Voice-overs – A Short History

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Voice-overs - A Short History

Most of us have heard the term ‘voice-over’ before, in connection with films or radio, but what exactly does it mean and when did it come into being?

A voice-over can sometimes be termed ‘off-camera’ or ‘off-stage commentary’. It’s where a voice that is not part of the general narrative is used, in radio, TV, film or theatre. It’s usually read from a script and often narrates the action that is taking place in a production, so it’s essentially a sort of ‘narrative voice’. In other situations though, voice-overs may be used in documentaries, in order to explain information.

Voice-overs are used in addition to existing dialogue, and shouldn’t be confused with ‘dubbing’ however, which is where dialogue is replaced with a translated version.

So when did voice-overs first become popularised? Well Walt Disney was arguably the first widely known ‘voice actor’. He acted Mickey Mouse’s voice in a number of early cartoons and Steamboat Willie, 1928, was the first Disney cartoon with synchronised sound, character noises and a full musical score. Things have obviously moved on a lot since the early Disney cartoons. But how has the voice-over developed over time and what’s it used for now?

As we’ve already seen, a voice-over can be used as a sort of character device, where animated characters are enlivened with voices and personalities. But there are lots of other uses too. Voice-overs may also be used as a sort of educational, or descriptive device. When watching the TV news, for example, we may be shown a montage of video clips of significant events, while a reporter’s voice-over commentates on what has been happening. Similarly, TV documentaries such as ‘Time Team’ (in the UK) often use VOs as background commentary, whilst archaeologists search for historical objects or clues.

But perhaps the most significant use of VOs in recent years has been for commercial purposes. Think of almost any successful advertising campaign and it’s likely that you will remember hearing a memorable voice-over slogan being narrated… ‘Probably the best lager in the world.’‘There are some things money can’t buy…’ and so on. Here at Knockhundred we are often approached by advertising agencies and post-production companies about voice-over projects and we’re always keen to help.

For the past few weeks we have been working on a number of new voice-over requests for our commercial partners. Our most recent VO assignments have all been for commercial products, in various European languages. We’re also receiving an increasing number of enquiries for Japanese and Chinese VOs!

Need help?

Should you require our help with Voiceover & studio hire do not hesitate to get in touch with us and our team will do their best to help you.


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