Tagged: Maurice LaMarche

Phil LaMarr talks Goblins Animated!

Hey friends, have you seen this?! It’s the Indiegogo for a project called Goblins Animated, and it looks completely awesome.

It first popped up in my Instagram feed as something connected to actor/voice actor Phil LaMarr, and that was enough to get me to check it out. As it turns out, Goblins Animated is to be a new animated series based on the decade-long run of the webcomic Goblins, by creator Tarol Hunt; and is the brainchild of Tarol, Phil, and Matt King.  The animated show, like the comic before it, will be the story of a D & D realm told from the point of view of the little guys, the “monsters,” instead of the adventurers. It’s a heroic tale of a group normally considered evil and weak. “Think Smurfs meets Game of Thrones.” It’s planned to start with ten episodes, and will feature famed voice actors including  Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Jim Cummings, Tara Strong, Matthew Mercer, Jennifer Hale, and Steve Blum.

After checking out the Indiegogo, I hopped over to the comic to check out the source material. Even just a few strips in, I could tell that this is a very clever and fun comic – with the kind of layers of storytelling, character, humor, and social commentary that I love. Realizing that, I had to know more. So I sat down for a great chat with Phil himself, who shared a ton of details with me. The interview made me that much more sure that this project needs to be made!

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below, and you’ll see exactly what I mean!


Emily: Hi Phil! Today we are talking about Goblins Animated, which is a new Indiegogo* project that you are involved in. I saw it coming up and looked at it and I immediately wanted to talk to you. So this started as a comic, it’s been going for ten years, and now you are involved in a project to make it an animated show. How did that happen?

Phil: Well, let’s see. Tarol Hunt, the creator of the Goblins comic, lives up in Vancouver. He’s been doing the comic for a long time. He, years ago, became friends with Matt King. Matt is an actor, voice actor, director, and writer. He has a show called World of Steam that he created. And they share various geekeries, and got to know each other, and Matt and I know each other through acting circles. Matt had the idea of, “This comic is so good, it should be seen by more people, and in this way.” He mentioned it to Tarol, and Tarol was like, “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know.” He mentioned it to me and I was like, “Yeah! That’s amazing.”

Because I’m an old D&D head, and so getting into the comic, I was like, “Oh my God, all those references, that takes me back.” And I immediately saw in the writing and all these characters, a chance to do something really cool and really different in animation. Because so much of animation is kids-oriented; which doesn’t mean that it’s bad. But a lot of it tends to be much of the same. Like anytime there’s a show that’s action-oriented with a small kid at the center, then you get five of them. Or if it’s kind of like, psychedelic, and, you know, little kids watch it and kids stoned in college watch it – four of those. And this was something that was really, really different from anything that’s on.

I mean, the characters look like cartoon characters. But the stories that Tarol’s been telling are so much deeper. But, there’s also this geek-nerd-D&D thing at the same time. So it’s funny, and heartfelt, and then sometimes, there’s just things from D&D like, “I attack with my +1 Broadsword!” In the game, you’re just talking it. But in the comic, you see it. And the idea of actually giving all of that bloody, violent, medieval action life and movement just jazzed me so much. So basically we’ve been working over the last…going on two years. And figuring out what we need to do.

The first thing we did was adapt those stories that Tarol has been telling in comics into animated scripts. Because there are certain things you can’t do, and certain things you need to change. His pacing is that he does a page a week. Every medium has its strengths and its weaknesses. You can’t just port something over. Sorry, Robert Rodriguez. Sin City…was fine. Not great. But that’s the thing. People say, “Oh my God, this comic book is so cinematic!” That doesn’t make it a movie. You have to take the essence of it, the core, the thing that makes it cool – don’t lose that – but then adapt it to the form. So we spent a lot of time doing that, working with Tarol and Matt and me, just putting together the script, figuring out how these characters work the same – what we have to hold on to – and what things we can change, to make it work, so they start moving.

E: Yeah! So you said you knew Matt and Tarol knew Matt. How did you find the comic – was it through Matt? And did he just say, “Hey, you have to read this thing?” And you just started reading it and fell in love? What happened there?

P: Yeah! Because when you go on and you see the newest page, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh!” And then you go into the archive, and…basically, I just sat down and read the whole ten years at once. Wow…I guess I was going to say I had never binged a comic before, but I guess that’s what trade paperbacks are, aren’t they?

E: Yeah, I mean that’s pretty much why I like trade paperbacks, is because you can read more story at once. I love that we are both full-on comics geeks, because I know we’ve talked about this before, and I’ve done the same thing with webcomics and trade paperbacks. You’re like, “Where’s the other ones? So actually, I saw this project because you mentioned it at some point on social media, and I thought, “That looks interesting,” and then I went back and went, “I want to support it, where’s the Indiegogo?” And now the Indiegogo has launched, which we’ll talk about. But I started reading through the first ones, in Book I.

P: You went back to the first stuff? That’s so funny.

E: Yep, all the way to the beginning, to see what it was like, and I read about a third of Book I, because unfortunately I didn’t have time to read the whole ten years before we talked, because it’s a lot! And I want to enjoy it, I don’t want to just skip through it! But then I went to Book III, and Book V, just to see how it changes. Because Tarol put up that thing in the beginning that says, “Hey, my art has changed.” And of course that happens; so I was wondering what the characters look like now, because that might be more like what we’ll see in the animation. And the comic looks so clever, even in the beginning. I could see why it appealed to you, and I could see why it would appeal to me as well, and why when I saw a little bit on social media I thought, “That sounds like something I would like to support.” So when you first started reading the comic, was there a particular aspect that drew you, or was it the whole package? Did you like the humor, or the D&D, or the characters, or what really grabbed you the most?

P: It was the fact that he was doing all of those things at once. To me, especially in animation, it’s so rare. Futurama is one of the few shows that has real humor, and real heart. And the fact that Tarol was doing jokes, really funny stuff, but even back in the beginning, he was also doing, like, “Why do these adventurers come after us?” “Because they think we’re less than them.” Like, metaphors for racial oppression. And then – silly jokes!

E: Yes! And all the weird names of the goblins, that are very clever and fun and interesting, but also kinda cute. I love that the fortune-teller (spoiler alert?) calls herself Young-and-Beautiful, and she’s old, and weird-looking, all lopsided. Because the fortune-teller names all of them, so she gets to call herself something nice!

P: Right! Exactly! And Can’t-Think-of-a-Name-Cause-He-Looks-Like-a-Regular-Guy – that’s his name.

E: Yes – and he has that look! Even in the early art, he’s got that little *ting* smile going on. I thought all that was really clever. You talked about how there are layers to it, about classism, and racism, and commentary on those things. I wondered what audience you are aiming for and how you’re going to fold in the different layers through the animation? Are you having to adapt things from the comic in that way as well to make it fly in an animated format?

P: Now that’s one of the issues. And it’s basically the biggest reason that we’re doing this as a Indiegogo. Because Tarol’s got the designs, he’s got the premise. We could have taken this and tried to sell it to studios or networks. We talked to some people – and of course one of the early notes we got was, “What if there’s one character who doesn’t ‘get’ the whole D&D thing, so we can explain it to the audience that way?” And we’re like, “Uh-uh.”

E: Oh, right. They wanted an exposition backstory guy.

P: Yeah, and the truth of the matter is, we want to tell this story this way. We don’t want to have to water it down, or take out some of the layers. It’s like, “Well, we can’t really do that social commentary stuff. Kids won’t get it.” I believe that audiences now, for animation, are much more sophisticated than most studios, producers, and major media entities give them credit for. Because more people can do more kinds of things now, you see such an amazing range. And you do see a lot more adult-oriented animation. And by that, I don’t mean, you know – topless. I mean sophisticated, and layered. Like, our last season of Samurai Jack – we couldn’t do that back in the early 2000s.

E: I’m always a proponent of not talking down to the viewer or the reader; if it’s the story you want to tell, then someone out there is going to want to hear it. So I love that you’re trying to translate this in a way that doesn’t lose that, and crowdfunding is maybe the best means for that because you don’t want the meddling.

P: We want to maintain control and be able to hold on to what makes this comic so special. Always there’s the danger, when you broaden an audience, of “Will some people get it?” But to me, that’s the wonder of having something that works on a number of levels. If somebody just wants the D&D references, they’ve got that. If somebody loves the action sequences, they’ve got that. If they never get the social commentary that’s underneath – fine.

E: Maybe they’re still enjoying it for other reasons. Or it’s not their thing – that happens too. But I always like the idea of aiming high, because then you’ll hit more layers. That sounds really exciting. So you’ve got all this source material to work with, and you’re just starting out; so is there an overarching plan? Are you taking it from the very beginning, and going from there to make it an ongoing story?

P: Well, that’s our one sop to broadening the audience. We can’t plop people down in the middle. Especially because the storytelling is layered and relatively complex. So we go to the beginning of the premise – how do these goblins become the adventuring party? That’s the first story arc. Because the thing is, all of the characters are already there fully formed. Warriors, the goblins – this whole story arc basically builds the overarching premise of – the humans are not the heroes, necessarily. The goblins are. And that’s the twist. And that’s also what I think a lot of D&D people respond to is, “Oh, yeah, that’s so funny!” Because it’s a twist on what we all grew up with, know, and play every Thursday. So that you don’t want to lose.

But it also makes it a nice entry point into the world. I think as it goes on we’ll definitely have more opportunities. Because Tarol is like, “I did that ten years ago. I wasn’t as good as I am now. Can we not do that thing I did?” And there are things where he’s like, “I shouldn’t have done that. Let’s change this.” And we’re like, “Oh, but we love that!” We sometimes go back and forth that way. But it remains to be seen how we will build the story. In terms of: will we pull some things that he got to later, earlier. The three of us will work on that. Because again, you don’t want to lose anything. But you also want to take advantage of whatever opportunities the new format offers you. Like, “Well, I did a whole section where they’re just walking through the woods for three weeks.” “Yeah, man, we’re going to skip that one.”

E: Yeah, you’ve got to condense that down somehow!

P: Yeah, not the best thing to animate.

E: Well, technically, that would be easy to animate. But not the most exciting.

P: Actually, what we’ve found is less that, than more that we’re finding ourselves digging into moments, and expanding them. Because the things that take time on a panel, you can dig into, and blow up. Like, “No no, this is a whole scene now!” You go back and forth. In this medium, we can do this with it, that you couldn’t do before – like 360 degrees!

E: So it is becoming its own entity in a different way. Now, you already have listed excellent voice talents. Some are familiar from Futurama or other animation. So far we’ve got Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Jim Cummings, Steve Blum; and I’m not as familiar with Matt Mercer in the voice sense, but he also is one of the masterminds behind Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role, which of course has some relevance here. So – is he working in other aspects besides voice because of his unique experience there; and also, how did you get this amazing cast together?

P: Uh: we called them. Because they’re all people that we’re friends with. And as a performer, going into the writing and producing part, most of it is a headache. Because all of a sudden you have to worry about all of those other parts of the pipeline that as an actor you never have to worry about. The best thing of all is that you can hire your friends.

E: Hah! That’s why I want to do animation someday. Just so I can hire all of you guys to be the characters.

P: Hey, it could happen! But the best thing is – we know so many amazingly talented people. And it’s funny, because Matt does have huge D&D cred; and before we announced anything to do with Goblins, Matt called me up to do a Critical Role offshoot. Like, we did a streaming day of the gameplay – and it was an all-goblins adventure. And he had no idea we were working on this. So we – me, Ashly Burch, Marisha Ray, Ivan Van Norman, and Taliesin Jaffe – all played a group of goblins on a quest. It was hilarious, because it’s the same thing we get to in the comic. They all picked warrior classes, and we played it, just like they were humans. But of course, they acted like goblins. It was fuuun.

E: So bringing everyone in, did they say yes sight unseen, or what have their reactions been to seeing the project, or the comic, or whatever you gave them to look at?

P: It was interesting. We gave everyone pictures of the comics so they would know what their characters were. And it really made me feel good – a couple of people did, sight unseen, say yes. It was like, “Well, I’ll send you the email,” and they were like, “Doesn’t matter. Where do you want me to be?” It’s so great. Because these are people with such enormous talents. And for them to offer their abilities; it’s like Michael Jordan saying, “Sure! I’ll come over and shoot some baskets with you. You just say when!”

E: That’s awesome. But I’m sure they also trust you not to lead them down the path of a project that’s going to fall on its face. So when they did see some of the materials, what did they say?

P: It’s funny, because none of the guys except for Matt knew about it. They were like, “Wow. What’s this? Okay!” Because, you know, Billy and Maurice aren’t D&D players. But they love characters! And everybody was so gung-ho to dig in – “Okay! Who’s my guy? What are we doing?” And we only had a little bit, because we got everybody together to record an animatic – a proof of concept test thing with some temporary animation – just so we could see the voices come out of these characters. And we’ve got that featured on our websiteGoblinsComic.org. I don’t think anyone has actually read the whole ten-episode arc that we’ve written so far. But everybody has been given full information about their individual characters, and yeah – people dig it! I mean – I’m not sure if anyone is going to jump out and join a Pathfinder game anytime soon…but everybody’s really enjoying the complexity of it. Like, “Oh! This is not Clifford the Big Red Dog. Cool!”

E: So I’m familiar with the voice casting where you go in, and you’re given the character, and you do a bunch of voices, and then they decide whether you’re the person who’s going to do it. Obviously this is a different process. Did you choose characters ahead of time and give them to specific people and say, “Come up with your voices”? Or did you give them choices and they worked on it? What happened there?

P: Again – when you’re working with Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Steve Blum, Matt Mercer, Jim Cummings – they can do anything. So “auditioning” isn’t really auditioning. And having worked with these people for decades, I know what their strengths are, I know what they like, and also what they don’t normally get a chance to do. Because you don’t always want to be doing the same thing. We’ve got Billy playing MinMax. And MinMax is this big, really dumb warrior. But you know, Billy has done Fry. So he’s not going to make him like Fry. So it was great to sit down with Billy and find a new place where this character would live for him. And that was the amazing thing. I’ve been on their side of the glass; but to be on the other side of the glass and just watch them do what they do, so effortlessly, for you, like: wow. I get why these guys work all the time, forever and ever. Because it’s a joy – you work so hard on something, you hand it to them, and they breathe life into it.

E: I love every time I get to see you all do that sort of thing. It’s one of my joys in life. Because it’s so magical to me; because I can’t do it! And you guys are so good at it! But having that different experience – and obviously, this is still somewhat nascent – but has it given you any taste for wanting to do more of this side of things, or thinking, “Oh, I really like this and I didn’t know”?

P: It’s given me an appreciation for it. I realize it’s a lot harder than I thought. The first time we recorded somebody, I was like, “Oh my God, that was perfect! You were great! See you later!” And then you’re like, “Oh wait. They usually get three takes. And then you go back over it and it’s like, “Ohh, there’s a lip smack right in the middle of the one we liked, aack! That’s why we do it over and over again.” And you realize not everybody can direct. Thankfully, as far as the writing, we’ve got Tarol’s stuff to work from, and all three of our brains working together – and we’re all relatively experienced with writing over the years. But yeah, there’s a lot of new territory, in terms of animation producing. And you look at the lists of jobs required for animation, and you’re like, “Timing spinner? What does that even mean?”

E: Like, “Who are these people?”

P: “And why do they get paid fifty-five hundred dollars? What? Huh??” But it is so intricate and so complicated and requires so many moving parts that I don’t know how a cartoon ever gets made!

E: It’s a big process! But it sounds like you’re learning a lot, and – it’s good to stretch your wings.

P: Yeah, and especially personally – I’ve been doing this for thirty-plus years, and it’s rare that you find things that are new. I rarely find myself doing things I’ve never done before these days. Although I have to say, the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this is that animation is so much more expensive than anybody would ever believe. Because you see movies like Avengers, that are $200 million dollars – and yeah, because look at that Iron Man armor. But especially nowadays, when people are shooting movies on their iPhones – the range in live action is crazy. You can make something for a thousand dollars or $300 million dollars.

Animation? It only goes so low. Because there are so many parts, pieces, and people involved. It only gets so cheap. And that’s if you’re doing stuff that looks crappy. If you want to do something that looks good? That’s another reason we’re crowdfunding. That’s one of our biggest challenges, is that it’s a big ask. It’s almost 500 thousand dollars. Because you’ve got to design all the characters, draw all the characters. And people might say, “You’ve already got all the drawings.” But comic book drawings are not the same as animation drawings. And you can’t just make the comic into a cartoon.

E: Well, and your comic book artist can not necessarily do the animation. You may need a number of animators who have experience at that. And that’s a great way to talk a little more about the crowdfunding. By this point in life, most people are familiar with crowdfunding sites. You put in your pledge for X amount of money, you get a promise of prizes back, and if the project reaches its goal, you get your prizes, and the cool project gets made. Here, you’ve mentioned what you’re asking for and what it’s going to be put towards. How did you decide on cool prizes, and what do you think people will be most interested in?

P: A lot of it was just drawn from what we’re working with. It’s goblins, and it’s D&D, and things that fans would love. Tarol’s got some great character designs, so it would be silly not to offer things with those characters on them. So we’ve got posters, t-shirts. He’s got one character, a goblin paladin, who gets a magic axe, the Axe of Prissan; which is this amazing weapon that is actually holding a demon. And one of the really up-there prize levels is an actual Axe of Prissan. Because there’s this guy, Tony Swatton, who does the most amazing armor and weaponry – he makes real swords. And he is going to, based on Tarol’s designs, make a real-world Axe of Prissan.

E: I suddenly wish I had a lot more money. That would be great to hang on your wall Although you probably couldn’t take it to a comic-con anymore…!

P: Hah! Just put one of those colored ties around it, right?

E: Right? So obviously, there are levels…

P: Yeah, and all of our prizes have been drawn from what we have to offer. So there’s the goblin character design stuff – we have some plushies based on the characters.

E: Oh good! I bet I can afford a plushie!

P: Right. And because we have such amazing people involved, the funny thing is we haven’t announced everybody yet. Because we just set out a quest – if we reach 1,000 Facebook likes on our Goblins Animated page, then we’ll announce our next cast member. But there are some people that are so good, and they’re just going to blow your mind. And we’re going to get posters and scripts signed by the cast. Those are going to be prizes. Voicemails…because, “You know, we’ve got these voices.” On one of the prize levels I’m offering voiceover workshop sessions. So many people ask about it, and here’s a chance to invest in it, if this is something you really want to do, I’m offering up my experience, and my skill as an incentive – help us do this, and I’ll help you build your career.

E: And that’s no small thing! You have a lot of experience to draw on. I was privileged to observe one of Rob Paulsen’s teaching sessions, and it was a different experience than any I’ve had with Rob before, because you see how people are actually doing their job and working. It was fascinating and amazing to me, and I could see the people taking part learning. So that is a great prize for whoever is thirsting to be in the voice acting industry.

This is a lot of really great news. You did mention that along with the announced cast there are a number of other people coming in. For starting the story, how many characters and actors have you got? Are actors doing several voices?

P: It actually depends on how much we get funded for. We have plans through at least the first story arc, and we’ve got some plans for actually beyond that. We don’t know if we’ll get there right now. But we don’t want to be caught unawares. So we’re thinking way ahead. And yeah, some people are double-cast, in bigger roles, smaller roles – because, again, they can. These actors and actresses that we’ve got are so incredibly talented.

E: Well, you’ve got Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger too! Among many others.

P: And it’s funny, because there’s been this competing impulse. One, I want to get everybody that I know and love and have worked with for many years in to do something on this; but at the same time, any one of them could basically do all of the characters! So at one point, you’ve got Jim doing several voices, and then it’s like, “Oh wait. He doesn’t have to do all of them. Let’s get so-and-so to do that!”

E: Well the nice thing is that if it keeps going you can bring in more people over time.

P: That’s the dream is that we get the budget to be able to flesh this out as completely and fully as possible. Because in animation, you get “three voices for a dollar!” But because it’s so expensive, you have to take advantage of that. But how amazing would it be if we could get all of these characters with different people. Although the funny thing is, like with Billy, every voice is an entirely different character anyway.

E: It’s true! I’m looking forward to seeing what he and the others come up with. Every time I hear new voices from all of y’all I’m like, “Where did that come from? That’s great.” By now I can sort of recognize some people, occasionally, but to this day if I hear Zoidberg and Fry and the Professor, I’m still going, “What? This is all the same guy?” Obviously you’ve got Hermes and Green Lantern, and Baxter Stockman, and there’s some different stuff going on.

I hope you get funded. This project caught my attention not just because of you but because it just looks really cool, and I think it probably will appeal to a lot of people. Is there anything else we should know about it?

P: Well it’s basically: we’ve got the Goblins comic, that we’re making this animated version of – and it’s funny, because Tarol described it to somebody the other day as, “Smurfs meets Game of Thrones.” Which is so apropos, because it gets the funny, it gets the cute, it gets the bloody. And we’ve got incredibly amazing, talented people involved with this and supporting us.

And basically, now we’re at the challenge point. We’ve got all the pieces, and we just need to get the word out as far and as wide as possible, because this is a big mountain to climb. What we’re trying to do is a huge undertaking, and we need people’s help.

E: Well I will spread the word. I couldn’t imagine a better team for such a project, which grabbed my attention. Thank you for giving us your time to tell us more about this amazing project. I hope it gets made and reaches all of its goals!

The Goblins Animated Indiegogo is live now through December 21, and could definitely still use your dollars to reach its goals. It’s got really cool prizes; and the more money we contribute, the more awesome they’ll be able to make the project, as Phil explained above. 

So head on over and see which nifty supporter package catches your eye; and until next time, Servo Lectio!

FN: Goblins Animated was originally set to run on Kickstarter, so the audio interview references Kickstarter. However, it then found its home on Indiegogo, so that is where you should go to support it!

Emily S. Whitten: Animaniacs Live!

Animaniacs Pinky and the Brain

So I used to think the best way to wrap up a con was to find a nice, quiet, atmospheric bar with some awesome friends and partake of a tasty dessert and a refreshing alcoholic beverage. But I have now changed my mind! That is the second best way to finish out the convention experience. The first is to have your last panel of the con be the Animaniacs Live! panel; as I learned firsthand at SDCC 2016.

Anyone who knows me at all (or reads all of my columns, and obviously you should all be doing that!) knows I’m a huge fan of Animaniacs, and will probably never get tired of writing about the different facets of its awesomeness. I’ve also had the pleasure of interviewing several of its key talents – including Rob Paulsen (Yakko, Pinky), Maurice LaMarche (The Brain, Squit, Jess Harnell (Wakko), and most recently, Randy Rogel.

I was delighted to meet Randy, a multi-talented guy who wrote a majority of the songs we all know and love from Animaniacs, at Dragon Con last year, where he and Rob Paulsen did a “Music of Animaniacs” panel in which they sang Animaniacs songs live, with Randy accompanying on piano. And it was fan-tas-tic. The room was packed, the excitement of the fans in the audience was palpable, and the experience of being there in person while those two performed was a joy. Later, Rob announced via Twitter that there were definite plans to take this show on the road with the addition of Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, and an entire orchestra to back them. Needless to say, I immediately started hoping someone at, e.g., the Kennedy Center would see the wisdom of bringing them to DC.

I don’t know yet if that wish will come true; but in the interim, seeing Rob, Jess, Tress, and Randy perform the music of Animaniacs live at SDCC recently was incredible. And at the panel, they announced that Warner Bros. has gotten behind the idea of the live tour and turned it into an officially licensed WB thing – with tour dates to be announced soon here. (Kennedy Center, WB. Kennedy Center. I’m just saying.)

Wherever they end up, I know that I must see that if at all possible. And for anyone who hasn’t seen them live yet – if the tour comes anywhere near you, trust me, you want that experience. But if you’re like me and you just can’t wait that long for your next Animaniacs-related fix…well, I did in fact record the whole SDCC panel just for you!

So click and enjoy; and also don’t forget to check out my ever-growing SDCC 2016 photo collection, or my previous coverage of Nick Animation (including TMNT); American Gods; and Kings of Con.

And after that, Servo Lectio for even more SDCC recaps!

Emily S. Whitten: Randy Rogel, the Music of Animaniacs & More!

Yakko’s World

If you’re any sort of regular reader of my columns, you’ll already know that I’m a big fan of Animaniacs. I’ve also had the privilege of interviewing several of the main voices for the show; including Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Maurice LaMarche. One of these days I hope to meet the amazing Tress MacNeille as well!

One thing I’ve noted before as a favorite component of the show is the well-composed and clever song segments that are woven throughout the episodes – songs such as Yakko’s World; I’m Mad; Variety Speak; Noel; and There’s Only One of You. The songs are catchy, they’re fun, and they’re often educational to boot. And as it turns out, a great many of them were written by one man – Randy Rogel. That would be amazing enough on its own; but the cool thing about Randy is that he’s also a script-writer, theater actor, singer, and pianist. His work includes Batman (both the animated series and the movie SubZero), Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakazoid, Danger Rangers, several Looney Toons properties, Tarzan, House of Mouse, The Emperor’s New School and Histeria! He’s also won a slew of awards, including three Emmys (and ten Emmy nominations), a Peabody Award, two Annie Awards, a Promax Gold Award, and an Ovation Award. Oh, and he can also do this.

As I mentioned last week, I was privileged to meet Randy at Dragon Con this year. I was also lucky enough to have a front-row seat for his panel with Rob Paulsen, “The Music of Animaniacs,” in which they discussed the creative process and performed Animaniacs songs live, and to also get to chat one-on-one with Randy about his life and work. And now, fortunately, I am able to share those awesome experiences with you!

FIrst off, if you aren’t super familiar with Randy’s work, here’s a little playlist of some favorites that I could locate on YouTube, consisting mainly of Animaniacs music, with a sprinkling of Histeria! and Bravoman thrown in. Give it a visit so you can marvel at Randy’s awesome talents.

Second, I was able to record the songs from the live show, so if you want to see what Randy and Rob are like live, hop on over to this playlist.

And finally, I had a ton of fun doing this great interview with Randy, wherein he talks about all kinds of cool things, and so I highly suggest everyone head over and give it a watch.

And then I suggest everyone gather some friends and have a nice Animaniacs singalong. I’ll be over here joining in by humming, “A quake; a quake…” And hoping that until next time, you Servo Lectio!

REVIEW: “The 7D” – They prefer the term “heroes”

Disney television animation has slowly but surely been expanding its stable of decidedly “Non-Disneyish” series.  From Phineas and Ferb to Gravity Falls, there’s a rising tide of irreverent and wacky series that bring a breath of fresh air to the various Disney cable channels.  Their latest show seems much more like a 90s Warner Brothers show, and it comes by that honestly, being executive produced by Tom Ruegger, one of the gifted madmen behind Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain.

The 7D is a new take on the Seven Dwarfs, with no Snow White in sight.  The band of bitsy brothers reside in Jollywood, a starter-level enchanted kingdom ruled by the daffy Queen Delightful (Leigh-Allyn Baker) with the assistance of her aide de camp, Lord Starchbottom (Freakazoid!‘s Paul Rugg, who’s also writing for the show).  When crisis looms, she calls on the 7D, who hie hither hastily from the gem mine to provide assistance in their own madcap fashion.

The voice cast for the show is an all-star list.  Folks like Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Kevin Michael Richadson and Bill Farmer (the current voice of Goofy) voice the dwarfs, with guest stars like Whoopi Goldberg as the Magic Mirror and Jay Leno as the crystal ball.  In her first but very successful foray into voice work, Kelly Osbourne plays Hildy Gloom, a beginner baddie whose plan is to take over Jollywood to help pad her fledgling resume.

The names are all that remain from their original appearance – this team of tiny titans are all action, with the adventures and craziness running hot and heavy as they combat Hildy and her new husband Grim (played by Jess “Wakko Warner” Harnell).  The show is aimed at the young tween audience, but as was true of Ruegger’s past creations, there’s plenty of comedy to keep the adults happy as well.

The 7D premieres Monday, July 7th at 10AM on Disney XD.

Saturday Morning Cartoons: Watch Pinky And The Brain’s Pulp Fiction


Rob Paulsen (Pinky) and Maurice LaMarche (The Brain) take on the Pulp Fiction hitmen Jules and Vincent as host Cole Stratton looks on at “An Afternoon with Pinky and The Brain.”

Recorded live at the 12th Annual SF Sketchfest, the San Francisco Comedy Festival on January 27, 2013 at the Eureka Theatre.

Visit Maurice LaMarche at his official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mauric…

Visit Rob Paulsen at his official website: http://www.robpaulsenlive.com

Visit SF Sketchfest: www.sfsketchfest.com

Artwork by Sam Carter http://samcarterart.com/

Emily S. Whitten: “I Know That Voice” Premiere(s)!

whitten-art-131112-150x60-9439173How often does one get to go to both the West and East Coast premieres of a movie – if you’re not involved in it, that is? Probably not that often. But I just did, and that was pretty darned cool. This past week, I got to experience the world premiere of I Know That Voice at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood; and then two days later, the East Coast premiere of the voice acting documentary at The National Press Club right here in D.C.

If you read my columns at all, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the talents of the voiceover industry and of this documentary. So it was a ton of fun to go to the world premiere, because literally 80% of the extensive cast was in attendance, and everyone was really happy to be there.

It was fun to watch the red carpet go by before the show, particularly since everyone was having such a great time and a lot of folks were goofing off for the photographers (and I did take some pictures, but was mostly enjoying the atmosphere). And it was a total trip to sit there and watch the documentary with all of the folks in the film – who cheered the first time each of their peers appeared on the screen, and I cheered right along with ‘em. The theater was full of the happy, positive energy of a group of people who were really excited to be featured in this one-of-a-kind film; and once the film got rolling, the room was also full of laughter, since there are a lot of great funny bits in the documentary. It was a good time all around.

After the screening, director and producer Lawrence Shapiro and producers John DiMaggio and Tommy Reid were joined at the front by Andrea Romano, Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche, and Tom Kenny for a question and answer session; and that was a different kind of experience too, given that the voice actors were asking each other questions at this particular Q&A, with predictably great results. At one relevant point in the conversation, John DiMaggio also pointed out June Foray, who was in attendance sitting just a couple of rows in front of me, and the entire theater gave the accomplished thespian, still working at the age of ninety-five, a well-deserved standing ovation.

And, then, of course, there was the afterparty – where I barely ate any of the lovely food that was available, despite being super hungry, because there were so many fun conversations to be had. Rob Paulsen, always a delight, mentioned a project he’ll soon be working on for which he’s been hired primarily as a singer (Hurrah!). Carlos Alazraqui shared that although Off the Curb is no longer in production at this time, he’s working on a new independent animated project that we may hear more about shortly. Jess Harnell introduced me to his lovely fiancée, Christine (Congrats! You guys are too cute!). Bill Farmer was happy to hear that I’d enjoyed his appearance on Rob Paulsen’s live show, and was all around the warmest, nicest human being you could possibly want to talk to. And so was Fred Tatasciore, who is happily less imposing in person than one of the main voices he’s known for, The Hulk.

I discovered that Tom Kenny is a most excellent conversationalist, of the sort one could talk with for hours; and if you are lucky enough to be in conversation with both Dan Povenmire and Dee Bradley Baker, you will automatically feel more intelligent just for being there, and probably learn something, too. It was great to talk with Maurice LaMarche again, who I’d last chatted with after midnight in a diner at Dragon Con (ah, conventions), and James Arnold Taylor, looking as dapper as when we met at SDCC. And of course it was wonderful to see John DiMaggio, Larry Shapiro, and Tommy Reid enjoying the success of the project they’ve poured so much of their time and energy into.

And to top it all off, I got to meet a couple of excellent Twitter friends in person, a.k.a. Hayley, and Kristy of Voice Chasers, who became my premiere-buddy for the evening, and also took some really great photos. I really couldn’t have asked for a better night.

And then… two days later… it was time to see John and the film again for the East Coast premiere, which I was happy to have put together at The National Press Club. We had a great crowd, and it was really neat to be able to experience a fan audience reacting to the documentary and laughing in all the right places. I don’t have to speculate as to whether they enjoyed the film because, at the end, they gave John and the film a standing ovation!

But before that, he also answered questions, about topics like the process of recording your lines with a cast or by yourself; the weirdness and wonderfulness of Adventure Time; and my favorite, what a conversation between Bender and Barry White would sound like. And then he talked about the origin of Barbados Slim and sang the Bacon Pancakes song while signing autographs for the fans. Whattaguy.

I know I’ve devoted several columns to this documentary over the past few months; but that’s only because it really is worth watching – so check it out this December, when it will be available on Video On Demand, iTunes, and DVD.

And until next time, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten’s Interview with Maurice LaMarche

whitten-art-131029-150x173-1422348In my apparent continuing quest to interview all the great voice actors living today (because they are the most fun, okay?), I now bring you my interview with the talented and Emmy-winning Maurice LaMarche, a.k.a. The Brain, Squit, Kif Kroker, Morbo, Lrrr, several Futurama robots, Dr. Egon Spengler, Dizzy Devil, Yosemite Sam, Mr. Freeze, Victor von Doom, General Var Suthra, Mortimer Mouse, Chief Quimby, and more.

It was a real pleasure to speak with Maurice, who I’ve been listening to in various guises since I was a wee thing (I was a big Inspector Gadget fan as a child; and then with Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Futurama being amongst my other favorite shows through the years, I guess I’ve pretty much been listening to Maurice all my life!). It was also great to see him do many of his excellent voices and impressions both during the interview, and at “An Evening with Pinky and the Brain,” which I attended at the Plaza Theatre while in Atlanta for Dragon Con. That event featured Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche together, and was just a total joy to experience. It also resulted in some fantastic video clips like this reading of Who’s on First by Pinky and the Brain, a couple more of which I’ve linked below.

So without further ado, I bring you my interview with Maurice! Read on for the transcript, and click here for the video, which is really worth watching for all the fun voices.

•     •     •     •     •

Let’s start with Futurama, and Kif, who you voice on the show. That voice seems more delicate than some of the voices you’re known for; how did you come up with that one?

We were recording episode three or four, and Matt was very hands-on as we built the show. He knew exactly what he wanted in terms of who the character was; but he wasn’t sure about a sound. His tagline for Kif was, “He’s Mister Spock, if Mister Spock had to deal with William Shatner.”

So we tried a few things. I tried going (as Nimoy) “Sir, it seems the rest of the crew doesn’t share your passion for velour,” very deep and in the Nimoy range, and it sounded too much like The Brain; and we realized that he sounded tired; you know, we had the sighs. So I thought… I played a character in a very short-lived show called The Adventures of Hyperman, where the chief of that was very much, “Truman Capote. He’s Truman Capote.” So I thought that (as Capote) “the whole voice quality of Truman Capote had a sort of sighing sound to it, and so I decided that he would sound like Truman Capote,” and Matt said, “Well, too effeminate. I also want him to have some of the sarcasm and pissiness of Jon Lovitz.” So it went from this (demonstrating Capote) to this (demonstrating Lovitz) and became this (in Kif’s voice) “Sir, the rest of the crew doesn’t share your passion for velour, ugh.” So that’s where Kif came from. We kind of threw Jon Lovitz and Truman Capote in a blender, and out came Kif.

Now that Futurama is… doing whatever it’s doing [coming back again, I hope!], what are you working on right now?

My self-esteem. No, currently, I’m working on a project for Disney called The 7D, which are the seven dwarves about twenty years before they met Snow White. So they all have all their hair, and their hair is its original colors; nobody’s grey. And of course, needing to fixate on a beautiful female figure, they live to serve Queen Delightful, who is the queen of the kingdom.

And they’ve done a very different take with them. We’ve gone away from the Snow White movie, and it looks almost like a 1960s Jay Ward cartoon, kind of Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle. Very simple drawings. And each one’s voice is very distinct. Kevin Michael Richardson is Happy, and he just plays it so happy; and when Kevin is full of joy, the room bursts with it. And Bill Farmer is Doc. Billy West is Bashful, and Billy uses his upper, upper, upper range, and he’s like, so adorable that even though he’s a 62-year-old man, you just want to pinch his cheeks.

And I do Grumpy; and, again, I do a lot of my voices by throwing two things into the hopper and coming up with a unique voice. There’s a little George Costanza in him, and there’s a little bit of one of my best friends, Kenny Lombino, who’s a Brooklyn by way of New Jersey guy, and he’s an investment guy, but (as Kenny Lombino) “he came up through the streets. So Kenny is very much like this guy,” and then (as George Costanza) George Costanza’s like this: “I don’t know, Jerry! People think I’m smart, but I’m not smart!” (In Grumpy’s voice) So then Grumpy is kinda this guy right here: “Alright. Okay, Fine. I’m Grumpy, and I accept it, but I gotta help Queen Delightful anyway!” So he does a lot of, like, “Oh, this guy again.” He gets all the sarcastic lines.

It’s a thrill to be in a show where I am actually getting the good lines. Because I’m usually the setup guy. Even in Pinky and the Brain, Rob Paulsen got all the great lines, while I gave him the, (as The Brain) “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?” And then he got to say the funny thing. So The Brain’s humor had to come from being put-upon, and having to deal with this knucklehead named Pinky – who may have been the genius; and The Brain may have been the one who was insane.

But Brain did get his funny lines in there…

He did. He had great lines like (as The Brain): “If I could reach you, I would hurt you.” Or, “Yes, that is a pain that is going to linger.” Or, “It must be inordinately taxing to be such a boob, Pinky.” Little sarcastic things like that. I love playing the sarcastic note. Because I’m really actually very kind in real life.

Do you have a favorite episode from Pinky and the Brain?

It’s kind of a tie. “Bubba Bo Bob Brain” was the one where I think we found the stride with the characters. We’d done two or three episodes before, but we recorded “Bubba Bo Bob” and two things happened there: the voices changed. Rob got out of the buck-toothed thing that he was doing the first few episodes, and really found that almost lady-like voice that he did; and Brain stopped being a straight Orson Welles impression, and there are little Vincent Price-ish kind of highs in there. And their relationship became…the annoyance became stronger, and I realized “that’s the note I have to play with Pinky. And yet I still have to have affection for Pinky.” So “Bubba Bo Bob;” and the Primetime Emmy-winning Christmas Special. Which was a big folderol, because that special was the first time that a daytime cartoon had come into primetime and beaten The Simpsons. So those are my two favs. I’ve never been able to quite choose between them.

So what about “You Said A Mouseful”?

That was interesting. Rob and I are doing “An Evening with Pinky and the Brain” at the Plaza Theatre; and for our finale we are actually going to do a staged reading of “You Said a Mouseful,” with a cast from the audience. [Note: I got part of it on video! Watch it here!] “You Said a Mouseful” was a fun, and funny, and challenging episode to do; it was the only episode where I ever left the booth, walked into the control room, and slugged the writer in the arm – in the way you’d hit your little brother, a Lucy/Linus kind of slug. I just punched him in the arm for writing something so difficult. Then I went back, sat down, and went, “I feel better now. Rubber baby buggy bumpers, rubber baby buggy bumpers…”

You’re originally from Toronto; how do you find the South?

I have a GPS! …Well, I’ve only been here a day; I got here late last night; and Pinky and the Brain went out for dinner, to Morton’s. There was definitely a flavor of Southern hospitality; but then again, if you’re Captain Kirk and you’re beamed into any Morton’s on Earth, you don’t know what city you’re in because every Morton’s looks the same. (as William Shatner) “I don’t understand where they get all this wood paneling from!” And the steaks were all delicious and fantastic.

But people have been very nice here. This is my first Dragon Con, and my first time in Atlanta. And I’m not even going to complain about the humidity because Toronto, being on Lake Ontario, is just as humid as this in August; so I’m fully used to it. Haven’t lived in it in thirty-three years; but I’m loving Atlanta. I’m having a great time. People are so nice. And the Dragon Con people – I have to say, there’s a real difference between the Comic Con vibe and the Dragon Con vibe. Comic Con is Comic Cannes film festival, it’s there to sell projects – and this is all about fan love. This is completely fan-driven. Comic Con is very studio-driven and publisher-driven. But this is just the fans expressing themselves and truly paying tribute to the genres, and it’s wonderful to see. So, I’m really enjoying my time here.

Have you worked on games?

I’ve only been on a handful of games. Games beat up my throat; and unlike a lot of voice actors who seem to be invulnerable, I seem to get a lot of cases of laryngitis, etcetera by having to do repeated lines over and over again. So I really limit myself, and am very blessed and fortunate that I can afford to. I can turn down a lot of the work because I’ve gotten to be on shows like Futurama or be the voice of Lexus. So I’m very selective. I do things that I think my son will think are cool; like Mr. Freeze in Arkham City.

Or General Var Suthra in the [Star Wars:] Old Republic game, which had literally a phone book of script for every character. It was unbelievable. But I think it’s the world’s largest online game right now. You can join up. So I play this Mon Calamari general named Var Suthra, and the whole thing takes place 3,000 years before the continuity of Star Wars. So I wasn’t locked into (in character), “It’s a trap!” So I decided he sounded (as Gene Hackman) “more like Gene Hackman. Greatest criminal mind of our time.” But that was a lot of days of work on that. Although they break it up. I’ve never done a war game where I have to do a lot of dying, falling, being blown up, being shot, that sort of thing. I guess they don’t think of me for those things, but just as well, because my throat gets beat up very easily. (In a delicate voice) It’s a very sensitive instrument.

I know you probably get asked this a lot, but what really pulled you into voice acting? And what was your first job as a voice actor?

It was a weird sort of gravity that pulled me in, and it really was a pull. I never thought of myself primarily as a voice actor; I was going for the big stand-up comedy enchilada. I started in 1977 at a club called Yuk Yuks in Toronto, which also birthed Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey, and Norm MacDonald. I was chasing after that. I’d done a couple of voiceovers up in Toronto for a company called Nelvana Films. They were annual specials. One was Easter Fever, with Garrett Morris from Saturday Night Live, who’s now on 2 Broke Girls; and I played Steve Martin and Don Rickles as animals. So it was Steed Martin and Don Rattles, and it was a roast of the Easter Bunny. That was the very first time I heard my voice come out of a cartoon character. I was nineteen; and it was magic, to hear that, and to see that, and go, “Wow, that’s me.” It was like, “I’m Fred Flintstone now.” It was astounding. I remember seeing Alan Reed on an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies when I was a kid and going, “He sounds like somebody. Who does he sound like?” And I realized halfway through the episode, that’s the man who plays Fred Flintstone. That’s when I first realized it was a human being behind those moving drawings. So that was my first job.

Then I came down here for stand-up comedy, and a voiceover agent from the William Morris Agency, who I was with for my personal appearance stuff, was in the audience, and it was Nina Nisenholtz, and she said, “With all of these impressions you do, you’d be a natural for voiceovers.” And I said, “Well I was always told that was a closed shop,” and my friend was Frank Welker, and he told me he was going to try to get me started – and Frank really did talk me up around town for about a year before I got my first job; but Nina also started sending me out right about that time.

It took me a year to get my first job, and my first job was Inspector Gadget. I did one episode of The Littles, and one episode of something called Wolf Rock TV, just as a guest star thing to test me and see how I was, and then they ended up putting me on Inspector Gadget, where I was The Chief, and Henchman No. 2, and then right after that, Real Ghostbusters. So that was my entrée into cartoons. And it just kept coming. Voice acting is as close to a meritocracy in show business as you can get; if you’re good, the work will keep coming. Because they love to work with people who can do the skill of coming up with multiple characters – in animation, at least, so they don’t have to hire five actors. They can hire you and have you play five parts in the episode. So if you can deliver those goods, the work comes. So it was a steady thing; and I got sort of pulled into it, rather than taking a bunch of voiceover workshops. I’ve got a lot of friends who did study. Nancy Cartwright studied with Daws Butler – you know, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear. I just never took a lesson. I don’t know why, I just seem to have a knack for doing this.

I know that you based The Brain in part on Orson Welles; and I’ve heard that you used to recite the “Frozen Peas” outtake as a warm-up exercise. Where did that come from?

We were on the job from hell. We were dubbing a French puppet show – lifesized puppets, people inside costumes – into English, and it was the longest day. It started at nine and ended at nine on New Year’s Eve. I was supposed to do the job for two hours and then make a 1:00 flight that would get me to New York. Howie Mandel was hosting an MTV party and I was supposed to go party with the MTVers, back when that was brand new. And the thing just took for-bloody-ever, and I missed the party. And I was so depressed at the end of the night, that Phil Proctor, from the Firesign Theater, who was making college students laugh when I was still in junior high school, said, “Here, this’ll cheer you up.” And he gave me a cassette with Orson Welles doing this frozen peas commercial.

So my consolation prize was, I didn’t get to party with Sting and Howie Mandel; but I did get to have a career. Because this tape that he gave me had this gold on it. Orson Welles being himself. Being a curmudgeon; and yet the more you listen to it, the more you go, “He’s right! These guys don’t know what they’re talking about.” So I listened to it backwards and forwards, and couldn’t get enough of it. And eventually I began to ape it, because that’s what I do, and it made its way into my bag of tricks. And whenever there was down time, if they were listening to the playbacks, I’d just sit there and try it out on mic, because I’d wear headphones, and (as Orson Welles) “Get me a jury and show me how you can say in July, and I’ll…go down on ya.” It was hysterical. So it amused me to do it and I wanted to see how close to the timing I could do it; because when you get somebody being themselves, that’s the best was to grab them as an impression; and get all facets of them from there on up. So that’s how that happened. [To see Maurice do the Frozen Peas impression live, click here.]

Going back to Futurama; you do many voices. Which ones did you start out with, and which were added later, and…how many do you do? Do you know?

I don’t know. A couple of years ago when we were making the direct-to-DVD movies, there was a website that somebody came out with, where they had actually listed and counted all of our characters. I think I was at seventy-two characters, counting everything – all one-offs, all recurring, all regulars. But Tress MacNeille had me beat; she had seventy-five.

What about Billy?

Billy was in the fifties; but he does the heavy lifting on the show, because he’s Fry, he’s Zoidberg, and the Professor, so he’s three people in the break room at Planet Express; and then you throw in Zapp, who’s in every fifth episode or so; and Smitty… he’s got so many characters. He topped out with fifty-something.

So your characters – you’ve got Kif, and Morbo, and Calculon, and the Mafia robots…

(In the characters) “I got the Donbot. I got Clamps! I have the country Hyper-Chicken lawyer, and oh, Hedonismbot. And Lrrr.

Which one do you enjoy the most? Do you identify with any of them?

Oh, I identify with most of them. Because any actor is only giving you parts of himself. There’s a great line in a movie called My Favorite Year, that my friend Dennis Palumbo wrote. At the end of the film, Peter O’Toole, who plays this Errol Flynn character, tells Benjy Stone, his handler from the King Kaiser Show, which is really the Sid Caesar Show, that he can’t go on. He chickens out. He’s hiding, and he’s drinking, and he goes, “I’m scared, Stone.” And Stone says, “You don’t get to be scared. You are that damn hero; and you couldn’t play that hero if you didn’t have him somewhere inside of you.” And O’Toole goes on to save the day, in the film.

But every actor gives you what’s inside of him. So every character I play is a piece of me. So even though they may draw Lrrr, the Lrrr I voice and the Lrrr I play is my own angst about being in a midlife crisis. Kif is my own shyness and my own sense that (as Kif) “maybe I’ll never quite rise to Zapp Brannigan’s rank, but certainly I hope that I may one day save Amy with a buggalo,” you know, or something like that. Morbo is…very different from Lrrr. Completely different.

Do you really want to eat kittens?

(As Morbo) “They give me gas!” You know; there are foods that give me gas. So I relate to that. Everybody’s a little piece of me. (As Clamps) “I won’t tell you where Clamps comes from!” It’s my parenting skills.

Let’s go back to Animaniacs. You did other characters on there as well, didn’t you?

I was the Ray Liotta-based Squit, in the Goodfeathers. (As Squit) “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Goodfeather. If you were a Goodfeather, you had it all.” Martin Scorsese apparently loved the Goodfeathers. He and Spielberg were friends, and when that was on, Spielberg would just send him tapes of the Goodfeathers episodes as they came out. He dug that we were paying tribute to him.

And you did that West Side Pigeons episode…

I had a lot of singing in that. But they really worked with me; I’m not a natural singer. So Steve and Julie Bernstein and Rich Stone, God rest his soul, really walked me through it, and we rehearsed for a couple of days, and worked with the tapes. The way I practice singing, you’ve got to give me something that has only melody on it. If you give me anything with harmony, I’m lost. Because I start singing up in the harmony, and then back down to the melody; I’m not a natural musician, like my son. So I did that.

One of my favorites was playing Michelangelo in “Hooked on a Ceiling.” It was a nice little twist. It was Michelangelo, but we didn’t go Charlton Heston; we went Kirk Douglas. So it was like, (as Kirk Douglas) “What have you done to my ceiling? My beautiful ceiling!” Or Miles Standish as Richard Burton, (as Richard Burton) “Ohh, my Petey Pajamas, I loved him so.” So all the people that the Warners annoy, I got to play.

Now that Animaniacs is back on TV, do you see a resurgence in interest? The younger generation finding the show?

The Hub has just started running the original Animaniacs again, and they’ve got a big viewership. I’ve got another show on The Hub called Transformers: Rescue Bots, where I play the patriarch of a family of first responders, and the Transformers that come pick our vehicles; so there’s a police car character, and a fire truck character, a tractor character, because one of the sons is a civil engineer, and a helicopter. So The Hub putting these on is giving it a resurgence; but it’s yet to see quite the impact – I’m not quite sure where it is yet.

I think the cartoons are timeless. We did a lot of timely references, and there are maybe a few too many Clinton jokes in there; but with Clinton being back in the news – Obama keeps pulling him back into the spotlight – he’s hip again. Other than that, I think the show has legs. If a 1990s generation loved it, why wouldn’t a twenty-teens generation love it? Especially since the Pinky and the Brain piece of it is so relationship-based; it’s not based on timely humor. It’s based on the dynamic between these two characters, and that plays no matter what – an odd couple that really do love each other even if they are annoyed with each other, That was always the fun.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened between takes; because I’ve heard that that’s when the most fun happens.

We-ell, it’s got a dirty word in it.

Okay, shoot!

It’s a moment that came from Tress MacNeille. At one particular time we were all on a show where the executive producer had become extremely religious, almost overnight; so there was to be no sexual innuendo, and certainly no swearing. So the executive producer was there, we did the table read, we read through, and then he said, “Alright, I guess you guys have got it. I’m going to go back to the studio.” And we all watched as he left, and then we were quiet as the door closed behind him; and then Tress breaks the silence with: “Now we can say fuck!” in that old lady voice that she’s got; that smoker’s voice? And I must have laughed for five minutes.

Just the way she hit the word now. It’s like, the door closed, and then: “Now we can say fuck!” That might be my favorite studio story. Tress MacNeille is unbelievable. I think – and I’ve worked with so many greats, and everybody’s really at the top of their profession – but to me, Tress is the pinnacle. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter, she’s the pinnacle of what a voice actor is. She’s the best. I say to myself, “I gotta get as good as Tress.” That’s the way I feel.

I haven’t ever seen her at a con…

We finally got her out to Comic Con this past year, because Matt Groening asked her especially, because we had the full cast of Futurama, and we showed the first third of the last episode, then we table-read the second act with the full cast – Dave Herman, Phil LaMarr, Lauren Tom, myself, Tress, and Billy, John, and Katie. The first time we’d all been assembled at Comic Con. It was pretty legendary. Tress went specially for Matt; and it was also our goodbye, too.

But you know what; at the end, they gave us a standing ovation. And when 5,000 people get on their feet because you’ve done a good job since 1999, it’s kind of touching, and moving. I think for Tress, it showed her that people really do care about the work, because she kind of keeps to herself, and I think she’s understanding that people do care; people do love the show and our work. And that’s great.

Well I certainly do love your work! And thank you so much for your time!

I hope everyone enjoyed this interview with the amazing Maurice LaMarche; and until next time, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: John DiMaggio’s I Know That Voice

whitten-art-130924-150x144-8383146At Dragon Con a few weeks ago, I was delighted to catch up with voice actor John DiMaggio (a.k.a. Bender from Futurama) once again. John was at the con for several voice actor and Futurama panels, and also to continue spreading the word about his new voice actor documentary, I Know That Voice, which I interviewed him and the other producers about during San Diego Comic-Con.  John was actually selling limited collector’s edition/advance copies of the documentary at the con, so not only did I check in with him on further documentary news, but I also snagged a copy of the film! Read on for our short I Know That Voice follow-up interview, and my review of the documentary!

What has the reception to the I Know That Voice documentary been at Dragon Con, and have you sold some of the advance copies?

It’s been really wonderful. People know about it; people are excited about it. I’ve been able to sell some copies; I wish I could sell more, but there are only a certain amount that we are going to sell that’ll be collectors’ items. But we’re working on a distribution deal right now, with a company called Go Digital, and another company called In Demand. This is all in negotiation; but In Demand wants to release it for a month on cable stations, to expose it, and they’ll plug it. And then we’re going to release it digitally on all the VoD (Video on Demand) platforms, like iTunes, Amazon, Hulu – everything. So that will be in December of this year. We’re getting it out there! People are going to be able to see it!

Will we be seeing any extras on the DVD?

Right now, our special con edition of the film is just that – it’s just the film, with no chapters, and no special anything to it; but yes, there are absolutely going to be extras on the final DVD. It will have all sorts of bonus features. It will have chapters; it will have extra interviews with some of the people that we interviewed – I mean, we had over 150 interviews, so we couldn’t, naturally, fit all of that into the documentary. So we’ve got extra stuff – extra clips from a whole bunch of people that we’ve interviewed. Also, we have our Comic-Con panel at San Diego, where we talked about it – which was great. So we have that on video for everybody. When I get back to Los Angeles after Dragon Con, we’re going to do a commentary reel; so Tommy Reid and Larry Shapiro, the producer and director, and I, are going to do that. There might be some outtakes, I’m not sure. Lots of stuff!

That sounds great! Any other details you’d like to share?

Well – the reason I got these special con editions done was because I personally felt that we were dangling this in front of everybody for so long; and the thing is that we only had a tenth or a twentieth of the movie done when we originally did the trailer, and that was awhile ago. We announced it, and people were like, “Okay! Well where is it?” and we were like, “Well…we’re making it. Sorry!” So now we have it, and I wanted to get it to the people that really want it; the fans.  I wanted to do it. I really felt the need to let everybody know that it’s done. And here it is!

And of course we’re still going to honor our pre-order, on our VIP list on the website. I have enough copies for them; but we’re also going to have the final DVD done within the next month and a half; so if they want to wait, they can get the first dibs on that. If they want, I have these con copies, and I can get them to them. If they are on the preorder list, they can let us know. When I get back to L.A., what we’ll probably do is send out a newsletter or set up a PayPal site or something like that, and we’ll post that on the site and on the Facebook page. But we want everybody to know. And it’s funny, because Larry was saying to me, “John, they’re going to want special features! They’re going to want all this stuff.” And yeah, they are going to want it. But what they want is the film, mostly.

Well, and I’m going to buy the final copy, too.

See that’s the thing; people will keep buying it. If they like it, they’re going to buy the final one. And either is okay. I just needed proof that this thing was done, for the fans, and for me, too. But everything is all a go for the final product to come out soon; and it’s really exciting. I’m just hoping that the fans respond; and I think that they have here, and that they will continue to. When people know about it and hear about it, they’re thrilled; and that’s all I can ask.

•     •     •     •     •

Review – I Know That Voice

Voice actors are a fascinating contradiction in the entertainment industry. They are simultaneously loved by millions and recognized by few. Whereas passing an on-screen actor on the street is cause enough for most people to snap pictures or call a friend to share who they just spotted, those same people could be standing next to one of their favorite “voices” at a grocery store and never realize it. They could have a whole conversation with voice actor John DiMaggio and not know that they were talking to one of the lead actors of their favorite animated show – unless, of course, DiMaggio suddenly told them to “Bite my shiny metal ass!” in the voice of Bender from Futurama. Then they might fall over in happy shock.

Despite the anonymity of the industry, the men and women who give voice to thousands of animated characters are some of the most talented, versatile, and hard-working  members of the entertainment industry. This is what executive producer DiMaggio, producer and director Larry Shapiro, and producer Tommy Reid wanted to showcase in their upcoming documentary, I Know That Voice. DiMaggio says, “I wanted to honor these people. I wanted to show that my peers are…an incredibly talented bunch… I wanted to show them as champions of the industry.”

To do this, the documentary’s producers interviewed over 150 voice actors, casting and voice directors, creators, producers, voice teachers, and other luminaries about their experiences in the animation industry. These interviews are used in the film to explore every aspect of the voice acting profession, including its history; starting out in the business; taking on “legacy voices” first created by other voice actors; developing new characters; and the traits that delineate voice acting from on-screen acting, such as possessing the skills of musicality, physicality, and versatility. The documentary also explores the experience of celebrity for a group of extraordinarily talented people primarily known for voices that may not even sound like their own.

It’s not often that I watch a documentary with a constant smile and a frequent sense of wonder and delight – but that is what happened while watching I Know That Voice, which runs the gamut from serious discussions to whimsical humor. In large part, this is due to the main focus of the film, the actors themselves. As a whole, the titans of this industry come across as uniformly intelligent and clever, well-spoken, hard-working, dedicated, talented, wickedly funny, and warm and humble people. In discussing their work, they show a great respect for the industry and their peers, reverence for inspirations such as Mel Blanc and Daws Butler, and appreciation for the part they get to play in bringing animated characters to life for their fans.

This attitude is mirrored by the creators and directors who are also featured, and who clearly appreciate the talent inherent in successful voice actors. Emmy-winning voice director Ginny McSwain asks in her interview, “Does anybody realize how brilliant these actors are? Because they have to get every cryptic expression that you would do on camera, on a mic. They’re storytellers. That’s their gift.” Another director opines that these people are “the best method actors” in Hollywood; and I wouldn’t disagree.

Amongst those best-of-the-best featured in this film are legends like June Foray, Stan Freberg, and Mel Blanc (via archival footage and an interview with his son, Noel Blanc). Then there are beloved voices that I first encountered during my childhood and adolescence, like Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Maurice LaMarche, Nancy Cartwright, Jim Cummings, and Billy West. And voices I’ve become better acquainted with as an adult, like Grey DeLisle, John DiMaggio, and Nolan North. If those names don’t ring a bell, I could instead say: Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha; Tosh the Goofy Gopher; Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and a ton of other Looney Tunes characters; Yakko Warner, Pinky, and Raphael; Wakko Warner, Roger Rabbit, and Ironhide; The Brain, Calculon, and Kif Kroker; Bart Simpson, Ralph Wiggum, and Chuckie Finster; Darkwing Duck, Monterey Jack, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, too; Ren, Stimpy, Doug Funnie, Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, and Dr. Zoidberg; Azula, Vicky, and Catwoman; Bender Bending Rodriguez, Marcus Fenix, and Jake the Dog; and Superboy, The Kraang, and Deadpool.

If that seems like a dizzying list of characters, it’s only a tiny fraction of what each of those actors has voiced; and only a small selection of the large and talented group featured in this documentary. And seeing these amazing people break down how to do the difficult voice of Porky Pig, or what elements went into creating the beloved voice of Dr. Zoidberg, is a real treat; as is getting to see the faces behind the voices we know and love. We also get to see glimpses of the industry through the eyes of the working actor in the studio, which is fascinating to witness.

I Know That Voice is highly entertaining, as well as educational. For those who are fans of the industry, the documentary offers the rare opportunity to see all of your favorite voice actors discuss their craft in a comprehensive manner and do some of their most popular voices. For those unfamiliar with this aspect of the entertainment industry, this is an excellent introduction – and if you’re not a fan of these people at the beginning of the documentary, you will be by the end. For they are indeed champions of the industry, and it’s a joy to see a documentary like this celebrating them and exploring their craft.

Until next time, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: On The Road At Dragon Con


By the time you read this, I’ll be winging my way out of Atlanta and back home; but as I write, I am still in the thick of the exciting events of Dragon Con! I’ve had some great fun this weekend, and it’s not even over yet!

So, what the heck have I done this weekend? Seriously, guys, what did I do? It’s all kind of a blur. A really fun blur, mind you! But…let me think…

Oh yes! I interviewed Michael Rooker, Maurice LaMarche, Raphael Sbarge, Charlie Schlatter, and Jim Butcher, and checked in with John DiMaggio for more news on his awesome voice actor documentary (which I now have!) so look for those interviews and a documentary review coming your way soon!

I also had some experiences you can only have at Dragon Con—like looking over a food table with Richard Hatch and then being asked if I wanted to be part of a documentary he’s doing about geek and nerd culture. To which I naturally said, “Sure, why not,” and went and got interviewed.

I then got to chat a bit with some of the other cool guests at the con. I asked James Cosmo (Game of Thrones) how they constructed the Wall for filming, and he told me that although some of it was CGI, they actually built a 400 to 500-foot wall in Northern Ireland with a working elevator—and then Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) got stuck in it halfway up.

I learned that Natalia Tena (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones) has known how to play the accordion for five years, that she picked it up “because I already knew piano and I just wanted to learn” – and that she’s in a band with the coolest name ever, “Molotov Jukebox.” How neat is that?

Seth Gabel shared that his character, the Count, was supposed to have a bigger story arc in Arrow, but Seth could only be on set for one day, so they couldn’t use the whole story. BUT he thinks he’ll be back, so maybe we’ll see that character arc yet…

Jamie Murray was delightful, and agreed that her character on Dexter was one that people loved to hate. She also shared that filming the crazy fire scene was “a bit dodgy,” but that she really loved that scene.

Kandyse McClure of Battlestar Galactica is very down-to-earth, and we had a great chat about all the cool things she’s learning to do during home renovations – like sand and stain furniture and weld things. Go, Kandyse!

Genelle Williams of Warehouse 13 told me she’s on a new show called Bitten that’s airing soon (but not picked up yet in the US), with Laura Vandervoort of Smallville, in which Laura plays the only female werewolf in a pack, and Genelle plays a werewolf’s girlfriend. Genelle reports that the show is really fun and that Laura’s werewolf is awesome because she’s a badass who hunts with the pack and doesn’t show vulnerability.

And from the Once Upon a Time panel, we learned from Jane Espenson that we will be seeing Ariel, Eric, and Ursula in the new season, and that Ariel may be somewhere other than Storybrooke (Neverland, perhaps?). So that’ll be fun to see.

That’s all the Dragon Con news for now, but stay tuned for all the great Dragon Con interviews, and until next time, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Hi-Yo, Dragon Con! Away!

Whitten Art 130820It seems like just yesterday I was getting back from San Diego Comic-Con…and now in less than two weeks, heeeeere comes Dragon Con! Another adventure!

Believe it or not, I still have some things to report from SDCC (yeah, I got a little behind, oops), but even though I’m still catching up from the last con, I’m super looking forward to Dragon Con! Why?

Well, for one thing, Dragon Con is my favorite con for costuming, outside of the Discworld cons. Not only do I get a kick out of costuming myself (as I’ve mentioned here before), but I also love looking at all of the amaaaaaazing costumes other people put together. From a Cylon with a real glowing spine, to an Archchancellor Ridcully with an actual flask in the tip of his pointy hat, to a pair of female “Spy vs. Spy” spies chasing each other around, any and every costume you can think of might make an appearance at the con, and the detail and creativity of many of the costumes just blows my mind.

The humor of a lot of them makes me happy, as well – from a group of gender-bent Disney princesses (complete with beards), to a couple of Spaceballs “combing” the bar-area floor with an actual giant comb, there are a lot of funny costumes to see. And then, of course, there’s one of the coolest costumes I ever saw at the con, which was done by my own roommate and friend Erica – a working Portal shirt with “portals” on the front and back, through which you could “see” to the other side. You never know what costume you’ll see next, and I love that.

I’m also super-excited, as always, about the awesome guests. Dragon Con is a great cross-section of the comics and genre TV and movie worlds, with guests from all over the spectrum. Also, of the cons I’ve been to, it’s the most comparable in its mix of guests to SDCC; but despite the huge crowds (57,000 people are expected to travel to Atlanta for Dragon Con this year), has a much more laid-back and less chaotic feel. Not to mention that with the Walk of Fame, you can often walk right up to your favorite celebrity to say hello (and buy a photo or an autograph, if that’s your thing). This year, I’m looking forward to seeing guests from Smallville, Once Upon a Time, Arrow, and Battlestar Galactica, among others. I’m also looking forward to seeing one of my favorite parts of any con, the animation and voice actor panels. Dragon Con has a lot of great voice actors coming this year, and those panels are always a blast. W00t!

Although this will be my third Dragon Con, there may be some folks out there for whom this is their first – and even for those who have been before, there are some new things to take note of this year. For that reason, I checked in with Dan Carroll of Dragon Con to see what he could tell me about this year’s con and how to enjoy it. Here’s what he said.

What are your top three tips to help new Dragon Con attendees get the most out of their experience?

1) Use the App! (Which you can get for Android or iPhone.)

2) Dad advice: Drink plenty of fluids! Eat your Meals! Sleep and Shower!

3) Have a plan for Dragon Con and find your way around as quickly as possible. Be flexible in your plan because you can’t see everything.

How does Dragon Con differ from other cons?

Dragon Cong brings together gaming, film, TV, comics, live music, a film festival, an art show, and the largest parade in Atlanta for a 24-hour-a-day event over four days in five four-star hotels and a great exhibition space.

What’s new and different this year, that veteran (and new) attendees should know about?

We have upgraded our vendor facilities by moving them to the AmericasMart showroom and convention space. This move allowed us to add nearly sixty new dealers or exhibitors. The space in the Marriott where vending was, is now home to the Walk of Fame where we have space for twenty additional signing tables.

Our big celebrations this year are about anniversaries. The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who has brought a great range of Doctor Who and Torchwood guests, the 30th Anniversary of Fraggle Rock is being celebrated with two Fraggle actors and puppets performing in our Puppetry Track. The 20th Anniversary of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is showcased with many of the original cast members and a lot of Star Trek luminaries including William Shatner and George Takei.

(Emily adds: It is also the 20th Anniversary of Animaniacs, as I’ve mentioned before, and Pinky and the Brain (Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche) will be on hand for that!)

What tools are available specifically for Dragon Con fun?

As I mentioned before, the App is a great place to start. Each hotel has an information desk that provides excellent advice and guidance to the Dragon Con member. Other great tools are the Daily Dragon for updated information and Dragon Con TV for some serious belly laughs.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s con? What do you recommend as a must-see activity?

I am looking forward to the new guests at Dragon Con such as Lee Majors and Lindsey Wagner. I am also looking forward to seeing my friends and reporters from around the country whom I only get to see at Dragon Con.

What’s the best costume you’ve ever seen at Dragon Con?

I think the most striking I have ever seen is a 12 foot tall Galactus. My favorite is probably when I see my favorite comic book character, Marvel Girl Jean Grey in her 1960s mini dress and white go-go boots.

Anything else you’d like to share about the con?

The easiest thing about talking about Dragon Con is that there is so much to talk about, which leaves me knowing that I am always leaving so much out. With 38 “tracks” of programming, each dedicated to an aspect of fandom, there is too much going to on to convey in a few sentences, so I invite everyone to come to Dragon Con and experience this amazing event for yourselves!

•     •     •     •     •

Well there you have it, folks! Some tips and info for new and veteran attendees, which will hopefully help everyone have as great a time at Dragon Con as I plan to have! And if you see me at the con, be sure to say hi!

Until next time, Servo Lectio!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis on March

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold on Rock’n’Blues