Synthetic Voice Actor

Writing a movie? Need a mechanical-sounding voice for your robot? Voice actors are so difficult. What if there was something easier?

A Synthetic Voice Actor (or a synthespian) is a synthetic voice program that voices a character. It's not used a lot, especially when union rules would make that difficult. It's usually used for extremely robotic voices, or a Captain Ersatz of Stephen Hawking. It more commonly springs up in Abridged Series and machinima, partly to get extra voices, and partly because of Rule of Funny. When used against human actors, it tends to make the speaker seem inhuman — in more serious works, it's used for threatening robotic characters, usually. Compare the computer voice on the Enterprise (real person) to AUTO (not a real person).

This trope may not apply to Cepstral voices, or to programs like Voicestitcher (thevoiceplanet.com is down indefinitely).

Compare Machine Monotone, Virtual Celebrity, Auto-Tune.


Examples:

Anime
  • The episode title announcer in Serial Experiments Lain was a Macintosh program named PlainTalk (often falsely called "Whisperer" because of its "Whisper" voice mode).

Film

Live-Action TV
  • The Cylons in the 1978 original Battlestar Galactica series spoke this way (human actors run through a synthesizer).
  • Doctor Who: Averted in all instances.
    • The BBC originally considered doing this for the Daleks, but with 1963 technology, they could have done only 45 seconds of dialogue this way, so they used a human voices filtered through a ring modulator. It's actually pretty easy to duplicate the Dalek voices. Record your voice with Dalek speech-patterns, over-amplify it to add clipping distortions (this step is the one people often forget or don't know about, including, occasionally, the actual BBC effects people), then run the results through a ring modulator plugin using 20-40Hz for the frequency of the modulation.
    • The initial creepy sing-song voice of the Cybermen in "The Tenth Planet" was created by (human) voice actors imitating the glitchy speech cadences of the first ever 'singing' computer, IBM 704. The BBC did the Cyberman voices for most of the 1960s by having a human actor use an electrolarynx (an artificial throat-vibrating device for people who had lost their larynx to cancer or injury - they're rarely heard nowadays, but a prominent fictional user is Ned in South Park). The 2009 revival version of the Cybermen simply had an actor's voice run through a ring modulator with a different setting to what was used for the Daleks.
    • The Daleks, also, do not have mechanical voices, only voices that sound mechanical. A truly mechanical voice would probably be one-note-just-like-this, but Daleks have a cadence to their voices, and they also go "EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NAAAAATE!" with each intonation rising in pitch and volume. They look like tin cans, but they have some powerful emotion inside them.
  • The person with Locked-In Syndrome in Scrubs, too.

Music
  • The Radiohead song "Fitter Happier" is "sung" by Mac PlainTalk.
  • Ken Leavitt-Lawrence, better known as MC Hawking, who uses a text-to-speech program to do parody-gangster rap under the guise of Stephen Hawking himself.
  • Kraftwerk may have been the pioneers of using this trope in music.
  • Erasure's cover of "Video Killed The Radio Star" was "sung" by the keyboardist's laptop, since the human singer refused to sing it.
  • The entire point of the Vocaloid series. Though they still have a human voice source.
    • Played straight with Defoko, the default voice of the similar program UTAU, who is sourced from a program called AquesTalk.
  • Apoptygma Berzerk's Kathy's Song has the chorus sung by the Mac text-to-speech Kathy voice. Of course, the song is essentially an exchange between the singer and his computer. It's awesome.
  • My. Name. Is. Skrillex.
  • Camper Van Beethoven's version of "Sisters Of The Moon" by Fleetwood Mac has a text-to-speech program reciting the lyrics (and also throwing in seemingly arbitrary quotes from Pindar, William Shakespeare, and This Is Spinal Tap). As with Erasure's "Video Killed The Radio Star" cover, this was done because no one in the band wanted to sing it.
  • The voice of the fictional singer Lumi of the Genki Rockets is thought to be either synthesized or a composite of Rachel Rhodes and Nami Miyahara.
  • Elise's singing voice in Sound Horizon's "Märchen" was created using the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid software, with Revo's reasoning being that it made sense for a Creepy Doll to have an artificial voice. Her speaking voice, on the other hand, is provided by Fujita Saki (aka, the original source for Miku's voice).
  • Assemblage 23's "Automaton" uses a vocoder (which he rarely uses) to complement the song's subject.
  • Mind.in.a.box's "Change", "8 Bits", "I Love 64" and "Unknown" have heavily processed vocals to emulate this effect, though the actual singer is human (he can be heard singing normally on "Remember" and towards the end of one of the "8 Bits" remixes).
  • Beck's "Ghettochip Malfunction (Hell Yes)" has a deep synthetic voice echoing some of the lyrics.
  • Overlaps with Celebrity Voice Actor: Stephen Hawking lent his voice to "Keep Talking" on Pink Floyd's "The Division Bell."
    It doesn't have to be like this. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.
  • This parody of "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line was done using the scorewriter programs Melody Assistant and Virtual Singer, the latter of which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Speaking of bro-country, a synthesized voice (either Microsoft Sam or a soundalike) recites a Title Drop at the beginning of Chase Rice's "Ready Set Roll".
  • The HMKids song "Adeptus Mechanicus" is a Machine-Cult prayer recited by a Text-To-Speech program, accompanied by pipe organs, drums, and electric guitar.
  • The Eurobeat artist April, of "Hanami" and "The Magic I Feel", appears to be a completely synthetic voice.
  • The Plogue virtual instrument plugin chipspeech contains a bank of recordings of various ancient speech synthesisers, which can be played via a keyboard like a musical instrument. Each voice is assigned a VOCALOID-esque character:

Toys
  • Texas Instruments' Speak n' Spell toys deserve a special mention due to the fact that they have a very early TI synthesizer, model TMC0280, that the Periphery Demographic loves to abuse.
  • Several early V-Tech educational computer systems also has optional speech modules that can be purchased separately and added to the toy to provide speech.

Video Games
  • The Portal series is an aversion of this, since its evil AIs are voiced by humans (heavily edited in post-production, but humans nonetheless). GLaDOS was originally going to be voiced by a text-to-speech program, but Valve wanted her to go through a Villainous Breakdown where she became progressively more emotional, which computer programs couldn't do.
    • The results of running the text of GLaDOS's lines through a text to speech program were actually used to coach actress Ellen McLain with regard to giving GLaDOS her distinctive voice in Portal.
    • However, fan-made mods can't afford Ellen's voice (though, once people did think of asking her), hence, they use voice synthesizing programs for their GLaDOSes and AIs (dependent on the story for the mod). However, Ellen does make exceptions and has provided her service in the voice of GLaDOS for a much smaller fee for fan projects in the past.
    • This only becomes apparent in the mod Portal: Prelude, whose main gimmick is that the test supervisors were human, rather than an AI. However, the voices were done in a text-to-speech program because the creators were French and weren't very fluent in spoken English. They couldn't find voice actors in the timeframe in which they wanted to develop the game.
      • This becomes especially awkward towards the end of the game after GLaDOS is turned on for the first time, and she uses her sound files from the main Portal game, mixed with synthesized voices. So we have a robot that sounds more human than the humans do, and uses two personalities at once.
      • For those of you keeping track: Portal's supervisors are robots voiced by humans imitating robots imitating humans, while Prelude's supervisors are humans voiced by robots imitating humans.
  • beatmania IIDX 15: DJ TROOPERS used Microsoft Sam for the "Enemy Plane Appoach" voice in the music used for Attract Mode and some of the menus.
  • Deliberately used badly in Time Fcuk—the main character's voice is barely even comprehensible, and definitely doesn't sound human. It's not quite certain why this is—perhaps the Rule of Scary, or a deliberate attempt to "anonymize" him?
    • If you listen closely, the main character talks exactly how it is written.
  • The voice of Byte from Tron 2.0 is actually a voice of MacinTALK.
  • Impossible Mission on the Commodore 64: "Another visitor? Stay awhile. Stay FOREVER!" note 
    • On the side note, the Commodore 64 and 128 has an add-on module called the Magic Talker that gave it a synthetic voice with a limited vocabulary of 235 words.
  • Several Apple ][ sound cards include a speech chip, if not a DIP socket for a speech chip upgrade. Usually these take Votrax SC-1 or SSI-263 chips.
  • Microsoft Sam and Mary appear chanting the name and motto of the Wii party game, Let's Tap in the game's theme tune. Yes, really.
  • The Intellivision's Intellivoice module.
  • The House of the Dead series used these in the first two games. Which, of course, made for some hilariously emotionless bits of drama. As well as the infamous "Suffer like G did?"
  • Moonbase Alpha has this for players. This leads to notorious griefing possibilities.
  • Animal Crossing uses a simple voice synthesizer to speak each letter of the text, very quickly. Characters even add the proper inflection if a sentence ends with a question mark. It's fairly unintelligible if you try to listen to it, but in the original Japanese it works a lot better, in fact, almost perfectly, since the Japanese language used a series of fixed pronouns compared to western languages which phonemes has to be combined to form words.
  • Q*bert uses a Votrax voice synthesizer chipnote  to supply the voices of the various characters. Unfortunately, the chip used couldn't produce coherent phrasesnote , so the designers decided to go the other direction and have the characters speak a Starfish Language.note 
  • Zimos in Saints Row: The Third speaks with an AutoTuned electronic voice box.
  • Stern's Berzerk is likely the Ur-Example for video games. It was either this game, or Midway's Wizard Of Wor; both were released the same year (1980).
  • Averted with Williams Electronics' infamous Sinistar, which used a CVSD-basednote  HC-55516 to play back digital audio- Sinistar's speech were digitized recordings of radio personality John Doremus.
  • The Remnant Psyches in Killer7 all use text-to-speech voices. In the original Japanese, they're speaking slightly-hard-to-make-out-but-still-understandable Gratuitous English, but in the English dub, everything they say is run through extra audio filters to make them more incomprehensible.
  • As an April Fools' Day joke, Four Leaf Studios announced that Katawa Shoujo will be fully voiced thanks to voice synthetisation technology.
  • The 2013 Rise of the Triad reboot uses the same synthesizer as Moonbase Alpha for it's text chat in multiplayer. Many of the memes follow suit.
  • The fan-made Yukkuris in the Touhou franchise tend to be voiced like this.
  • Tomodachi Life has this for every character, and lets you customize the voice using various sliders. The difficulty of getting the text-to-speech working in languages other than Japanese was responsible for slowing down the game's western release.
  • In the laserdisc arcade game Firefox, this is how "Mitchell Gant" (Clint Eastwood's character from the movie) is portrayed.
  • Peasant's Quest from The Brothers Chaps uses this for Trogdor's voice. Word of God is that they used the Software Automatic Mouth program (mentioned below) on an Apple ][ with a supported sound card to generate the source speech.

Web Animation
  • In her early design, Rya from Bonus Stage was voiced by a Macintosh text-to-speech synthesizer, but later went on to just having a robot-sounding voice.
  • The announcers (often called "speaker boxes") from Battle for Dream Island are all using computer-generated voices. The only exception to these are announcers based off existing characters.
  • Everyone in Greeny Phatom. Literally everyone.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • H.E.L.P.eR. from The Venture Bros. is voiced by something called "Soul-Bot", which processes Chris McCulloch's "eep!" noises into electronic beeps and boops.
  • AUTO from WALL•E. As if there weren't enough Apple references in the movie already, the voice is Mac OSX's own MacinTALK. Similarly, M-O's "Foreign Contaminant" is provided by PlainTalk.
  • The title robot in Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones? originally used MacinTalk Junior, credited as "Himself", but later switched to a synthesized human voice, and they even redubbed the earlier episodes with the real actor.
  • Compuhorse from Spliced
  • Post-ReBoot CGI series called either War Planets or Shadow Raiders had Princess Tekla (from the robot planet)'s companion device voiced by MacinTalk.
  • Frank Welker used one to voice Soundwave from Transformers, which is basically his Dr. Claw voice as heard in one episode where they forgot to use it.
    • On the other hand, Animated Perceptor's voice is completely synthetic, and probably so to bring to mind Professor Stephen Hawking. One of the writers has suggested that he "deleted his emotions and personality" to make room for more data, though (like many an "emotionless" character), he certainly seems to have both, if understated.
    • Soundwave, in fact, doesn't really count as this; although Frank's voice is run through a vocoder, it is still his voice behind it all, and in cases where Soundwave is voiced by a synthesized voice (which mostly occurs in parodic works), it sounds much different. Sadly, we don't have a trope for him, so he's staying here.
  • Steve the Disabled Professor (a Stephen Hawking stand-in) in Family Guy also used Macintalk. Ironically, three episodes also had animated cameo appearances by the real Stephen Hawking.
  • That locomotive from Dumbo, despite being male according to the song "Casey Junior", is actually voiced by a woman, as revealed in The Reluctant Dragon.
  • The BOTS Master used a synthesized voice for the evil Corp's robots, while the BOYZZ were all voiced by real actors. This was done to show that the BOYZZ were more human than their soulless corporate adversaries. To be exact, Creative Labs'note  Dr. Sbaitso program is used. To make things more interesting, Sbaitso actually uses Creative Text Assist (itself already used for several movies) for it's speech backend.

Real Life
  • NOAA Weather Radio went to all-synthetic voices in the late '90s. Most stations have one male and one female synthetic voice.
  • Surprisingly, Siri averts this - voice actress Susan Bennett (and her international counterparts) spent five hours a day for four weeks voicing seemingly random words for ScanSoft (the company behind Siri's technology), who then sliced them up to form the phonemes and intonations that the search engine uses.
  • The Software Automatic Mouth, or SAM, by Don't Ask Software, provides a CPU-driven speech synthesizer to any machine that has a PSG chip. The Apple II version supported several PSG-based sound cards made for the Apple II (and was a pack-in software for several cards), and the C64 version drives the SID chip directly. The Atari 8-bit version used the POKEY chip (another PSG chip on Atari 8-bit computers that can also be found in several arcade machines), but had other limitations due to the design of the system (the ANTIC chip had to be disabled, as do interrupts- this means that the screen has to be blanked while generating speech). The PC and base Apple II version can even try to generate speech from the internal beeper by treating it as a rudimentary PSG. MacInTalk was a rebranded version of this software that Steve Jobs personally commissioned Don't Ask Software to produce for the Mac (which went on to voice AUTO in WALL•E, among many other roles). Microsoft Voice/Speech (of which Microsoft Sam is a part of) is also undoubtedly its spiritual successor if not direct spinoff or even direct continuation of the line.
  • Stephen Hawking, famously, whose distinctive Machine Monotone voice is probably the Trope Codifier inspiring many of these examples.
  • Roger Ebert used a computer to communicate after he lost his voice due to thyroid cancer. Software engineers tried to use clips from his TV show to synthesize his own voice, but they had only limited success since much of the time he was talking over movie clips or background music.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SyntheticVoiceActor