SDCC2013: I Know That Voice: The Documentary Panel Report
Animation and voice over fans were treated to a special sneak preview of clips from the I Know That Voice documentary on Thursday, Jul 18, which was introduced by producer and voice actor of Bender from Futurama and Jake the Dog from Adventure Time, John DiMaggio, who was greeted by fans with a roaring applause. The clip included testimony, comments, and a bit of voice over demonstration from some of the biggest stars in voice acting including Nancy Cartwright (Bart on The Simpsons), James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan Kenobi on Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Rob Paulsen (Pinky, Yakko Warner, and Dr. Scratchansniff on Animaniacs), Tara Strong (Twilight Sparkle on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Timmy Turner and Poof on Fairly OddParents), Tom Kenny (SpongeBob Squarepants), Billy West (Fry, Dr. Zoidberg, and Professor Farnsworth on Futurama) Mark Hamill (Joker on Batman: The Animated Series), Jess Harnell (Wakko Warner on Animaniacs), Pamela Adlon (Bobby Hill on King of the Hill), Andrea Romano (voice director for hundreds of series), Dee Bradley Baker (Klaus Heisler on American Dad! and Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb), and many more. Every single voice actor that appeared in the preview clip was greeted with a superstar roar of applause.
After the clip, DiMaggio introduced his panel of all-stars which included James Arnold Taylor filling in for Billy West who had a scheduling conflict; Rob Paulsen; Dee Bradley Baker; Tom Kenny; Andrea Romano; I Know That Voice producers, Lawrence Shapiro and Tommy Reid; Adventure Time creator and the voice of Lumpy Space Princess, Pendleton Ward; and Fred Tatasciore (Hulk on Ultimate Avengers, Next Avengers, and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) to take questions from the audience. The first questioner asked when the movie would be coming out. DiMaggio said he’s hoping to get a distribution deal soon to release the film on several formats and platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Video-On-Demand, and possibly a limited theater release.
Another fan asked the panel if they had ever done voices that physically hurt doing. Paulsen commented that probably Baker and Frank Welker are the only 2 voice actors that can physically manipulate their vocal chords in strange positions in order to make some of the voices, sounds, and effects they do. Baker said that when he squeezes parts of his face to make various sounds, it actually feels good when he does that. Taylor added that if you want to be a voice actor, don’t do voices that hurt you; otherwise, it won’t work in the long run. Just do voices you can do in your range without hurting yourself. There are other people who can do the voices you can’t do, so just concentrate on what you can do. Kenny admitted though that they’ve all probably gone to an audition and stretched their voices to their limit, thinking they won’t get the job, only to find out later they got the job for that extreme voice which they might have to end up doing for a few years. If you stretch yourself to the point of pain, you will regret it. DiMaggio added that he recently experienced this when doing the voice of a banana guard for the Adventure Time video game, which he made sound a bit like Pendleton Ward doing Lumpy Space Princess. Usually, DiMaggio said banana guards don’t have that many lines in the TV show, but for the video game, he had to voice the banana guard for a couple of hours which really stretched his limits. DiMaggio advised that you should be careful in choosing your limitations. Romano said she has always asked actors how it feels doing the voice they are cast for and if they’re comfortable doing it for hours and hours.
The next fan asked when, in the process of doing the documentary, did the producers realize that it had become something more than just a showcase of the industry’s talent. DiMaggio said he and producer Reid were just discussing this recently. He noted that last year, they were filming at Comic-Con for the documentary, and a year later, they return to Comic-Con with a completed documentary and a slew of fans. DiMaggio said that they just had to keep plugging away at making the movie as well as talking about it to everyone until they finished. Paulsen added that he has noticed that voicing just seems like a normal job until they meet people at conventions who know who they are. They get to see how their voices and characters have affected and influenced people. Kenny noted that when they’re with fans, they feel like superstar celebrities, but in the general entertainment industry, voice actors aren’t that appreciated or known. DiMaggio added that voice actors are like blue collar actors in that they go in and do what needs to be done; they don’t mind doing it because they love working. In fact, DiMaggio said he was almost late to the panel because he was called in at the last minute to do some voicing in Escondido earlier in the day, so he had to rush back to San Diego afterward for the panel.
A fan who was in awe of Andrea Romano’s voice casting and directing résumé asked how was she able to do all those shows. Romano answered that when she’s casting for a show, besides considering the requirements for each character, she understands that whomever she casts will be someone she has to spend 8+ hours with together daily, so she she casts people who are are comfortable and fun to work with.
Taylor, who came in at the last minute to fill in for Billy West, noted that he and West are about the same size, physically, so when he first heard West’s Dr. Zoidberg for Futurama, he was amazed by the low depth West could do with his voice. Taylor said West showed him that he could also do such big low voices even with his small physique. Paulsen added that he recently talked to Clancy Brown who noted that Taylor, Baker, and Corey Burton were all people whose physicality really hides their voice range. Kenny said another actor whose physical appearance disguised his hidden deep voice is Peter Cullen who is actually quite short in stature despite the voices he does. Kenny described this as the ultimate magic trick.
Another Romano fan asked both Romano and Ward about how they cast voices. Ward replied saying that DiMaggio can make just about anything, even the most boring lines, funny and amazing, which was how DiMaggio got cast as Jake. Romano said that for Batman: The Animated Series, for Batman, she had to listen to more than 500 voices before narrowing the list down to 120 and then finding 4-5 which she thought could be Batman. That all changed when Kevin Conroy came and started talking she said. DiMaggio added that Kevin Conroy will be in I Know That Voice as well. Romano noted though that her mentor, Gordon Hunt who was a voice director for Hanna-Barbara for several years, said that statistically, the first voice actor who auditions for a role is the person who usually gets the role. Romano surmised this might be because the first person she thought would fit the role would be the first person she would schedule the audition for, but she wasn’t not sure.
An aspiring voice actor asked for advice about getting into voice acting. Baker replied that he created a free website just for aspiring voice actors with advice and information he has learned over the years in the industry at iwanttobeavoiceactor.com . Taylor recommended Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt’s Voice-Over Voice Actor book . Baker said Paulsen’s free podcast, Talkin’ Toons , has interviews with voice actors about their careers, work, and how to begin. Tatasciore also added that one should just study acting in general as much as one can since voice acting is also acting as well.
Next, a fan asked what was it like to talk as various characters in the same scene or talking to oneself. DiMaggio replied saying that for Futurama, he has seen and heard West do more than 3 pages of dialogue of his various characters by himself. West even showed DiMaggio how to do it. DiMaggio said it’s hard though, and you must really focus on each character separately. Baker said that he did this a lot for Star Wars: The Clone Wars and for him, the trick is that changing from one character to another is just an adjustment in acting and that you had to have clarity about the difference in each character. Once this clarity is in your mind, it should be easy to jump from one character to another if you’re a really good actor. Romano noted that some actors can switch from character to character without losing the voice of each character, but some can’t. She said it wasn’t because they can’t act with themselves, but it was because they would lose the voice of each character when they switch-over. For those actors, Romano would read the dialogue of that actor’s other character while the actor reads off her, so the actor can stay in character. Later, she would switch roles, and the actor would read off her in another character’s voice. This particular skill is also key in casting, Romano said and added that Baker once did 17 different voices for an episode of Ben 10.
Romano asked the next question to I Know That Voice‘s other producers, Shapiro and Reid. She asked how many people did they have to interview for the documentary. Shapiro replied that they did about 150 interviews, each about 1 hour long or longer, but it really didn’t seem that much or that long since all the interviews were amazing and interesting to watch. Reid responded saying that they tried to cover the entire voice over industry for people who don’t really know what goes on behind-the-scenes. The documentary actually started in October 2011, but it took a year to wrangle the 150 people for interviews as well as editing the movie down to 90 minutes. Reid said the movie covers everything from the start of voice acting in radio plays and Mel Blanc to anime and video games in the present. Shapiro added that they really wanted to show the evolution of the art of voice acting and how it has changed with technology.
The next questioner was another aspiring voice actor and casting director and asked Romano what her advice is on how to be a good casting director. Paulsen suggested casting oneself all the time. Romano replied that as a casting director, you should create an environment that’s comfortable and safe where voice over artists can make fools of themselves because that’s what they’re hired to do. Romano also added that you should give voice actors as much information as they can about the character they will be voicing from the character’s looks, background, personality, and dialogue, so the actors can give the best performance they can and quickly. As for making the environment comfortable, it also encourage actors to try new approaches to voicing as well.
Next, someone asked if the panel had fun doing voices outside what they’re normal cast for, like DiMaggio did for The Joker in Batman: Under the Red Hood. DiMaggio answered that it is indeed fun to do voices outside of what he’s normally cast for because they’re challenging, and actors love to challenge themselves and stretch their skills to see what else they’re capable of doing. Paulsen added that everyone in the panel came from an acting background, so it’s thrilling to be cast in roles which they wouldn’t have been cast in otherwise live on-camera or stage. Kenny also said that when he is hired for a role that’s outside his normal comfort zone, besides feeling excited, he also feels as if he conned someone into getting something he shouldn’t have been able to get. Baker noted though for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it was the opposite for him. He thought it would be one of his ‘normal’ roles, but the clones sound pretty straight forward and normal which was a very different experience for Baker who wouldn’t have thought to cast himself in such a role. With voice acting, Baker agreed he could stretch his acting muscles much further than he could if he were on-camera. Paulsen brought up Baker’s role as Klaus the fish on American Dad! as an example which Taylor noted was a role where Baker gave the casting directors a voice that was totally different than what they were looking for. Baker said that Klaus was originally supposed to be a French fish named François, but he voiced him as a German fish instead because he felt he should be German and liked him better that way. The American Dad! directors tried to re-cast Baker who still refused to voice him as a French fish, so they just changed François to Klaus. Baker said he learned that sometimes you need to stick to your creative instinct on how you interpret a character, even if the casting directors don’t like it. He added you must still give your best performance though in that interpretation, which is how you can advance in the industry.
The next question was about recording demos and whether or not if a demo is scripted or ad-libbed. DiMaggio and Taylor answered that demos should be short from 60-90 seconds. DiMaggio suggested doing voices in short bursts with completely contrasting ranges. Taylor added the acting styles should be contrasting as well to show that you can act. Taylor also said you should not do popular voice imitations and do your own voices instead. Romano mentioned that each different voice on the demo should be long enough to demonstrate that you can sustain the voice for long sessions. She said she has brought in people to do some voices from their demo only to find out that they could only do one line before the voice dies. Romano also emphasized that acting is the key to doing well. Even if you can only do 3 voices but act really well, you can get work doing just those voices. She said you don’t need to be able to do hundreds of voices in order to do well in the industry since no one can really do hundreds of voices. Paulsen slyly pointed to Baker while Romano was saying this though as one of the exceptions to that which got giggles from the audience. Romano suggested putting dialects on your demo as well as singing in character which is also important for her, at least, to be a legitimate voice artist. Once you get an agent with the 90 second demo, then you need to do a 60 second demo for the voice over bank which directors use later for casting. After hearing a million demos in her life, Romano said that anything beyond 60 seconds will make the listener lose interest. Kenny added that 60 seconds is enough to show your range too. Romano also advised to put your best and strongest voices first in the demo.
The next person wondered if the panel thought that their profession has gotten a lot more respect than it did 15-20 years ago. Taylor replied that video games and new technology has given their industry a lot more relevance since now people want to know who does the voices of the characters they play or watch. Paulsen said he has never felt disrespected for what he does or cared about the recognition because most of the panel started doing voice acting not for money mainly but because they loved doing it and would just do it anyway for fun. Paulsen added though it is really great to see fans go out of their way to show and tell them how much they like their work. On his recent trip to Australia for a convention, Paulsen said the fans there are just like the fans here except with accents. Kenny said that even though most people know and respect their work, there are still exceptions. He recently ran into a neighbor who asked why he hadn’t moved ‘up’ to on-camera acting. Kenny said there’s still a stigma about how actors should progress along the industry among people outside the business whose only exposure to entertainment is with big celebrities on magazines, TV, and movies. Kenny said he wouldn’t trade his voice over career with anything else though. Taylor also said he once was at a session where the producers said later they were going to bring in the ‘real’ actors. DiMaggio said this is exactly why he made the movie.
Of course, any voice actor panel with Rob Paulsen can’t end without the obligatory request for Paulsen to do “Nations of the World” as Yakko Warner, which Paulsen did with ease. The next questioner, another aspiring voice actor, asked if anyone had worked with a voice actor with autism since he himself had autism. Kenny and Baker said they think they have, and Paulsen said one podcast interviewee, a great voice actor, admitted he had Asperger’s. The panel admired the questioner’s ambition and bravery and wished him the best in his pursuit, saying they would love to work with him someday.
The final questioner asked whether anime voice actors were also included in the documentary. The panel replied that Steve Blum, Kari Wahlgren, Yuri Lowenthal, Robin Atkin Downes, and many more they couldn’t remember will be in the movie and to check the website for more info.
Shapiro ended the panel by saying that working on the film was a once in a lifetime experience and thanked everyone on the panel for the opportunity.
MouseInfo has uploaded video of the entire panel if you want to see and hear some of the ad-libs the panel added during questioning.