Frank Welker: Master of Many Voices

by Bob Miller

Frank Welker. Photo by John Findlater. Courtesy of Frank Welker.

When Frank Welker was asked to mimic sheep for the movie Mafia!, he thought there would be no difficulty. After all, for the past three decades, he's made a living out of mimicking cats, dogs, monkeys, ducks, parrots, cows, pigs -- even gremlins and dinosaurs. So sheep noises? No problem.

Except the producers of Mafia! had a peculiar twist in mind: "They're like mad dogs -- but they're sheep."

Puzzled, Welker asked, "They're mad sheep dogs?"

"No, no. They're mad sheep that are like dogs. Why don't we try having a sheep growl, like mad dogs?"

Welker thought, "OK," and proceeded to record his "dialogue."

The snorts and wimpers of Altivo in The Road to El Dorado came from the throat of Frank Welker. TM & © 2000 DreamWorks LCC.

"We did some sheep that growled and barked," he recalls, "and we did some real nasty aggressive sheep. I think they used a little of both. I also voiced some little dinosaurs that eat these kids, and a mad baboon that tears people up. It was really bizarre stuff."

Growling as angry sheep in Mafia!, or snorting as Altivo the horse in DreamWorks’ The Road to El Dorado, or roaring in Disney’s Dinosaur, are just a few of Frank Welker's many roles. He has performed in every facet of show business: as a standup comedian and impressionist, an onscreen actor in movies and TV, a stage performer, a record producer and star, a radio announcer, a performer in commercials, a co-creator and co-producer of a TV series, and a vocal effects specialist in live-action movies, theme park attractions and video games. Most significantly, his voice has brought life to countless hundreds of animated cartoon characters.

It all began with a dog.

Voice Work?
Welker recalls, "I was working at Ledbetter's on Westwood Blvd., doing a dog-and-cat fight as part of my standup act. A commercial producer came in and said, 'I'm doing a voiceover commercial tomorrow for Friskies dog food. Would you like to be the tail of a dog?' I didn't know what a voiceover was, but I said, 'Sure.' Ted Knight was the announcer. The producer's girlfriend at the time worked for ABC, before CBS got Scooby Doo. (I think ABC had it first. It went to both networks.)

"She was casting Scooby Doo, and she said, 'Frank would be perfect for Scooby.' It never occurred to my agent that I could or should go out [for the part]. I was asked to go to Hanna-Barbera and audition. I thought I would get the dog, hands-down. Casey Kasem was reading for Freddie; he thought he would have Freddie. Don Messick ended up doing Scooby Doo. I mean, he could have done everything anyway, by himself. They didn't need us.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to