John DiMaggio has been working on his labor of love for a long time. And now, I Know That Voice, his documentary that exposes the world to the actual actors behind all of the voices we have loved for years, is complete. ToonBarn was there, at the East Coast Premiere of I Know That Voice, hosted by The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Friday, November 8, 2013, along with John DiMaggio. You can see a trailer for I Know That Voice at the bottom of this article.
The key details about where you can see this wonderful documentary are:
Here’s John answering some questions from the audience during the Q & A round after the screening took place (our review of the film is below that):
I Know That Voice is more than a documentary. It is an entertaining and thorough look into the world of voice acting. It is entertaining because there are over 100 voice actors that share their craft, and they do some of the funniest bits you won’t see anywhere, except in this documentary. The film covers every aspect of what it means to be a voice actor.
It covers the history of voice acting, going back to when silent films became “talkies”. Of course, you can’t talk about voice acting without starting with the original “man of 1000 voices”, Mel Blanc. All of the best voice actors today claim Mel Blanc was their mentor and their biggest inspiration for getting into the business. Hank Azaria, who is best known for his voices on The Simpsons, recalls the “Rabbit Season, Duck Season” Looney Toons bit, where Daffy Duck pretends to be Bugs Bunny and Bugs pretends to be Daffy. All done by Mel Blanc. Azaria said they tried it on the Simpsons set with their own characters, and never could duplicate the feat. Another great story about Mel Blanc came from June Foray (voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel and still working in her 90’s!). June recalled Mel Blanc’s car accident in 1961, where he was left with broken bones all over, and in a coma for 10 days. When the Doctor was trying to bring him out of the coma, he asked, “Hey Bugs, Bug Bunny, are you there?” and Mel, speaking in his Bugs Bunny voice, replies, “What’s up, Doc?”. The doctor then asked about Porky and a few other characters, and surely enough, Mel responded with each characters voice. In the months following this, he would record his lines for the cartoons he was working on in his hospital bed, and June Foray would hold the script so he could read from it.
Behind the Voice Actors.com talks about how Mel Blanc was a pioneer to get voice actors credit for the work they did:
“Originally, voice artists were not given screen credit on animated cartoons. After Blanc was turned down for a raise at Warner Brothers, they added his name as “Vocal Characterizationist” to the credits as a compromise. Not only did it give greater recognition to voice artists from then on, it helped to bring Blanc to the public eye.”
I Know That Voice also covers what voice actors today had done to become voice actors in the first place. Jim Cummings tells the funniest story about what he did to break into the business. When it comes to advice that voice actors give about becoming a voice actor, they all say, “You have to be an actor first”. You need to be able to immerse yourself in a character, and portray every emotion as that character. You must live and breathe that character until you can speak any line as that character, with all the emotion that is required by the context of the line. Really good voice actors may combine well-known voices of characters in history to get just the right tone for the character they are auditioning for, just like Billy West did when he combined Lou Jacobi and George Jessel, then threw on a Yiddish accent, to become Dr. Zoidberg in Futurama.
Voice actors sometimes start out as impressionists, and there are many times when a role calls for a voice actor to sound like another well-known actor. I Know That Voice covers this aspect of voice acting very well. Several voice actors impersonate Christopher Walken, George W. Bush, Peter Sellers, and Bill Cosby, among others, in an impression montage that is climaxed by a voice actor who surprised the audience by performing a dead-on impersonation of Chris Rock, even though he comes from a completely different ethnic background.
Race and gender really hold no water in voice acting, as we learn from this documentary. The voice is an instrument. If you can play your instrument to sound like a boy, when you yourself are a girl, then you have extended your range as a voice actor. If you can sound like a black man when you are white, like John DiMaggio does when he impersonates Barry White, then there are roles you might be able to audition for that regular actors would never be able to do in front of a camera. In the most extreme cases, like with Dee Bradley Baker, you may be able to sound like every animal from the jungle, the barnyard, and a few alien species all mixed together in the same cartoon. And after that, Dee can sound like 150 clone troopers on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where each one sounds a little different than the others. Just because they are clones, doesn’t mean they don’t each have their own personalities, and Dee Bradley Baker manages to pull off the feat like the true professional he is. How he keeps track of them all, we’ll never know.
One of my favorite parts of the documentary was when they showed how voice actors get to interact with their fans. I myself have attended many conventions, like San Diego ComicCon, where the voice actors are Rock Stars. They actually have to walk in the back hallways of the conventions centers, escorted by the dumpsters, to get to their panels and autograph sessions, so they aren’t mobbed by fans, and can get there on time. Before I Know That Voice exposed who these voices really are, you had to be a real fan of voice actors to know what they looked like. There are some voice actors that even have touring shows, where they will perform or conduct seminars in front of live audiences. Rob Paulsen has his own show, called “Rob Paulsen Live”, in which he shares some of his stories, tips and experiences from his 30+ years in the business. He also hosts a podcast called “Talkin’ Toons with Rob Paulsen”, in which he usually has some of his voice-actor friends as guests, and they just have a blast talking about cartoons. Other voice actors, like Bob Bergen, have gone into the business of voice coaching, where you can take classes to learn how to be a better voice actor. Roger Craig Smith, who played the voice of Batman in the video game, Batman: Arkham Origins, recently tweeted about how he was a student of Bob Bergen, and is now getting to work with him:
Full circle moment when I got to work with @BobBergen today! My animation VO instructor! Not to mention the class that launched my career!
— Roger Craig Smith (@RogerCraigSmith) November 14, 2013
This documentary would not be complete without talking about Video Games and Anime. These two genres of voice acting have a HUGE following. So much so, that you may only know a voice actor for the work they do in anime, because that is the only place you hear them. Or, you may only know John DiMaggio as Marcus Fenix, his character from Gears of War, because you played it so much on your XBox. The interesting thing about video game voice acting is that they usually schedule those sessions later in the week, so the actor’s voice can recuperate over the weekend. There is a lot of screaming and grunting in video games, which really taxes the voice, because there are so many more lines in a video game than in a 22-minute cartoon episode.
I Know That Voice will make you laugh out loud many times during the film. It will also amaze you with the skills these people have with their voices. I had my mouth agape during the segment where Carlos Alazraqui kept going back and forth between his Spanish accent and his Scottish accent, all in the same sentence, and then he spoke in his normal voice. Each was a distinctly different voice that sounded like 3 different people. In the world of voice acting, versatility is the key to getting more roles. These actors say they audition more than anything else. 90% of their job is trying to get the next job. With that in mind, some actors have taken to setting up their own home sound studios to record audition files and send them to their prospective clients. Tara Strong has a particularly nice home studio with all the bells and whistles. Quite impressive!
Of course, if you are a voice actor, you have to take really good care of your voice, and there was plenty of advice from all of the professional actors in I Know That Voice. They have no qualms about certain ritualistic practices, if it means their voice will always be ready for anything. There are certain foods and drink to avoid, exercises for the voicebox, warm-up and cool-downs, and you see it all on this documentary. I remember talking to Phil LaMarr at New York Comic Con, where he talked about a voice recording he once had for Osmosis Jones where his voice wasn’t in the best shape. He had arrived very early to the recording session, and had about an hour to kill, so he went to a Spa to get a massage. He thought it would be relaxing, but it ended up making his voice sound like he had just woken up. He was still able to plow through the recording session, but it was a struggle to warm up his voice and required more takes than usual.
ToonBarn wants to thank Emily Whitten from The National Press Club for bringing John DiMaggio and the East Coast Premiere of I Know That Voice to Washington, D.C. It was a terrific opportunity to screen a documentary made by one of the top voice actors in the business today.
Please make sure you either order a copy of the DVD or watch it on Vutopia.com, Dec 1-Dec 21, 2013. Go to IKnowThatVoice.com to order or go to the Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/iknowthatvoice
I Know That Voice is a Record Farm Industries Production in association with Cinovative & Dundee Entertainment, Executive Produced by John DiMaggio, Produced by Tommy Reid, Co-Produced and Directed by Lawrence Shapiro.