Do you hear any disembodied voices right now? How about when you’re watching a movie, show, or commercial? Have you considered that what you’re hearing is known as a voice over? They show up all over media, either for entertainment or informative reasons; from your television to even your phone when you’re put on hold. So what is voice over, where have you heard it, where did it come from, and what does it mean today?

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Defining Voice Over

The Definition of Voice Over

When people ask themselves “What is voice over?” they often come up with examples instead of a voice over definition. That’s why we have provided both a definition and examples for you to have a thorough understanding of the term. Before going right to the various examples, let’s define voice over and some of its characteristics.


What is Voice Over?

Voice over is a production technique where a voice is recorded for off-screen use. While prominently used to reference movies and television, voice over can also be used for telephone services, along with other informational service. The question of whether it’s “voiceover” or “voice over” is that you will usually (and maybe even officially) see it as “voice over.” So, just to be safe, always make sure there’s a space between the two words.

Voice over is popularly shortened to “VO” and we will be using this shortened two-letter version of voice over in the article for brevity.

Voice Over Examples:

  • Narration in a movie or show
  • A character's internal monologue
  • Hearing a character off-screen through a phone

Voice Over Beginnings

Early Voice Over

Voice over work began around the time of the radio, which means over 100 years ago. Back then, it VO was mainly used for reports, such as how the weather was going to be. But this also lets us know that the radio, which dominated home entertainment for decades, was where VO mostly thrived.

Even once movies could come with sound, audiences would see VO most prominently in animation. Voice over examples of the time include the Walt Disney classic Steamboat Willy, among the very first animated shorts to incorporate any VO.

Soon Warner Bros would follow suit with their own animation, featuring the voice of Mel Blanc, one of the earliest and most famous voice actors. This video gives a nice summary of the various characters he voiced during his career.

What is voice over in animation? See Mel Blanc

Of course, non-animated movies would also take advantage of VO, which would first be seen mainly in the newsreels of the era. By the 1940s, VO became more common in movies, especially the film noir genre. Voice over examples in this genre can be seen in narration that became as commonplace as dark lighting and femme fatales.

VO also provided filmmaking with ADR (automated dialogue replacement). This process was prominently seen in Italian films, which would always dub their dialogue in post-production. However, all sorts of movies have taken advantage of ADR, whose use became fairly commonplace and is widely used in filmmaking today.

Later voice over

What is Voice Over Today?

The world of VO that we know and love today further evolved and refined itself by the time of the 1960s and ‘70s. While movies were still using them, as was the radio, you could now come across VO on TV. Voice over examples here mostly included commercials, but it could be found on regular programs, as well, especially the news.

Movie trailers were extremely widespread by this point; that includes TV advertising of the latest motion pictures. Voice overs got a huge boost in this area, as they became very famous and well-known in pop culture. The video below highlights one of contemporary cinema's most recognizable voice over examples: Red Pepper.

Famous voice over performer Red Pepper

Animated TV shows became more prominent throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, which resulted in even more VO work for voice actors. Aside from commercials and the radio, these actors now had more work and ways to hone their craft. Many famous voices of the era, such as Casey Kasem, made an entire career out of voice acting. By the 1990s, voice acting was as plentiful and valued as regular acting before it.

And we can’t forget the increase in animated films in the last couple decades. While they’re now mostly (if not entirely) 3D, they still need VO, which can include industry vets, VO pros, and famous actors mostly known for being in front of the screen. This video shows what an actor usually goes through to prepare themselves for some off-screen singing and speaking.

Actors training for VO

Advancements in technology also resulted in more people talking on the telephone. This meant that scripted voice overs would now be relayed over the phone; instead of a live human speaking, you could get a pre-recorded voice. These types of “on hold” calls became extremely common, further opening the field that voice actors could enter.

The internet has continued to expand the role of VO and the voice actors needed to make them. There are now dedicated organizations for voice actors who do a variety of work for a variety of businesses and industries. They often have their own profiles on websites, featuring plenty of voice over examples for businesses and companies.

While there are actors who almost exclusively do animation work, there are plenty who lend their voice to all sorts of videos and audio-only projects. It’s become a sort of freelance arena where someone can easily get work from all over and provide their voice without having to go into a studio.

Up Next

How to Write Voice Over in a Script

Now that you’ve answered “what is voice over,” you’re ready to learn how you can implement it into a script. Learn the tips and tricks that go into writing VO into a script, and how you can use it in your next production.

Up Next: Writing Voice Over →
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  • Rafael Abreu received his M.A. in Cinema Studies from New York University. He’s written reviews, scripts, and analytical essays focusing on all aspects of cinema. He can’t stop talking about aspect ratios.

1 comment

  1. I really like your blog presentation. It is informative too, at the same time. I have gone through a few of the blog links which you have shared. This has helped in clarifying some of my doubts.

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