Sources of Inspiration: I Know that Voice!

Why would a writer/illustrator find inspiration in a documentary about animation voice actors? All forms of creativity can help other creative people. Nothing is more empowering than hearing a whole slew of creative people discuss why they love being creative and their own creative process. That’s exactly what John DiMaggio’s documentary I Know that Voice! did for me.

I’ve been a fan of animation since I was a child and I believe many kids share a love of cartoons. Brought up with Garfield and Friends and The Real Ghostbusters as personal favorites and then adding great cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even then I knew the characters were voice actors behind mics and even noticed crossovers, like Garfield and Peter Venkman had the same voice. I loved the character voices and how much they added to the characters, so much that if they changed the voice to the wrong kind of performer it could put you off the show.

Futurama is the show that truly brought the art and skill of voice acting into full light. Billy West, John DiMaggio, Phil LaMarr, Tress McNeille, and Maurice Lamarche all voiced performers in other shows I knew.  The shows’ characters were so unique I wanted to know more about them.  The more I learned the more I learned the actors behind them.  This led to listening to the audio commentaries for the entire series repeatedly (EVERY episode as commentaries check them out they’re as good as the show!). I remember hearing of DiMaggio’s documentary when it was still in development when he mentioned it during one such audio commentary and it immediately piqued my interest.  When I saw it on Netflix I was psyched.

I Know that Voice features much of the cast of Futurama and more. The voices from Rugrats, Batman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and even Looney Tunes all make an appearance.

You hear about how it is acting first. How doing a silly voice, or imitating a famous character is nothing…anyone can do it. In my favorite segment they clearly point out how it is not enough to sound like Porky Pig…can you do Shakespeare as Porky Pig? Followed by clips of your favorite voice actors reading a famous monologue from As You Like It.

You get to know not only the process of the actors, but of voice directors. Casting agents. How the show is assembled. How they all interact. Even the history of the art in animation (the voice recording started out with radio talent and is indeed still pays homage to its radio roots during the record.)

DiMaggio himself is present, but not overpowering, which shows his dedication to the project, as he seems to have a personality that is naturally a showman. Here he pays homage to his friends and colleagues and takes a background role. Which is another element of the voice acting population: they all seem to have reduced or lack of star ego. That camaraderie is impressive, especially in show business!

John DiMaggio “the voice of Bender and others” as he says often in the Futurama audio commentary.

This entire process was profoundly inspiring to the creative process. My own writing and creative brain is deeply moved by the processes of others, and you won’t find a better example of a process in action than I Know That Voice! AND the extra bonus is it’s damn entertaining!

The official site!

Bullet Point Review: Turbo

BulletPointReviews

This is a new feature I thought up to give reviews of things I just feel like reviewing in a short, sweet way.  I started with a great little animated feature I caught on Netflix that seemed to get lost among the big-budget, sequel-happy world of modern cinema.

Bullet Point Review: Turbo (2013)

  • Title: Turbo
  • Premise: A snail name Theo (aka Turbo) is addicted to speed and racing despite his being, ya know, a snail and wants to enter the Indy 500.
  • Protagonist(s):

o   Theo (Turbo): Main character/Racing Snail (Neverending Story shout out)

o   Chet: Theo’s disapproving Brother

o   Tito: Snail-racing taco vender at Van Nuys, CA mini-mall “Starlight Plaza” who finds Turbo. They work together to achieve their dreams.

o   Whiplash, Smoove Groove, Skid Mark, Burn, and White Shadow: Starlight Plaza racing snails. Whiplash is voice by Samuel L. Jackson and Smoove Groove Snoop Dogg, which means this movie has both a Samuel L. Snail and a Snoop Snail)

o   Paz, Kim Ly, Bobby: Starlight Plaza venders who sponsor Turbo in the Indy 500.

  • Antagonist(s):

o   Evil Mower: Turbo’s first racing opponent.

o   Guy Gagne: Turbo’s REAL racing opponent and Indy 500 Champ.

o   Crows: They eat snails…a lot…

o   Mother Nature: Made Turbo a snail and thus…not very fast…

  • Conflict: Turbo’s addiction to racing affects his job, his relationship with his brother, and dominates his life.
  • Twist: Turbo accidentally Bruce Banners himself with NO2 and gains super-speed! Stan Lee would’ve been proud.
  • Moment I was Hooked: Somewhere around the line “You’re trashtalk is needlessly complicated!” delivered as only Sam Jackson can…
  • Journey: Turbo finds his speed; finds his dreams; and finds that, maybe like Dorothy, he had what he needed all along.
  • Surprisingly…: This movie has a kick ass soundtrack.  Good licensed and original music.
  • Most Relatable When…: Turbo becomes popular by going “viral” from a kid’s random video, including a catchy remix version.  It felt like it could happen because it’s happened oh so many times in the past with oh so many cats…
  • Final Thoughts: I’ve been on a bit of an animated feature kick. Mostly because they are a lot of them on Netflix. I’ve always liked snails so this one called to me. I didn’t have high hopes due to some of the kids’ movies of recent vintage (i.e. Kung Fu Panda…) but was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Ryan Reynolds, though I’m not usually a fan of his live acting, turns out to be a great voice actor, the supporting cast is also excellent, the story is solid (though cartoonishly fantastical), and the message truly inspiring. Very creative, great fun, and better than most “serious” movies I’ve seen recently.
  • Rating: Four and a half snail shells outta five.

Rating

Turbo Artist
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Snail

4 Ways to Stay Young at Heart

By: Joey Petty (guest writer)

With healthy diets and workouts sweeping the nation in efforts to live longer, it’s important to remember those won’t necessarily keep you young at heart.

I am fast closing in on the big 40 and am still in great touch with my youthful side. So, I thought I would share some tips that will keep all of us from turning into that old geezer we swore we would never become.

  1. Try some new music. We all have favorite genres and artists, however, try something completely different and see if it fits you. Recently, I have become hooked on female-fronted pop-core or punk-pop. Paramore was the first band I tried. After realizing how much I enjoyed this upbeat, feel-good music, I found similar bands that were harder (Picture Me Broken) or softer (Darling Parade) that provided me with an energizing youthful feel. I am among the older fans at the concerts, but I am never the oldest!
  1. Read a young adult book. If you have not read Harry Potter, shame on you! Books can help you remember the problems you faced as an adolescent and all the joys that followed. As I got older, I became more work and family focused. Not that it is a bad thing, but I love getting lost in a fantasy that reminds me of my past aspirations. It also helps me realize it is never too late to follow my dreams.
  1. Watch cartoons. There is nothing that simple, slapstick, nonsensical humor can’t cure. Cartoons are one of the best stress relievers. A simple episode of SpongeBob can make a bad day disappear into laughs. “It could be worse, you could be bald and have a big nose,” is my favorite quote whenever someone is having a bad day.
  1. Play a game. If you’ve ever watched Tabletop, then you see how board games can help you relive the “glory days”. There are numerous simple card games as well (Flux, Munchkin), and they will have you laughing and hanging out with friends like you used to. If you are a hardcore gamer, there are now more ways to connect online and play than ever before. If you are the athletic type, try an adult athletic league (even kickball) to rev up your engines.

You may feel younger, and be surprised when you better understand your kids and his or her friends when you can remember that it is alright to let out a bit of your wild side.

Feel free to share your tips and comments below!

How to be a Good Fan: Wrap Up

Off the Edge

It has been a longer series than I planned, but it helped get some of the frustrations I’ve experienced just being a fan in the current day and age.  As a wrap up, I thought I’d do summation, kind of a quick-n-easy guide to being a good fan.

1.)    Be Accepting, Not Exclusionist:  It’s hard to become a fan of something if people who are already fan exclude you and deride you for not having been a fan as long as they have.  Would you, as a neophyte, want such derision?  If you are criticizing them for not being experts as neophytes, you are now part of the problem.

2.)    Be Discerning for Personal Tastes, but Not Judgmental:  It’s good to be critical and desire the “best” of things, but nothing’s perfect.  And just because something isn’t your cup of tea doesn’t mean it’s bad.

3.)    Constructive Criticism, Please:  Be critical.  Please everyone be critical — don’t just accept what’s been given to you — but be constructive in criticism.  If it’s bad, how could it be better? If it could use improvement, how? If you don’t like it, why?  If enough people say the same thing, maybe it can become something you’ll enjoy.

4.)    Debate, Don’t Argue:  Debating is very healthy for an active mind.  Arguing is personal and taps into aggression.  NOTHING you can be a fan of is worth real rage.  Even the things I love the most I wouldn’t defend with violence.  Even verbal violence.  Would you win new fans that way?

5.)    The Impermanence of All Things:  Possibly most important, remember the impermanence of ALL the things we love.  What we’re fans of today, we may not like tomorrow.  The most important thing to our brains may only hold that position for a brief period.  Before ending friendships, making new enemies, acting like a petulant child over the things we’re fans of, remember it’s just a thing that we like right now.

Of course there are many aspects to being a “good fan” and, of course, many opinions.  It seems strange to think it all comes down to, “can’t we all just get along?” but hanging around the Internet long enough has gotten me to this point!  I think we CAN all get along.  I think various kinds of fans CAN get along, and many kinds of fans can exist within one person — you can be a fan of games, electronic entertainment, sports, literature, history, natural science, etc.  I know you can be, because I am a fan of aspects of all those things.  And if someone wanted to debate them or learn about them, I’d be happy to participate!

I feel sure there will be more topics on fandom that come up, and you can be sure I’ll be happy to post about them!  Until then, I hope everyone makes the Internet a better place to be a fan!

How to be a Good Fan: Building Them Up to Tear Them Down

Off the Edge

This topic is one of the most alarming to me, it says a lot about the nature of our culture’s priorities and mentality.  I’ll leave geek culture for a bit and enter the only part of the sports realm I know.

Manny Pacquiao circa 2003 was an incredible, but one-dimensional fighter.  Aggressive, courageous, talented, fast, powerful.  He had it all.  He shocked challengers, from up and comers to established, brilliant, hard-fighting, more skilled boxers (Marco Antonio Barrera anyone?  Styles really do make fights…).  He his reputation increased when he stepped up from Featherweight to Super Featherweight to Lightweight.  Even fighting a draw and disputed victory with Marquez, he was hailed for giving a great fight.  He demolished champions, sometimes ferocious long-running champions like Ricky Hatton, crushed Oscar De La Hoya in a fight OSCAR sought, so he could beat the best fighter of the era and retire (thinking the little Pacquiao would be too small to be effective), pounded dangerous fighter Miguel Cotto.  He did even more by fighting the massive but stationary Antonio Margarito.  Manny’s showing some rust a bit now, but even worse, going all the way back to his conquest of De La Hoya, a fight many ring experts picked him to lose based on the legend and size of Oscar, fans started to turn against him.


“Overrated,” he “picks his fights,” “he’s limited in ability and just made to look good by fighting old, drained, and chosen fighters.”  Media started to look into his private life.  How’s his marriage?  How are his taxes?  What kind of business is he in?  Is he overspending his money?  He’s not that nice, he can’t be.  His movie was a bomb.  He lost his first election.  Etc.  Etc.  Eeetttc…

It’s this kind of attitude I just can’t understand.  We love you, we love you! Oh wait no we don’t.  We hate you!  We hate you!

It happens in so many areas of entertainment.  TV shows are the “new” thing, then quickly abandoned as the “worst” thing.  Bands and musical artists sell more than anyone ever has, then are quickly hated.  Some of it is over-exposure.  The “summer hit” rarely means the artist will be the next U2.  For example: The Macarena.  Biggest hit of the summer one year when I was in school…  In the U.S., Los Del Rio never showed up again, and the dance and song Macarena went from national pastime to a reviled joke.  The opinion changes from, “this is fun, this guy’s great, this show is the best” to not only “this isn’t good anymore” but to “this is the worst thing that ever existed and, not only that, but it always has been.”  Then why did you love it six months ago?  Like I said in the CBG post, maybe you’re the one who’s changed.  If you hate the exact same song you loved six months ago, it may mean that you hate a little bit of who you were when you loved that song, too.  Maybe that’s why we so violently turn against things.

With Pacquiao, I think it’s partially the change from “up and comer” to “made it.”  For some reason, fans love the up and comer, but can’t wait for the NEXT up and comer.  Once Manny made it, the only thing fans wanted to see was the next guy whose coming up to beat him.  When no one really showed up (he beat Bradley…sorry guys) it just became, “I just want to see him beaten!”  I haven’t quite pinpointed this mentality.  It’s like the fans of a band who only like the underground stuff.  Once they release a studio album, they “sold out” and are no longer worthy of our undying love.  Like Maynard says though, they likely sold out long before you’d ever heard of them.  Is the music still good?  If the answer’s “yes” just sit back and enjoy it without complaining, “it was better when” just to be pretentious and snobbish.

On the other side of the coin, sometimes something that doesn’t last long causes outcry simply because it didn’t.  Three popular examples: the original Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Edgar Wright collaboration Spaced, the UK Office, and Firefly.  I haven’t seen the latter yet, but the other two were written to be limited in run.  Firefly wasn’t, but many feel it was unjustly cancelled as it was a terrific sci-fi show.  One of the things I feel about Spaced and the BBC Office is these shows were great because they were so short in their run.  They packed hilarious good ideas into 14 episodes or so each and never grew stale, or made dumb sitcom mistakes.  It makes me wonder if the same is true about other shows many feel ended before their time.  If Firefly went 12 seasons, would it have been as incredible?  Joss Whedon has been elevated into a geek god, but Buffy eventually ran out of steam… I can’t think of any shows that maintain the same level of quality throughout their run.  I wonder if Spaced had gone into season 8 would it have had a fan outcry of “this show is terrible…it’s not what it used to be” — some fans say that about the difference between its TWO seasons, though fans of the first tend to agree both are terrific.

The only lesson I can think of with this is “enjoy what we have while we have it.”  Fighters, as Marcellus Wallace said, “have a short shelf life and don’t age like wine.” Manny, Jones Jr., Tyson, Duran, Ali, all had great careers.  They have (or will eventually) turn to vinegar in the ring.  It’s the aging process.  So why do we hate them for getting old and not being what they used to be?  Stupid songs can be terrific fun.  Almost ALL popular 80s music has that stupid sing-along quality that can grate at your brain.  But still fun to sing along to!  Even shows you loved as a kid that may seem incredibly lousy now (I’m thinking Thundercats), why hate them for being lousy now?  Just love the fact that you loved them then.

Fans shouldn’t see things in black and white.  It’s not the “greatest of all time” or, related to the last post the, “worst thing ever.”  I think of them as “things I loved then,” “things I’m into now,” and of course, “things I can’t believe I ever liked!”  All said with a smile.  After all, we’re always changing; the things we love will change as we do.  But we shouldn’t hate the things we used to love.  They help explain who we were then and helped make us who we are today.

Off the Charts: Fond Farewell to Futurama

Off The Charts Header

In 1999 a terrific show aired its first episode.  It was smart, yet low brow; classy, yet crude; and cruel, yet hilarious.  I have never before, or since, seen a show that could so span genres and play with emotions, pop culture, and trending topics as well as it did.  It could actually make you tear up in the same episode your sides hurt from laughter.  One of the best shows, consistently, I’ve ever seen.  And now it’s come to an end…….again….

Yes I’m talking about Futurama.

Futurama is a singular show.  You care deeply about the characters, their plights, and their relationships, but can still laugh uproariously when they get heads hacked off (only to be put back on again.  It’s the future, people!)  I started watching Fry, Leela, Bender, Amy, and company from premiere night.  I knew it would be my kind of show, and I’ve followed it religiously since.

Fox never knew how to use the smart writing and thought it should play to the same market as The Simpsons. (Ok to get something off my chest…I LOVE(D) The Simpsons.  I thought it was one of the best shows ever made…from about 1989-1998…  Since then it has become a showcase of Homer’s high-pitched screaming, and nonsensical guest stars…I haven’t watched a new one in years and don’t plan to)  Fox put it on adjacent to its venerable yellow-skinned family comedy and hoped to capture the same crowd.  Unfortunately, by then, the Simpsons’ comedy had become a little “dumber” while Futurama played to a newer “uber-nerd” crowd and was written by math, physics, and computer science PhDs.

The show was pre-empted by sports, moved to and from various time slots, and delayed (and delayed, and delayed) until it was finally “cancelled” in 2003.

After extended runs on the Cartoon Network, Futurama fan outcry was such they creators made four direct-to-dvd movies and eventually found their way onto Comedy Central where they’ve run the past four years.

It was a strange event to see a show cancelled, brought back on DVD, and then renewed on a whole new network.  But I was thrilled to see it back.  It was just as funny and insightful as ever, and without the network TV yoke could add a little extra crude humor to the mix.

All of the voices returned, which is essential as the BEST, seriously people, the BEST voice acting possible can be seen in this show.  Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, Phil Lamarr, Lauren Tom, Maurice LaMarche, Tress McNeille, Dave Herman, Tom Kenny and the legendary Frank Welker make the finest ensemble cast I’ve ever seen.  And they truly make you appreciate good voice acting, especially when compared to the celebrity-voiced cartoon features cranked out by Hollywood nowadays!

Now the show’s third incarnation will sadly come to an end in September.  Which means one of the greatest shows to ever air must also have the distinction of being one of the most cancelled programs in TV history.

To me this is one of the reasons TV is in the state that it’s in, and why more and more viewers are turning to fan-supported programs on YouTube and other internet sites.  Yes they run on “ratings” too, however with an audience (like me) able to watch and have our ratings count at non-standard times (I’ve found people in my generation may not want to watch the show when the channel airs it, the internet provides us this option!) our views count whether we’re watching on release day or weeks later.  Granted for every Geek & Sundry there is Annoying Orange but both can live in harmony on the internet rather than in competition.  Unlike TV where great shows like Futurama go up against the likes of Honey Boo Boo and somehow come up short.

Though David X. Cohen, the terrific co-creator of Futurama, has stated the show will never again return like it did before, I’m holding out hopes we’ll see something of the characters again.  How about a theater feature, guys?  Your fans will come out to support you!

I’ll still relive the show again and again on DVD (and for those who don’t own them, this is a series that is a MUST buy on dvd.  Don’t think you get the full enjoyment watching it on Netflix.  The audio commentaries for this series are the best ever.  Seriously EVER.  As good as the show without them.)  and hope that Futurama somehow attains more unlikely one-ups than can be found in a 1988 issue of Nintendo Power.

If it doesn’t (which it likely won’t) it will be one show I will truly miss.  It represented the best that TV could put together.  Well-made, well-written, well-acted programming that made you feel the people behind it truly cared about their show rather than just produced it to make a few extra bucks or pander to the lowest common denominator.

So here’s to Futurama.  ::spooky tremolo::  Good bye to the world of tomorrow!  (I hope to see you again out there!)

Give it up for a great show…

Official Website

Great fan page, Can’t Get Enough Futurama