Long animations without voice

One thing I like about animation is that you can do everything by yourself, if you have an idea you want to turn into a film but don’t wish to work with a team. Models, textures, sounds, music, etc. are possible to make if you know how, and easy to find under a free license if you don’t. There’s just one thing you can’t make on your own nor simply download and use: Voice. If you have a bad accent or can’t get the tone you want, you cannot voice your characters. Also if you’re male and want to voice a female character or the other way around. I tried working around this using text to speech, and the results aren’t worth even describing.

Since I plan to make larger films but alone, voicing the characters is not an option. So I’m wondering how successful a large animated film can be if no one ever speaks a word. Yes, there are several short films (6 minutes or less) that do perfectly well without voice. But what about something that’s over one hour long, or a serious series that has multiple episodes? Can hours of movie still be enjoyable and entertain anyone if no one ever speaks? And are there any examples of such?

Obviously, the first way to cover this gap is by making the characters more expressive, and having them communicate through gestures whenever possible. Is there anything else I should keep in mind however? Note that this doesn’t include vocal sounds that aren’t words (such as grunting, laughing, crying, gasping, yawning, etc), those can be easily found or recorded for any gender and body type.

My first thought is music…

Old silent movies added slides with necessary dialog between shots of the characters acting. Old movie theaters often didn’t even have a sound system, so the film would come with a piano score and the movie house would hire a piano player to provide the background music while the film played on the screen. I have not seen any modern animation using that technique, though. Nowadays you would use subtitles instead of slides. I do think if you include non-word vocalizations it will seem very odd that your characters never speak.

It is a vexing problem. Perhaps a local school with a drama program could provide volunteers to do the voice work?

Subtitles substituting voice would probably be even weirder. You’d have text appearing without any obvious source and what it’s about, since it doesn’t translate anything you hear that sounds like a voice.

And I didn’t mean using other vocalization to replace voice. Just that expression vocalizations are possible, like the character gasping in surprise when they notice something. Voice would have to be replaced with body and face expressions that make it clear what the characters are thinking at any time… not in a silly way of course. I still wonder if that’s enough though.

What about sort of mumbling and making noises like exclamation, rabbiting anger, etc. Can speed up in sound editor like helium in Audacity… Here’s me not sounding like me!

I know you do not mean to replace words with gasps and sighs. However, if the character gasps and sighs at appropriate times, but does not speak at other times, the audience would believe the character was meant to be mute. Having text appear without any obvious source for the words would also be odd, I agree.

In the old timey silent movies, the screen switched to a placard or slide with the dialog on it, then back to the characters. I believe they also showed the characters mouthing the words. But the only sound was the piano player in the theater, so the audience didn’t have any expectation they were hearing the actors at all.

If you had the characters lip sync the dialog, but had no sound except background music, subtitles might work. But, as I said earlier, I’ve never seen it done recently with placards nor with subtitles, so it may not be any good at all.

Well there are animated tv series with little to none dialog. Tom and Jerry had most of the time no voices, I think the only voices that appeared there where when a letter was read, from human caracters and occationaly a narrator. There are also series complitly without any dialog e.g. Oggy and the Cockroaches and Zig & Sharko (I think they are both from the same guy). They all have one thin in common: they are all slapstick comedy and normaly have a lot of music.

In movies there is no modern equivalent. I think the nearest animated movie would be Wall-E that have long parts without any dialog at the beginning.

Hmmm. Quite a while back, the Los Angeles Theater Center produced a play called ‘The Joni Mitchell Project.’ It had no dialog, consisting of actors coming on stage and singing verses from Joni Mitchell songs. The lyrics were arranged in such a way as to produce the impression of a story with a plot. It was pretty abstract, though, but it was still very successful. It had quite a long run, Joni Mitchell even came to see it and stayed to talk to the audience, and they put out an album of the cast singing the songs.

Are there any comics or graphic novels that sustain an entire story with no dialog?

Apart from good storytelling which does not need voice, you can always ask in filmmaking communities where actors, directors, componists and voice actors come together. I found that often enough people are looking for new projects and are even willing to work for free.

Just keep a few things in mind when posting there:

  1. You should be able to present a few minutes of your work already. Don’t go there and tell them you are planning to do an animation, but go there when you already have something to show.

  2. Don’t tell them that it will be a great opportunity for them to boost their curriculum vitae, but they have to work for free. Just be honest and tell them you have no money and don’t plan to make money from your animation.

If you keep those things in mind I’m very optimistic you will find someone suitable. You can also ask for componists who can create a nice score for your work.


Darn, Daren beat me to it d:

Wall-E was pretty much created entirely around the idea or challenge of making an entire movie with no words. Obviously there were words between the humans, but between Wall-E and EVE, the only words they said were their names and maybe “directive, Plant, no”
And what not.
It can be done yes.
Someone mentioned making weird muffled noises instead, which is a popular idea aswell that i’m sure many would be decently okay with. I saw a 12 minute Animated short today that did just that too.

But also, if you don’t have an idea in your head set already for what those longer animations will be, you could make the characters robots or mechanical things that make metallic noises like grinding gears or what not. If it’s not a human you can just think about what noises you can make with the object. a balloon could make that annoying squeek noise, A slinky could stretch out and shake a bit, a bike could ring the bell on it’s handle bars or squeek a horn. You could actually even give humans some little clown horns and try and make them talk through facial expression and how they honk the horn d:
It’s a very stylized approach, but it works (: (i use to have to do wordless stuff in Performing arts class, it’s quite entertaining d: )

“The Artist” was nearly all silent and B&W. Won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2011. Not animation but some ideas must be there.