There are two occasions on which I got really, really angry with my parents for inadvertently withholding from me knowledge of people they knew that I would have desperately wanted to know myself. While studying electrical engineering I happened to mention to my father something I’d read in Robert Lucky’ column in IEEE Spectrum. Oh, how’s Bob doing? my father inquired. “Bob?” Bob Lucky. We were in the fraternity together. Still sends us Christmas cards.
I looked at him carefully and said, Robert Lucky, head of communications research at Bell Labs¹, inventor of the adaptive equalizer, future Nobel laureate, the foremost communications engineer of the past thirty years, the man that practically defines the very specific field of study that I concentrate in, the very best possible mentor I could have had for the past three years of school is your fraternity brother and you never mentioned it? Dad shrugged a huh-how-about-that shrug.
It was maybe a year later that that my mother brought up her hidden connection; I’d been sitting in the kitchen when she said, Oh I meant to tell you, because you like cartoons, right? Tish from Garden Club, her son Tom won a Daytime Emmy. “That’s nice, what was it for?” Something called Little Toons, I think. “Little … Little? Wait, you mean Tiny Toons? Tish Ruegger’s son is Tom Ruegger, head of Warner’s animation? That Tom Ruegger?” That’s right, I babysat him back when I was in high school.
I didn’t have an irritated how-could-you-keep-that-from-me reply because I hadn’t ever told my mom that something I had always wanted to do in the back of my mind, but never knew how you could go about it, was voice acting. My time in college radio, writing and performing in radio sketch comedy, had shown that I had some talent for voice work, but how the heck do you even start down that path whether from New Jersey (home) or Indiana (college) without knowing somebody on the inside?
Which brings me (at considerable length) to my point: no such inside-track is needed these days. Want to do voices for animation? Go do that, slap it up on the internet, and if it’s good enough you’ll get noticed by somebody, or you’ll make a fan of somebody who just happens to be making something cool. Which is exactly what happened with Scott Kurtz, as he told us yesterday:
When Doug TenNapel told me he was going to make a “Neverhood style” claymation adventure game and that he wanted me to provide a voice for one of the characters I was very excited. It wasn’t until later that he bothered to mention that I would have to contribute “voice acting” alongside Mike J. Nelson (MST3K/Riff Trax), Rob (Animaniacs) Paulson, Veronica Belmont, and Jon (Napoleon Dynamite) Heder. Now I’m terrified.
I’m no voice actor. I don’t do voices. But Doug assures me that I’m the right guy for this job, and I already said yes. So I’m going to put on a brave face and fake my way through this thing. *gulp*
I’m going to respectfully disagree with Kurtz on one point — he may say that he’s no voice actor, that he doesn’t do voices, but I think that he’s wrong. Bear with me a moment (as if you haven’t been all along); the way I see it, voice acting falls into roughly three categories:
- The stunt voice actor, commonly seen on big-budget animated films, where it’s clear that the purpose is to get the famous name rather than the right voice for the character. The less said about them, the better.
- The professional voice actors, the ones with a stable of voices that they do, adapting on project after project, honing their craft, whose names are mostly unknown to us. The good ones can hide themselves behind many roles and appear in so many different projects for decades; it’s why the actor that has been in the most movies with the greatest cumulative box office is Frank Welker². I have much respect for the professionals, and from his close work with Dino Andrade on the PvP animated series, I imagine that this is the sort of voice actor that Kurtz is unfavorably comparing himself to.
- The person chosen to do one particular voice because there’s nobody in the world that will do it better; sometimes it’s a famous actor, sometimes it’s somebody who’s not necessarily a household name, sometimes it’s nobody you’ve heard of but who is absolutely perfect for the role in question.
Pixar has a great track record in this regard (cf: Brad Bird as Edna Mode or Sarah Vowell as Violet Incredible), but the best examples come from a woman you’ve probably never heard of: voice casting director Andrea Romano. She’s why every voice on Warner’s various Batman/Superman/Justice League series was absolutely perfect (cf: Ed Asner as Granny Goodness). I think the reason that Doug TenNapel wants Kurtz on Armikrog is because he falls into this category.
We, however, will only get to hear what character Kurtz is perfect for if Armikrog raises its US$900,000; at more than US$189,000 raised since the project launched yesterday, it seems pretty certain that the goal will be met in the remaining 28 days, but there’s only one way to be sure. Forget the fact that Doug TenNapel is a great comics artist and game designer, forget that Neverhood was a great game. Do it because it’s never a bad thing for creative types to stretch themselves into other avenues of creation³. And do it for all the actors, pros and perfect one-shots alike, who’ve given voice to the characters that you’ve loved.
¹ Requiscat in pace, Bell Labs. We will not see your like again.
² AKA the only guy that’s ever voiced Fred from Scooby Doo, and nearly 700 other credits.
³ Well, maybe not “never”. Dirk Diggler’s attempt to reinvent himself as a musician, that was pretty dire.