At the latest Marc Davis Celebration of Animation last Thursday evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the craft of voice acting was explored in depth by two prestigious panels, hosted by historian Charles Solomon. Included were some wonderful montages, including rare footage of Walt Disney doing Mickey Mouse and a tribute to the ubiquitous Mel Blanc.
Pixar's Bob Peterson began by divulging that casting a character begins when "a character's flaw comes into focus. For example, we had an old man in Up that we knew was going to be cranky; in Toy Story, we knew that we had a cowboy that was going to be jealous; in [Finding ] Nemo, Albert Brooks was afraid of his son going into the ocean. And it suggests who the person can be, but the thing that we do is find someone that can balance that flaw….[Ed Asner] plays curmudgeon about as funny as anyone…so it seems like once we get their weakness, we can find someone who can find someone who can balance that."
Not surprisingly, James Baxter (Kung Fu Panda, Beauty and the Beast) admitted that the better the actor, the better the potential for a spot-on performance. "It's more than half the battle… all you have to do is not drop the ball and they can inspire you sometimes to pick up a trace of the actor. The most interesting experience I've ever had working with a voice actor was Amy Adams on Enchanted because I had to animate her and she actually shows up in the film for real, so there was a lot of back and forth between us. She did a voice test, which I animated, and then showed that to her…and it informed her performance physically."
Disney Producer Rick Dempsey recalled how every time Robin Williams came into the recording session as Genie, he brought something fresh, spontaneous and outrageous. "That film really came alive because Robin added so much of his personality. For example, when they were recording the parade sequence, they said we need some commentary, and I wasn't at the session but the story is that Robin said just roll tape and that he came up with that, 'Don't they look lovely, Joan?' totally off the top of his head."
Meanwhile, the second panel featured voice actors and was led by the witty remembrances of June Foray. "I never auditioned, but sometimes the animators never even shows you what a character looks like, so what he or she does is say, 'She's old, she's sweet, she's nice or she's ill-tempered. And so that's how you do it. But you have to recall how you felt at a certain time --how you would react, but to use that voice."
"It's acting," countered Taylor (the voice of Minnie Mouse since '86).
Other panelists included Susan Egan (Meg in Hercules), Yuri Lowenthal (Ben 10) and Peterson (Dug in Up and Roz in Monsters, Inc.). They then engaged in an impromptu reading of an Aladden Fractured Fairy Tale, which demonstrated the creative invention of voice acting.