Mike Coffin can’t get the Texas out of his voice.
He’s in a sound studio on Bee Cave Road, providing the voice of a cartoon duck who’s admiring himself in the water.
It’s just for practice. Coffin and a handful of others are getting lessons from Lainie Frasier, who is possibly the pre-eminent voice-over actor in Austin.
Frasier has voiced more than 2,000 audio productions, ranging from commercials to cartoons to video games. She currently provides voices for video games such as the locally developed “Wizard101” and Nintendo’s “Metroid Prime 3.” Perhaps her biggest role was as the cartoon fox Tails in “Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie”
Currently, she’s helping Coffin and others learn the ins and the outs of the voice-over business.
“My first question, sweetie, is: Where in this script can you justify a Texas dialect?” she asks Coffin.
“I was trying not to be Daffy Duck,” he replied.
“So I was defaulting to my default,” Coffin said.
“Right. And I’m going to be really really honest with you,” Frasier said. “This is what happens all of the time at animation auditions. All of these actors in town, when we say, ‘Can you do something different?’ they all all default to their Texas dialect.”
Nix the dialect, she told him.
“Let’s find something else that we can play with – what we want to play off is the personality of this duck that is so egocentric, right? And that he’s so emotional.“
Coffin tries again, but the accent is too hard to shake.
“I’m out of here,” he said, almost leaving the booth.
But Frasier won’t let him go.
“Go further, get lost in it, Mike,” she said. “And don’t think about it, have fun with yourself.”
Frasier did her first commercial when she was 4 years old. She knew immediately that it was what she wanted to do with her life.
She majored in theater and got her degree from the University of Texas in 1979. A mentor, Austinite Joel Block who had the first voice-over production studio in town, kept telling her she should try voice-over work.
“My voice is a little unusual, right?” she said. “So everybody kept saying, ‘What a great voice, what a great voice,’ which I think is where everyone starts.”
But there was no training available at that time, she said.
She ended up doing voice-over work through college, as well as stints in advertising and audio production. She started getting so many requests for advice on voice work that she started teaching around 1990. Eventually she started her own company: Lainie Frasier’s VoiceWorks.
But voice acting isn’t just doing a funny voice into a microphone. As Frasier tells her students, there are a million things you can do to change your voice — from the pitch, the dialect, the rhythm and the volume, just to name a few.
Animation requires you to be particularly flexible, she said.
“It’s not just, I’ve got these couple of characters I do in my pocket,” she said. “It’s, I can create whatever you want. You want an accent on that? Sure. You want a dialect ? Sure. I can change the placement of it, I can change the rhythm of the character.”
What does Frasier like about voice acting?
“I love the fact that I just never know what I’m going to be. Every job is different,” she said.
And she values every job, even a corporate gig where she’s doing phone prompts for a bank.
Even in those gigs, Frasier said she tries to challenge herself.
“Can I do this all in one take?” she said, giving an example. “Can I blow them away because I have such good technique and I can make a whole bunch of money for five or 10 or 15 minutes worth of work? So I love that part. I love the variety of it. And for me the combination of what I do, the acting part is thrilling and it’s a high. But I really am rewarded when I am able to take other people and am able to help them discover their voice, their talent and help them achieve their goals.”
Back in the studio, Coffin gives his duck character another shot. Finally he switches to a higher-pitched voice, which is a little Daffy Duck-ish.
“Every move I maaaake
Every breath I taaaaake
I’ll be watching ... meeeee.”
It’s a dramatic improvement. Everyone applauds.
“There you go. I am so proud of you!” Frasier says.
“It was hard,” Coffin exhales.
“I know,” she said. “But that’s where all the excitement happens. That’s where the fun is. And that’s what’s going to win you auditions.”
About this series: Inside the Job
A lot of us have run-of-the-mill jobs. But some Austinites go to work every day doing odd, unusual or even downright weird jobs. In an occasional new series, Statesman business reporter Brian Gaar will take you inside some careers that you might never have known existed. If you have – or know of — an unusual job in the Austin area and would like to nominate it for the series, e-mail email@example.com.