You've heard "How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria," right?
The song that the nuns sing in "The Sound of the Music" when they're fretting
about that novice's behavior? Well, have you ever wondered what that Rodgers
& Hammerstein song might sound like if Roz from "Monsters, Inc." had sung
Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved
If so ... Then you should have been at the Samuel Goldwyn
Theater back on August 19th. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences - as part of its Marc Davis Celebration of Animation - presented a
"Voices of Character" panel.
Moderated by noted author & animation historian Charles
Solomon, this was an evening that animation fans will remember for years yet to
come. Given that this "Voices of Character" panel featured appearances by
industry vets like June Foray, Russi Taylor, Susan Egan and Yuri Lowenthal. Not
to mention Pixar screenwriter Bob Peterson's singing nun impression.
The evening actually got underway with this terrific clip
reel that Les Perkins had created. The short montage featured a myriad of
actors in live-action films followed by clips of their famous animated
performances. The audience in the
Samuel Goldwyn Theater reeled with delight as they watched Lucille La Verne
make her unmistakable cackle in a live-action film from the 1930s, which was then reprised instantly in her iconic role
as Snow White's Wicked Witch. The clips
oscillated from live-action actors - both legendary and almost completely
forgotten - to their animated counterparts, each unforgettable. The brilliantly edited clips featured
everyone from Roy Atwell, first on-screen, then as the voice of the dwarf Doc,
to Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger then as Donkey in Shrek.
Charles Solomon moderated the Voices of Characterpanel at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Photo byRichard Harbaugh. Copyright 2010 A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved
The audience was then treated to a short clip of Monsters
Inc. where the dialogue changes to 30 different foreign languages. The audience simultaneously giggled at the
foreign languages emanating from these familiar characters, and marveled at the
work it takes to produce these dubs and make them true to the story in so many
Then Rick Dempsey (i.e. senior VP of Disney Character Voices
International), animation master James Baxter and Bob Peterson took to the
stage. Where Solomon asked the panelists when the voice of the character first
enters their minds. Baxter responded,
"from the instant you see the first artwork of a character... the possibilities
start to open up. And of course, once
you cast an actor, that may affect the design of the character in the end as
Peterson offered a different take on Solomon's question. "When the character's flaw comes in, you know
(you need someone who can then) balance that flaw." He went on to explain that Woody's unlikeable
behavior necessitated casting an actor like Tom Hanks who had inherent likeability
that could then balance that flaw. Up's
Carl Frederickson was grumpy for a lot of that movie. Which is why Ed Asner was the perfect voice actor
to make that Pixar character appealing.
James Baxter offered up his thoughts at last month's Marc Davis Celebration ofAnimation. Photo by Ivan Vejar. Copyright 2010 A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved
James added modestly, "With a good voice, all of your work
is done. You pray for a rich, juicy
voice. Then you just have to not drop the ball."
Baxter talked about the unique situation with Enchanted's
Giselle. Her animated design was tailored
to reflect the live actress who was cast to play her - Amy Adams. After showing her some of the poses of her
animated counterpart, Amy then folded some of her cartoon mannerisms that James
had created for that character into her live-action performance. "There was more back and forth between actor and
animator in that instance," he added.
Peterson shared that Tom Hanks has stated that voice-acting
was the hardest thing that he's ever had to do, emoting with only your voice,
working alone in a small booth. Baxter then
offered up James Earl Jones' impressions of voice-over from the production of
The Lion King. "When recording Mufasa,
Jones likened it to the way ancient Greeks players acted behind a mask."
Bob Peterson shared some behind-the-stories about Pixar recording sessions.Photo by Ivan Vejar. Copyright 2010 A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved
Bob talked about Albert Brooks' approach to Marlin in
Finding Nemo. He was a gifted ad libber
and would dial in the nuance of his character take after take. Then they would move on to the next scene,
and Brooks would stop them and say "Ooh, I want to go back. I thought of
Speaking of ad libbing, Peterson shared an anecdote from
Billy Crystal's recording on Monsters Inc.
At some point, Crystal's mic was unintentionally given reverb which then
created an echo effect. And so Crystal
spent the next twenty minutes pretending to broadcast FM radio from inside of the
Luray Caverns. The crew at Pixar was in
hysterics listening to Billy. Inbetween
laughs, Peterson noted to the others that " ... We should be paying him for this
... Oh, wait. We are."
The next clip screened in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater featured
Walt Disney in the only known footage of him recording Mickey Mouse. Walt performed with Billy Bletcher as Pete in
1940's Mr. Mouse Takes A Trip. It was a
curious sight to watch tall, lanky Walt invoke this squeaky, friendly little
voice. And watching the diminutive Billy
Bletcher bellow like a foghorn as Pete.
Walt Disney and Billy Bletcher. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.All rights reserved
After this, June Foray, Russi Taylor, Susan Egan and Yuri
Lowenthal were welcomed to the stage with a montage of their diverse spectrum
of work in everything from Rocky and
Bullwinkle to Spirited Away.
Animation's grande dame June Foray shared many hilarious
anecdotes from her life in voice-over.
One of which involved her annual Halloween phone call to friend Pat Buttram. Pat would call June in order to speak with
Witch Hazel, and receive a report on broom-flying conditions. One year, Foray was running late from a
recording session, and so she called Buttram from a phone booth on a busy
street. As June cackled and squealed
from the phone booth, curious passersby wondered, "What kind of nut is
that?" The answer is obvious to us. That's a real voice-over artist.
The panelists were asked about how much, if any, of the
performance is physical while recording.
They all noted that it is surprisingly physical. Russi noted that Bill Farmer bends his body
into an S-curve just like Goofy when recording the iconic character. Yuri Lowenthal shared a story from when he
was cast as Superman for a project.
Several sessions passed and while they were on break, the show runner asked
Yuri "if [he] always records like that?"
Yuri didn't realize that, at each of the sessions, he had been standing
at the podium with his hands on his hips in the signature Superman heroic
Yuri Lowenthal struck a heroic pose at last month's "Voices of Character" panel.Photo by Ivan Vejar. Copyright 2010 A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved
In discussing the origins of Roz's voice for Monsters Inc.,
Bob Peterson shared that "... she was my lunch ladies from the 1970s, dispensing
government cheese." It has a guttural
didgeridoo quality he noted, "But you can't make any physical noise while
recording. So you learn to act from the waist up."
Russi told a story she had heard about legendary actress
Carol Channing. While recording
voice-over some years ago, her elaborate blouse made so much noise that it was
ruining every take. So finally Channing took
off her shirt and finished recording in her bra. "That's a woman." Russi declared gleefully
June Foray noted that she's been playing Granny in the
Looney Tunes since 1957. "I'm still
doing it. But now I'm old enough."
June Foray proved to be an audience favorite at this Academy of MotionPictures Arts and Science event. Photo by Todd Wawrychuck.Copyright 2010 A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved
Susan Egan described dubbing anime like a jigsaw puzzle,
which is what she says really appeals to her about it. It's such a technical process, working with the
director & writers to find just the right colloquial American word or
phrase to convey the intent of the dialogue.
But then it also has to fit the timing of the existing mouth animation,
which changes everything all over again.
Egan -- who recorded Meg for Hercules as she was performing in Broadway's
Beauty and the Beast -- was asked if she felt her nightly stage persona
creeping into her voice recording. "No,"
she responded, "but Alan Menken came to the show one night. And after the show he came backstage and said
'your Meg is creeping into your Belle and I have notes for you.' " The panelists noted that THAT was a version
of Beauty and the Beast they'd really like to see - a Belle with Meg's snark
who takes none of the Beast's crap. Without
missing a beat, Susan dropped into Meg's voice and started snapping at the
Beast. She referred to this as "Beauty
and the Beast 2: The Divorce."
Susan discussed the difference between auditioning for the stage
and auditioning for voice-over. Egan marched
in, handed them her materials and the casting personnel & directors
promptly put their heads down on the table.
They just listened and "I felt very alone up there. But they had a camera on me. And sure enough, a year and a half later, I
noticed some of (my) gestures in Meg's performance."
Russi Taylor remembered what it was like to work on some of your favorite Saturday morning shows. Photo by Ivan Vejar. Copyright 2010 A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved
Solomon then asked about recording in isolation and yet
creating a great sense of chemistry. Foray
responded simply "You have to be a good actor."
Taylor talked about the fact that this wasn't always the case. All of
her work on DuckTales (Huey, Dewie, Louie and Webby Vanderquack) and Muppet
Babies (Gonzo) was performed all together.
The panelists noted that this was a rare luxury these days, and one that
they certainly relish when they have the opportunity.
Peterson then shared an amusing anecdote of recording
Christopher Plummer's performance as Charles Muntz in Up. Because of his long-ago experience in radio,
he physically moved past the mic, recreating the effect of falling past the
mic. They had to tell him that they will
create the falling effect in post.
Susan followed Bob's story by recalling the call that she
received from Disney while that they were working on the direct-to-video
feature, Lady and the Tramp II. "Can you
sing like Alyssa Milano?," they asked. Without
a moment's hesitation, Egan responded "Yeah, of course. You know, it's something
-- as an actor - (that) I've been
working on for years."
Susan Egan talks about some of the sillier requests that castingdirectors have made over the years. Photo by Ivan Vejar.Copyright 2010 A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved
The panelists then took part in a table read of the classic
Jay Ward Fractured Fairy Tale, "Aladdin."
Bob Peterson assigned roles. They
created voices. Once completed, they
returned to an earlier point in the script and read again with the same actors
assigned each part, but with completely different voices. As a member of the audience, you couldn't help
but marvel at their skill.
June Foray talked about what a rare gift this is. Lots of people can do funny voices. But few can actually act, creating a
performance in that character's voice.
Russi added, "...and keep it up, often for hours! You have to start high energy and keep it up
or go even higher!"
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Marc Davis Celebration of Animation: Voices of
Character event closed out with a montage of Mel Blanc performances. Which
easily illustrated why Blanc was called the man of a thousand voices.
(Seated) Charles Solomon, Susan Egan and June Foray. (Standing) Yuri Lowenthal, Bob Peterson, Rick Dempsey and Russi Taylor. Photo by Richard Harbaugh. Copyright 2010 A.M.P.A.S. All rights reserved
In short, this was one of those nights that the animation fans who were lucky
enough to be inside of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on August 19th will
remember for the rest of their lives. And not just because they got to hear Roz
sing "How Do You solve a Problem like Maria?"
Wish I could have been there!
Great Scott! How I wish I could have been there. Thanks for publixhing such a detailed report. I enjoyed every word!
I so wish that an organization like this would film such events... seems so limiting not to do so. In this day and age of on-demand video and burn-on-demand DVDs, I have to think there would be an affordable - even profitable - way to record and distribute such events - just for posterity if nothing else!!