Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Word About the 'Hard Times'

(Some of the voice actors for Horton Hears a Who.)

Down yonder, a commenter mentioned how Carrey, Carrell and Burnett had negative things to say about their participation in Horton Hears a Who in today's L.A. Times. That they didn't give it "a ringing endorsement."

I hadn't read the piece, so I was like, concerned. And so I went and perused the article. When I finished I thought, "Yeah? They acted in isolation? Without the other actors? They floundered around with their interpretations because the picture kept changing ... morphing ... and the directors were remolding things as they went?"

Gee. Welcome to the creative cauldron of the animated feature. Like since the beginning of time.

See, what these actors might not know is that the process they found so painful is the way every feature gets made. It was exactly the same drill drill in 1937 ... 1940 ...1980 ... 2008.

Story concepts change, so six months of previously-recorded dialogue is thrown overboard.

Somebody -- maybe the director, maybe one of the story crew -- gets a hot idea for a new sequence. Everybody loves it and the new stuff gets put in. But suddenly the guy working off in isolation on sequence eight, who's been away from those particular trees and therefore has a better view of the whole forest, sees the new direction in a pitch meeting or in a screening of the latest version and says: "Wait! That new thing changes the characters and relationships in the opening! And in Sequence Four! We gotta change those other things!"

And everybody on the crew, everyone who lives with this writhing, evolving snake called an animated feature, sees that he's right. And suddenly everything gets reexammined and story points and dialogue change yet again.

Oh. And that "isolation" thing? Actors have never recorded together in features (and sure, there's exceptions, always are ...). The reason they don't (mostly) record as an ensemble is so that directors, animators and editors have clean, single-actor takes they can cut together, without other actors' voices overlapping.

But for the unfortunate thespian, who comes in for a strenuous January recording session all alone, and puts himself through the wringer trying to give the cirector up in the booth what he wants, it's frustrating and maddening. Because all that torture from January, all the brilliant emoting, is out the frigging window and these animation yutzes are now doing something different.

Little wonder that the media interviews aren't "upbeat." But I'm telling you, as a guy who once went through the process, who knew the guys who originated the process, this is the way it always effing is.

Because making an animated feature can be creative torture. There's no "script, shoot and edit" process like there is in much of live action. Never has been, never will be. The mold was formed in 1936-1937, and it's never been broken.


Anonymous said...

The sum of your comment does not seem to be saying anything different than what The Times article was saying - that animation is and always will be creative torture. I respectfully disagree.

I cherish the teams I've been fortunate to be a part of and had fun on all of them in some form or another and learned so much more than I expected. It is sad to see the artform described in print yet again by the same live action world and their 'they kept calling me in for re-takes' perspective.

Unfortunately for these actors, they didn't get to work in actual animation, but some Hollywood studio frankenstein version of hedging a 100 million dollar investment. But that's more of a comment on Hollywood in general, not the art of animation.

I suspect that if they knew or cared to know how to connect with true animation filmmakers IN SPITE OF the deals their agents and managers make with studio heads, they would be giving more meaningful commentary on the art of animation. It is a shallow junket interview and it sucks.

Anonymous said...

i'm sorry, but if the entire relationships of MAIN characters change that drastically throughout the process of production, then what you have is an incompetent approach to the production. i've been part of the process too and i understand that reads need revising, but a director not knowing what they want from the get go - or more specifically - investing more in the performance than the story is complete idiocy.
process aside, animated films are just that, films. you can look to any of the revered geniuses who have made the greatest films throughout history; Hitchcock, Spielberg, Kazan, Scorcese, Kubrick, etc.

they will all tell you a movie begins and ends with its STORY.

but not with animated films! the story is second to frantic and over the top performances of the A-list actors!

all movies revise and ad lib along the way, but it seems to me that today's process of the blockbuster animated film is stupid enough to get the equation reversed. the story you pitch should be the film you make.

this quote from director Dave Torres was on Cartoon Brew:
“When we started off into production, we just wanted to make his character different than a regular elephant. I think because previously we’ve done Manny [the wooly mammoth] in Ice Age and he was really reserved — the weight and everything was there. And obviously when Jim Carrey’s voice came into the picture, he’s a very expressive kind of guy and I think we really wanted to push it towards that. We wanted to capture that fun and appealing side of him. We wanted to make him really entertaining and we felt like he was the main focus of the whole film, the driving force of the film. If we had this guy who was kind of like Manny the whole time, it would come across dull, so we definitely wanted to be a little more entertaining and expressive and I think the team here did a great job of that.”

so Jim Carrey's voice guided the personality of the character? oh. i thought the character was an element of the story. not in the production of animated films though - thats where reality becomes inverted and marquee talent dictates what story gets told!

Anonymous said...

>>Oh. And that "isolation" thing? Actors have never recorded together in features (and sure, there's exceptions, always are ...). The reason they don't (mostly) record as an ensemble is so that directors, animators and editors have clean, single-actor takes they can cut together, without other actors' voices overlapping.<<

So this has never EVER been done any other way? I'm not going to get into an argument over the truth of that, but regardless, WHY NOT CHANGE THAT?

It goes against every grain of creative reason to have every single member of an animation crew interacting with one another on a daily basis - oh, EXCEPT FOR THE VOICES OF THE CHARACTERS.

Do you not see how this makes no sense whatsoever? It is retarded.

Can you imagine the potential of these films if you would, god forbid, require these people to actually show up to the practices and participate?

Floyd Norman said...

Earn your paychecks, dudes.

The rest of us have to.

Anonymous said...

This might be blasphemy, but Tom Hanks had the same complaints about recording the multiple versions of Toy Story before it was released and swore he'd never do it again.
Anyone who knows the history of Toy Story knows how drastically Woody's part changed from the original concept to it's final incarnation.
So give these other films a break. It happens all the time. Unfortunately stars have a hard to acting in an isolation box and some can't do it at all. Many actor's prefer to 'react' than to 'act'. Most of them get over it and once the films a hit they suddenly stop the whinning...

Steve Hulett said...

Hanks had a gripe about recording in isolation. Barry Ingham complained about recording solo. Ditto others. It's a reality as old as the medium.

Yes, in some ways it's "retarded," but it (generally serves the purposes of the production, and that's why it's done.

In live action, actors now have to act in front of a green screen. Not ideal, but the pros take it in stride and deal with it.

Steve Hulett said...

but not with animated films! the story is second to frantic and over the top performances of the A-list act

Depends on the feature. Animated films have become more like their live-action brethren -- built around the personality of star(s) -- only in recent years.

Steve Hulett said...

Do you not see how this makes no sense whatsoever? It is retarded

Whaa?! You're calling Uncle Walt ... and his many talented nieces and nephews ... retarded?!

How DARE you!

Anonymous said...

yes, and the performances in front of green screens are consummately inferior to those in front of sets. this as been proven in countless releases and is beyond dispute.

there are hardly any pros to working in front of green screens unless you like the eye candy of digital backgrounds.

i can't believe i actually just read that there are pros to actors performing in front of green screens *shakes head*

Anonymous said...

OOOPS! you didn't say there were "pros" for working with green screens. you mentioned the "pros" in the business adapting. my mistake.

i was blinded by multi tasking and a deep seeded hatred of the lifeless performances we presently get in sci fi and fantasy films. but thats another post. my mistake. sorry to get snippy.

Anonymous said...

Green screen performances are simply awful. Unfortunately, the temptation and pressure for new young directors to frame-f*** films is too great, especially in animation, and especially when they lack the experience of true filmmaking - the reason the artist pursues film. The stuff he/she shoots in his garage on the weekends.

The result of all this is no different than the latest Britney Spears hit song. These aren't performances - they are complicated Wall Street RIT derivatives ready to implode by the weight of their own complex artificiality and lack of clear accountability. Why should any artist understand or enjoy what they just helped create?

Answer - the 8 million dollar trade-off payment that was built into your negotiation for the film that you REALLY wanted to make with Fox. The one they pulled the plug on b/c it didn't meet Wall Street's benchmark as a sound investment.

Anonymous said...

What's Carrey complaining about? He ALWAYS acts in isolation! ;-P

miles said...

True, this is the norm in the industry but Sony had the actors actually record together (at least some of the time) and got genuine interaction on Surf's Up.

Floyd Norman said...

Oh please!

If George Sanders, Sebastion Cabot, Sterling Holloway and a number of other actors were able to do their stuff in "isolation" on The Jungle Book, what are these guys complaining about? Plus, I never heard one of our real actors complain about our recording situation.

Our "stars" today are just plain overpaid and spoiled.

Larry Levine said...

Oh please, Mel Blanc had to record each Looney Tune character separately within a single cartoon!
Years ago we had great voice artists like Billy Bletcher, Paul Frees, Daws Butler, Bea Benadert, Mae Questel & Jack Mercer--plus we still have June Foray & Stan Freberg. When it comes to star power these names shine brightest in my book!

Anonymous said...

"Sony had the actors actually record together (at least some of the time) and got genuine interaction on Surf's Up."

Well, sort of. And it's a shame it didn't really work that well. Nor did it work well on All Dogs Go To Heaven, another group recording show.

Mark Mayerson said...

You people are crazy.

If you were animating, would you prefer to have your assistant in the same room or on another continent?

If you were doing layout, would you prefer to have the background painter down the hall or on some other continent?

If you're a cgi character modeler/rigger, would you prefer that the animators are down the hall or on another continent?

The answers to the above are obvious. If you need to interact with someone in order to do your job efficiently, you want to interact rather than work in a vacuum.

Why the hostility to performers who are used to interacting with other performers in a scene? Why is animation the only medium to separate actors from each other? And why do you automatically assume that animation's approach is the right one and every other medium that uses actors has got it wrong?

If people making a $100 million dollar feature are too stupid to give performers working conditions that allow them to do their best work (and which would obviously improve the final product), why are you sniping at the actors?

Anonymous said...

The answer to that is simple: because they're whiny, overpaid little babies.
If working alone in a booth was just too damned hard for a "seasoned actor" like Jim Carrey than he could have easily turned down the job. Or, for that matter, I'll bet if he had 'demanded' to have someone in the booth with which to read with, they probably would have accommodated him.
He got hired to do a job and got paid more than anyone else on it and still put in fewer hours than anyone else on it and STILL felt compelled to bitch about it later.
Make no mistake: voice-acting is EASY WORK - especially compared to, say, nursing, police, or... well... every other job on the face of the earth.

Mark Mayerson said...

Based on all the above comments, I'd be careful which profession I singled out as whiny little babies. And there are lots of police, nurses, etc. who would consider animation artists overpaid.

Unknown said...

While I agree that the 'whininess' on both sides is silly and not beneficial to anyone the assumption that Jim Carrey or Tom Hanks or anyone could have done better work if they had the opportunity to work in the booth with other actors is also silly.

Does anyone really think Woody could have been better acted if Hanks had been in a booth full of actors? Or Mike Meyers? Or Robin Williams? Or Jodi Benson?
I've handled recording sessions both ways and both ways have benefits and negatives. If given a choice I'd rather record with single actors - or sometimes two or three in a booth if they really need to react to one another.
It alots you the control that a roomful of actors doesn't . The TV method of recording a roomful of actors does give you certain amount of energy that you don't get from the single actor in abooth, but you lose a lot of control and the ability to sculpt each actors performnance. You usually are willing to trade that control for speed and cost. And some fine ensemble performances are created that way and TV couldn't function any other way.
Even in live-action there is often times when an actor acts to the camera or a stand-in so actors are not all that unfamiliar with the proccess. There isn't really that many differences other then the same ones that wearing a costume and standing on a set will give you then sitting in a booth. It depends on the ability of the actor.

Actors are tested in the booth and sometimes they can't handle it or can't do good work so often they won't get the jobs. It's not a perfect way to work, but if I was directing actors for a mulit-million dollar film then I would want to take the time and care to have each actor perform seperately to make sure their performance is as perfect as possible and not have to have a roomful of actors sit around and listen to the multiple takes that sometimes are needed.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, there is a whole army of dedicated professional voice talent that gets denied the opportunity to bring their new and original creativity to animation because of stunt casting. The vibrancy of animation depends on fresh and original people.

Jim being cast in another Dr. Seuss film screams safe and unoriginal. There aren't going to be any surprises in this kind of record. I suspect that is why the actors seemed to be saying they felt constrained and creatively challenged.

George Clooney's favorite role wasn't Batman. Why would it be?

Anonymous said...

Just because you don't know who Ukelele Ike or Ed Wynn was doesn't mean 'stunt' casting hasn't been around since the begining. Havingh Jim CArrey do a voice in his first animated film is a big deal not because he's a big star, but because he seems like the perfect fit for an animtor to animate to.

Anonymous said...

>>he seems like the perfect fit for an animator to animate to.

character and story first. repeat it like a mantra. character and story first.

Anonymous said...

>>character and story first. repeat it like a mantra. character and story first.<<

Puh-lease! How do you know that he wasn't there perfect choice for Horton? When he was cast in Over the Hedge they recast the character because it didn't work.
So you assume that just because he is "a perfect fit for animation" he's not pefect for Horton? Animators are always looking for good voices to animate to and if they fit a part then they pursue that actor and if they can't get him they find someone else and change their feelings about a role. Sometimes you have to change your feelings about what that charcater is depending on who you can cast.
And just to put an end to the debate about why most TV voice actors don't get cast in animation is because they're always making voices and you try to cast in film for someone using their normal voice to get a real range of acting from them.

Anonymous said...

and god forbid a voice talent, tv or otherwise (your bias clearly noted) make up original voices. we certainly couldn't have that happening in animation.

Anonymous said...

So, I've got a question: when was the last animated feature that starred an actor putting on a voice? Other than Mike Meyers which I assume most of you hated anyway.

Floyd Norman said...

I really don't understand that comment. Having your assistant in the same office as compared with having both actors in a booth simply doesn't wash in my opinion.

In a perfect world it would be great to have both actors in the booth while recording. However, as you probably already know, there are times when both actors are not available.

Plus, we've recorded actors alone for decades. Most did exceptional work while in "islolation." It ain't easy work that's for sure. But, when I consider some of the fat paychecks paid for voice performance I would be willing to suffer for that anytime.

Steve Hulett said...

Why the hostility to performers who are used to interacting with other performers in a scene? Why is animation the only medium to separate actors from each other?

It's simple. And technical.

If you've got overlapping voices on a single track that the animator and director like, but the animator and director want to separate the voices and have them not overlap, they can't do it. They're stuck with the overlapped dialogue.

But if the voices are on separate tracks, director and animator can overlap voice tracks or not overlap, as they choose.

This is why, historically, actors have been recorded alone. It best services the production.

(Now. I understand that with today's modern recording techniques, you could have actors in separate booths with separate mics "interacting" with each other, but generally it isn't done. And if they're in separate booths, they're sort of not interacting anyway.)

Hope this answers your questions. And clears things up.

Mark Mayerson said...

This is going to be my last comment on this thread because I see that I'm fighting a losing battle.

This analogy isn't perfect, Floyd, but imagine that you're animating a scene. You've got the character layouts and the track breakdown on your dope sheets, but for some dumb reason they won't let you hear the audio. Can you do the scene? Sure. Will it be as good as it could be if you could hear the audio and animate to all the subtle inflections? No. You're collaborating with that voice track, and not having it hurts your work.

Actors need to relate to each other. They need to listen to each other in order to gauge their responses. Taking that away from actors is handicapping them, which is why they complain about it.

Steve, you don't know me so you don't know that I directed animated half hours for TV in Toronto. Now, I am in no way comparing TV to features. However, when recording for TV, we put up to three actors in the same booth. The actors and the recording engineer are smart enough to not let a line get overlapped or stepped on. If a line does overlap, we do a retake.

This system isn't perfect. It does not allow for the same level of interplay on a stage or movie set. But it does allow the performers to hear the people they're playing a scene with, so they're able to better shape their performances.

So from that standpoint, the technical argument is a non-issue.

My general feeling is that animation is far too fragmented a process. The need for efficiency and cost-cutting has broken up productions in ways that I feel are detrimental to doing good work. If this is a collaborative medium, anything that works against collaboration is a creative stumbling block. As an animator, I want to be able to talk to my assistant. As a director, I want to be able to talk to my animators. I can't imagine why I would prevent an actor from talking to another actor in the same scene.

Anonymous said...

Mark, you said it all perfectly. And as a bi-product of the above, people actually get to KNOW one another. And guess what? - it shows up in the work! Yes, yes, I know it's all hard to believe in this fragmented world of over-production and micro-control of the creative process, but it's true. You can feel it in all good work. You can tell they are having fun.

And that experience one cannot put a price tag on.

BTW, if anyone has a chance to watch Home Movies or Dr. Katz, it's all there. You can tell that cast gels and works together a lot. They are/were a great team. Don't know whether they worked in isolation or not, but they DEFINITELY know one another very well.

Steve Hulett said...


There is no single route to producing good work. Having multiple actors in one recording session is fine ... and probably an efficient way to produce series work.

I'm not even arguing that recording one actor at a time is necessarily a good way to go, just that it was the "traditional" way, one that had been done for eons.

Personally, I don't think with features it makes a huge difference whether an actor is there alone or as part of an ensemble. Certainly the actor is happier playing off another pro, but I would argue it doesn't make much difference in the final product.

Why? Because -- at least when I was involved with doing it -- when you're doing twenty or thirty (or more) takes, the director and animator are going to manufacture the performance they want out of a wide variety of readings. (Reitherman certainly cut multiple takes together when it suited him.)

One more example about performance, not from animation but live action. Spencer Tracy's long, final speech in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" -- which most critics praise as a great bit of acting (even the critics who don't much like the film) wasn't really an acting performance at all.

Tracy was close to death. Couldn't get through a single master shot, running out of breath in mid-sentence. The director and editor pieced his performance together from voice tracks, bits and pieces of close-ups and medium shots, manufactured the performance out of the fragments a dying man could give them. The end result works as a whole speech because director and technicians make it work.

Which is why I'm agnostic about single actor vs. ensemble. Both work fine. I doubt that Hans Conreid's performance as Captain Hook or Tom Hanks' work as Woody would be better if other actors were in the studio with them.

Obviously, others may disagree.

Floyd Norman said...

Okay, Mark, I understand where you're coming from. Animation production tends to get overly fragmented.

More often than not, I've found myself alone with a single actor. Sometimes the results were great, and sometimes not so great. Nature of the beast, I guess.

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