The Ways of Documentary Voiceovers

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Voiceover is a fundamental part of many documentaries. It usually provides context information to allow us to understand what the images show. Therefore, its goal is generally more functional than artistic, which can cause many of them to sound boringly similar.

So… do all documentary voiceovers sound alike?

Not quite.

An article by Dora Yip in the Asian Scientist Magazine, accurately described the five most common types of voiceovers in documentaries. Let’s have a look at them.

  • The Voice of God

This type of voice work is extremely grave and solemn, giving a feeling of tremendous importance to every bit of info it provides. One can find it in documentaries about the boundaries of our knowledge about the universe. Impressive images of the space, abyss or the deepest parts of the ocean, usually marry well with this very serious approach.

Example: Morgan Freeman in Through the Wormhole.

  • The Benevolent Professor

An old man, full of wisdom collected through many decades of study, shares his knowledge with a calm, relaxed and informative approach. By this time of his life, he has lost all pretentiousness; also any irrational fear. He speaks about what he knows with calm respect, whether it is the end of the world or how a lion rips a zebra. He keeps a scientific distance, which allows him to remain objective as well as gentle with his audience.

Example: David Attenborough in National Geographic’s documentaries.

  • The Seductive Pop Star

Here, the prestige of popular stars is used: highly charismatic artists who give a poetic edge to everything they tell. Their personality bridges between the sometimes too dense bits of information and the audience.

Example: Brian Cox in Life of a Universe.

  • The Crazy Scientist

A kid friendly approach in which the voice talent speaks like… a kid. Thus, the style is full of enthusiasm, sense of wonder and surprise, and a little bit of emotional excess. In that way, the attention of younger audiences is easier to maintain; it’s nevertheless true that this approach can be a little tiring for adults.

Example: Billy Nye in The Science Guy.

  • The Apocalyptic Voice

Here, a feeling of menace and tension permeates through each sentence the voice says: everything is said in an urgent and important way, as if our survival was at stake. This is very typical of documentaries where the risk of Earth being hit by an asteroid or Humanity destroyed by climate change are covered.

Example: JV Martin in Mega Disasters: Yellowstone Eruption.

Do you know any other voiceover style that can be frequently found in documentaries? Be welcome to share it with us!

The Ways of Documentary Voiceovers

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