The Work Begins in Auditioning Voice Talent for New Project
Friday, July 01, 2005

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been knee deep in voice casting for the animated show, which is no easy task. In animation, the voice of the character is extremely important as it must convey many of the subtleties that are difficult to portray in the animated body language of a character. It's not easy to get the subtlety of a raised eyebrow or a snide look; sometimes those similar emotions can be delivered more easily through verbal expression.

When searching for voice actors for the new project we had a couple obstacles to overcome. One, we had to convince our producing partners Film Roman to use live-action actors instead of voiceover actors when filling our roles. Two, we had to articulate the resonance of each voice we were hoping to hear to a casting agent using descriptive vocabulary and examples of actual actors that we could hear as each character.

The first obstacle we overcame the hard way, by trial and error. We attempted to use a casting person in Canada to find voices to play the six main roles. When we received the audition tapes, the voices we heard weren't quite the caliber of talent we were hoping for. The dialogue was over-enunciated and over-acted, making the voices sound forced and unnatural. Overall it seemed like each performer was trying to achieve something that was just not in his or her repertoire. Our characters are from various walks of life living in lower Manhattan and anyone who knows anything about New York City knows not everyone sounds the same and there are very few people who actually have the so-called "Joey Butafucco" sound. We were not looking for every character to have a stereotypical "NY accent" but unfortunately that is how these actors were misdirected.

One of the main things I listen for when casting animated characters is realism. For example, I'd prefer to get an actual Latino to perform a Latino part, as opposed to a 40-year-old Caucasian trying to sound like someone he is not. Although you cannot see the actual person talking, you can tell if a voice sounds fake. This is one of those small nuances many people don't find important, yet are actually vital to achieving the high standards that are expected when working with any of my companies, be it toys or animation. In my experience, the best way to achieve realism in the voices is to use real actors especially since I am treating this project as live action as compared to traditional animation.

Our second challenge was explaining to the casting agent, Charlie Adler, the type of voice we'd like to hear for each character. Terry, Janet and I had a conference call with Charlie to discuss. To my surprise, the call went really well, and Charlie and I seemed to understand each other. I started by explaining to Charlie my views on casting. Overall I like the actor to resemble the character they are to voice. Not so much in appearance, but in background and ethnicity. For example, if we were casting a Puerto Rican from the Bronx we'd like to find someone who has experience around this type of person, or is from there, so they can take from their own personal reference how they should sound and what slang they should use. Charlie was of a similar mindset. We both agreed that it does make it easier to both cast and direct someone coming from a similar place as the character.

Over about an hour I tried as best I could to articulate the feeling and sound of the main characters' voices. Charlie made this task a little easier by having such a broad vocabulary. He is able to think of a word or two that captures a description that would take anyone else two sentences to explain. He seemed to listen carefully and threw out actors for reference that were right on. As the conversation ended I think everyone was fairly confident the call went well and the information was exchanged in a way where all of my expectations would be met.

We are eager to see Charlie's final casting list as well as hear his choices. That will be the real test to see how well the call went.

In two weeks look for a followup to the voice casting experience. Until then, check out the latest Behind the Scenes character, prop and background images.

-- Todd McFarlane