a challenge to meet a guest, make them feel comfortable with you and the camera crew, get them to concisely say something interesting and informative regarding their field, and then summarize everything to camera, sometimes in a different language (On my show, I bounce between English, Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese and occasionally Spanish).   However, how fun is it to get to meet all these people and see the world through their eyes!  I’ve always felt that the best way to get to know a place was to meet a local.  And everybody has a story and every single person out there can teach you something.

I am much more bold when there is a camera crew following me around because then you always have the excuse of “We’re filming a show for the Discovery Channel….”  And I will be more willing to make a fool of myself singing karaoke on stage or bungee jumping off of a 70-story building.

I am forced to constantly challenge and push myself physically.  Like I said, the audience can always spot a fake, so when we hike to peaks, compete in races, enter pole dancing competitions, etc… I like to do the whole thing – the things that come out of your mouth after running an uphill marathon can’t be scripted or faked.  The look of utter exhaustion on your face helps.

If lucky, you achieve a level of fame that allows you to get that extra scoop of ice cream, get backstage passes to some crazy festivals or concerts, permission to enter normally off-limits locations, or get THAT much closer to a bull shark while shark feeding in Fiji

Gold Coast Marathon

Swimming with sharks in Fiji

Long days of filming take their toll

CONS:

You don’t always get to choose where you go, who you meet, or what you do.  (I actually still get jealous watching OTHER travel show hosts going to places I’ve never been before and want to go to.)

It takes 7-14 days to film one 1-hour episode, and I spend a few days doing pre-production work and another few days writing voice over after editing, so I will spend a lot of time away from home, family and friends.  And for me, that also means that there are acting opportunities or events that I can’t do because of the intense filming schedule.

Doesn’t matter if you’re tired, you still have to force yourself to put on a professional face and make sense on camera.  The audience always knows when you’re not sincere, so this is a tough part when you’re just really tired or completely uninterested or having a crap day.

Your time isn’t your own.  My production team and manager tell me where I’m going to be when.  I’ve missed tons of birthdays, concerts, weddings, family gatherings.  And there’s really nothing you can do about it. (Or, you force family to gather wherever you are – that sometimes works for me.)

You can’t ever complain about work because people come back with “you have the best job in the world – stop whining.”  

In summary:

It’s pretty freaking awesome to be a travel show host.  I do love my job!

 

 

 

PS: I originally wrote this post in response to a question on Quora, an awesome question and answer site where you can read firsthand experiences from experts in all sorts of industries. Check it out for yourself! (You can start by leaving a comment on my answer here!  Travel:  What is it like to be a travel show host?)