The Beast Wars: Transformers retrospective proved to be one of the most popular panels at BotCon, the convention about all things Transformers. Voice director Sue Blu (Transformers: The Movie) and voice actors Garry Chalk (Transformers: Armada), Scott McNeil (Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed) and Venus Terzo (Da Vinci’s Inquest) reflected about their experiences working on the 1990s cartoon.
McNeil, who voiced Dinobot, Waspinator, Rattrap and Silverbolt, appreciated that the series had an extraordinary three-year storyline. He said, “We didn’t know how special it was going to be. It was one of the first North American style shows that we’d done with an ensemble cast where it wasn’t 22 minutes of fun adventures, saving the universe, and then a PSA at the end; and [let’s] sell some action figures.”
On Computer Animation
Beast Wars: Transformers also marked a transition point in animation, coming out after the first computer-animated TV series, ReBoot. Blu said, “Transformers was a very new show in 3D. What was great about it was they were all robots. In 3D animation in the beginning you notice the hair, [that] they could never get it to move. It was crazy! I love 2D animation, but it’s opened up because of 3D. They can animate a lot quicker.”
I asked if the new animation style required a shift in techniques. Overall, it didn’t. Voice actors approach computer-generated characters in the same way as with traditionally drawn characters. They look at notes and an image of the character, using those clues as they try out different voices.
Chalk, the voice of Optimus Primal, said, “They come partially out of how you analyze the voice for yourself. It’s an organic connection between you and the director, and the creators of the characters.”
For McNeil, both types of animation have the same goal. “The greatest of animation is not making something move. Anybody can make the jaws, mouth and face move. Animation is breathing life into it.”
On Recording Sessions
Terzo, who voiced Blackarachnia, commented about the opportunities that emerged in the Vancouver recording studio. She said, “Sue really helped us a lot. When we first started recording Beast Wars, we would do line by line. Then as time progressed and as she got to know us better and our characters, we got to do scenes.”
Agreeing with Terzo, Chalk saw benefits in the collaborative efforts of the cast during scenes. “You feed off of each other. You’re not trying to guess what the other person is going to say or how they’re going to react. They react the way they would in a moment like real life on-camera acting.”
In the recording rooms and booths, voice actors rarely sit or stand still. They move and gesture a lot as they embody a character’s personality and mannerisms. McNeil said, “People who come in and watch are surprised at how physical it actually is … You only got one thing to channel a performance through, but the whole performance has to be there. You’re not standing there doing a voice; you’re doing a character.”
On Creating Great Characters
Chalk emphasized that flexibility and openness to direction are good traits in voice actors. For example, in Beast Wars: Transformers, he was originally going to be the villain, Megatron. However, he switched his focus and worked out Optimus Primal’s voice with Blu.
He said, “They thought that somehow David Kaye would be a better Megatron and I would be a better Optimus. I remember [Sue] telling me … to make it not stern but fatherly, make it this, make it that, adding all these things until we came to a point where he became mammalian and organic.”
And creating a great character often begins in the audition process. It’s important for your performance to fulfill the intentions of the writer. If a director can’t find a good fit for the role, you might see as many as 50 voice actors auditioning by the end of tryouts.
Blu said, “What colors can I bring to the character that are real, [and] are from my gut and heart? How can this character be different than the 49 other people auditioning for this role?”
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