What Does a Zombie Gorilla Sound Like?

UPS delivery drivers in voice actor Bill Karalius’ neighborhood probably have been warned to beware of strange sounds coming from his home. He happily recalls an incident “…while I was recording at home for something that involved a lot of yelling.” Karalius next heard a knock at the door and, when he answered, found “a UPS driver with a nervous look on his face ask[ing] if everything was alright.” The problem? “He heard someone yelling ‘Help me’.” After the actor explained that he was only recording a role in his home studio, the UPS man “cautiously left with a shrug of his shoulders. As you can imagine, I was anxiously waiting for police investigators to show up shortly afterwards to make sure nobody was dying.”

Even stranger is the fact that “this type of thing happens a lot when recording at home” and “the ’UPS man incident’ was probably one of the less bothersome I’ve caused.” His grad school roommates learned to get used to his job and, “for the most part, [were] very nice about letting me record and hardly interfered. However, they thought I was off my rocker when I had to record zombie gorilla voices for a zombie video game.” What do zombie gorillas sound like? Apparently the result involves “a whole bunch of gorilla noises ranging from running to getting killed.”

Perhaps fortunately for his roommates and the UPS drivers he has met, Karalius, more than most graduate students, began to look forward to living on his own, where he can “scream and grunt all I want in my new one-bedroom abode”. Of course, his new living space also is home to the many characters and creatures he creates for a wide variety of projects for animation and video games.

His studio may be a work in progress, but it provides the actor what he needs to become the voice behind the character. “I originally started out with a microphone and my laptop, which I used for a short while when I co-hosted Dead Serious Radio with Scott Tepperman and Ron Bordner. When I first started, that was all I had. Given the quality of free recording software and having access to a radio-quality microphone, I was able to get by using the two for quite some time. Now I have designated a corner of my apartment [for] voice recording. Although it is not as polished as a professional record label’s recording studio, my setup gets the job done. This newly constructed ‘recording corner’ is blocked off using a plethora of soundproofing to manage the acoustics in the room.”

The only missing item in his new workspace? A really comfortable chair.

Working from home and scaring the unaware who knock on his door may seem like a cushy job, but Karalius explains that being a voice actor requires auditions just like any other acting job. “When I first started out, I went through a bunch of audition processes. These auditions would range from sending in a sample line for each character to having full hour-long Skype conversations with live readings of the script.” Because directors differ in the ways they prepare voice actors or look for something unique, Karalius had “to quickly adapt to what each person was looking for. After being casted for a variety of projects, it has reached the point where I am now kept busy just by getting requests to have me provide voices to a project.” He jokes that “maybe it’s because I smell good or something, but directors keep on coming back to me once I’ve worked with them on one project.”

Smell-o-vision Skype aside, Karalius is serious about his profession and has an excellent reputation for completing performances quickly and innovatively. In “work horse mode”, a “typical project for me can be completely recorded (if I play a supporting character) in under an hour.” The time-consuming part of the process involves “cutting all the recordings and doing multiple takes for each line. It works out a lot better for the person running the project [to] have four or five takes [that is, interpretations] of a line rather than just one, which in the end reduces the back-and-forth via email tag” that otherwise would be needed “to get retakes finished before a deadline. For larger projects, like certain video games where the character gives multiple responses based on what the player selects, I will need to spend a half-day to a full day to record typically around 200 to 300 lines with multiple takes. It is projects like those when I keep my fingers crossed that nothing bad happens to my computer before I send the files over!”

When Karalius has been cast in a new project, he typically receives a script within a few days. “Although there are usually reasonable deadlines, I’ve made sure that I record as soon as possible to give the directors more time to request changes or retakes without it all happening at once with the other voice actors near the deadline.” Unlike actors who must physically inhabit a role and block movement on a stage or set, Karalius’ “main focus is on how the voice comes out and if it is believable to me if I were to listen immediately afterwards. I’ll likely make a few facial expressions, but you won’t find me climbing walls or standing on tables to get into character!”

Because Karalius is in demand, he must maintain a strict schedule balancing voice work with grad school, which means he often must “knock out a handful of projects in the span of one day. On most Saturdays, I have no choice but to record lines for as many as five or six different projects in an afternoon. This means I have to be efficient in my recording process and quick at getting into character. After getting used to marathon afternoons like that, I’ve become much better at being able to tough out all the lines and get the directors what they want. Over time I’ve learned a few little tricks such as remembering to save the projects where [I will do] the most yelling for last so I don’t kill my voice” before the end of the day.

His dedication to voice acting suggests that he always wanted to enter this area of the entertainment industry. Not so – Karalius studied to become an accountant. “Accounting is something I went to school for, with absolutely no formal training in acting while in college. I received an undergraduate degree in accounting and finance from Florida State University, as well as a Master’s degree in taxation. Being a tax professional is a very challenging career path, but one that I find very rewarding.” Karalius admits to having “a very strange combination of interests” that keep him “level-headed when working on projects and working with clients. The weird part is that I am not a very good physical actor. My close friends and family can attest to that. For some reason, though, acting with my voice has come incredibly easy.” Accounting is by far the more challenging work.

So how did Karalius become such a sought-after voice actor in a relatively short period of time? “Something just clicked one day when I woke up and realized that I have all the pieces of equipment I needed to try out voice acting on an amateur level, so why not give it a try? I’ve had a bit of radio experience, so I figured I would find some websites where people were looking for voice actors. When I first started out, I was ready to audition for anything and everything just to get some experience under my belt. That was the time where I was really just trying to put some feelers out to see if I was actually any good at doing voiceover work, so feedback was incredibly crucial. If I was not landing any opportunities, or if I was getting less than stellar feedback from casting calls, I would very likely have called it quits after a few weeks. However, I was amazed at the incredible amount of success that I had right off the bat. Voice acting was completely new to me, yet people were pegging me for someone who has been doing it for many years. With the quickly increasing amount of support and encouragement I received, I went at it full force. The funny thing was that I had no idea that this would turn into something where I would be casted for more than 125 different roles in a span of a few months!”

One of the actor’s favorite characters to date is Uncle Rusty, a role that is “a huge personal honor” to play in the animated series by Steven Chitty, Fruits of Elezoa. Uncle Rusty is a crawfish with a Cajun personality. More important to Karalius, this character was based on the showrunner’s uncle, who died a few years earlier. “When I found out that the character I am voicing was based on someone who had an important influence in the creator’s life, I was humbled by the opportunity. Playing the part of Uncle Rusty is something I will always remember and keep close to my heart.”

Seldom does Karalius voice only one character during a day’s recording sessions. Playing several wildly divergent characters, sometimes on the same day, seems daunting, but the actor says that is all part of the job. “Having to switch mindsets quickly and efficiently is exactly what comes with the territory of voice acting.” Making the work more complex is not only “being able to switch between different characters, but being able to switch between varying emotions and personalities. Within five minutes, I might have to sound energetic, depressed, and then angry.” In this situation, the best acting is overacting. “Sure, I may look weird when I make angry faces to try to get some anger out of my voice, but my facial expressions are not what are being recorded.. . [I] don’t necessarily have to completely act out a scene to get the emotion in the voice right.”

Choosing how a character will sound on screen is not always up to the actor, and Karalius notes that different projects permit different amounts of creative freedom. Some directors “give me a range or sample of a voice that they would prefer their character to sound similar to. From there, I am able to put my unique spin on the voice and prepare to record the lines. Other times, when the director doesn’t quite have a specific voice in mind, I will send some lines over in a wide range of voices and allow them the opportunity to find one that they like best. Most of the time, I can have a really good idea of how a character sounds by just seeing a piece of concept art. Artists are excellent at portraying a character’s personality through a single drawing.”

Scott Tepperman and Bill Karalius

Karalius knows well the personalities behind the characters on one of his latest projects, cartoon series Hauntoon, starring Scott Tepperman and Paul Bradford of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters International fame. Karalius enthuses that Tepperman and Bradford are “pretty much two cartoon characters already, so the most logical thing was to start a series with them.” In Hauntoon, “a lot of the humor is natural since the two of them feed off each other so well. The goal I’ve had since I conceptualized the series was to capture their quick little back-and-forths and add a little adventure. The animation team is outstanding, and we’re very fortunate to have [so many] talented individuals on board,” including lead animator Jason LaBarbera and designer Brent Grooms, with Steven Chitty providing additional animation. “The adventures are going to vary from finding ghosts to saving the universe to sitting in traffic during rush hour. The ideas are going to get even more outrageous, since Paul, Scott, and Jason will all be contributing episode concepts moving forward. Be prepared”, Karalius warns, “because things are going to get scary.”

From his experience acting in and now creating his own animated projects, Karalius can offer advice to people curious about entering the world of the voice actor. “The first thing to note is that you’re never too big to play a small part. I’ve seen too many occasions where people want to voice only the lead character. If they end up landing a smaller part, they’ll feel a bit on the insulted side and rescind their services. When you do that enough times, very few people will be willing to work with you. I’ve found a lot of success playing very minor characters and extras, [parts which later open] doors to larger roles.

This brings me to my second tip: understand the needs of the directors and the producers. This goes far beyond simply understanding the way a voice needs to sound, but rather how you’re able to communicate with the directors. Communication [seems to have become] a lost art form recently, and it’s like a breath of fresh air when an actor is able to clearly communicate, whether it has to do with a small question about the character or a delay in getting lines in on time. I mention the idea of timing, of turning in lines, because it has to do with my last big piece of advice: be reliable. It’s amazing how many talented voices are out there, but the ones directors end up sticking with for the long haul are the voice actors who are timely with regards to getting their recording done with the fewest bumps along the way. It’s almost certain that anything that can go wrong will go wrong during a project, but if you’re able to have a good track record of consistency, over time you will find yourself having quite a bit of success.”

A wealth of characters to play and a successful home-based business would be reason enough to make any actor enthusiastic about his work, but for Karalius, “the best part, hands down, is getting to spend time working with some of the most amazing and talented people out there. Many directors and producers I’ve worked with have become a lot more than just professional contacts; they have become close friends. I’ve had the pleasure to work with talent from all around the world, and we keep in contact on a regular basis, even when not working on projects.”

“A big example of that is my work with Andy Francis Johnson, the gentleman who co-founded AFJ Media with me. He’s over in the United Kingdom, so it gives me an excuse to plan a trip over there one of these days. Our work with AFJ Media was brought about after our involvement as directors at Crystal Dream Productions. From there, we’ve been finding a good balance of working on non-profit, fan-related projects and just having fun in our down time. My experience working with other voice actors, especially within Crystal Dream Productions, has been nothing short of spectacular. The amount of talent I’ve been able to witness over a short period of time is incredible, and I have learned a lot from each and every one of them.”

Karalius feels compelled to mention what I suspect might be a favorite part of being a voice actor. “I guess the other perk [is] making prank phone calls in different voices. That stuff never gets old, right?”