Animals doing things in the halls

December 25, 2010

It’s my favourite YouTube user, Halifax’s Klaatu42– this guy is magic.

Cat plays Eye Spy

December 18, 2009

Klaatu42 is the Canadian YouTube user who did that great little voiceover of two cats arguing about television. Here’s his latest:

UP: Pixar hits another homer

June 10, 2009


UP is a lovely, sweet, very funny movie. It made me throw my head back and laugh with my mouth wide open like a little kid, and plop big tears all over my shirt. Man, Pixar. Total genius. I cannot think of another company that makes such consistently well-constructed things. And it’s beautifully designed and animated. Well worth seeing it in a cinema- don’t wait to rent it on DVD- the swooping size of the big screen makes it a worthwhile cinema trip.

Avoid reading trailers & spoilers, if you can- there are lots of nice reveals in the movie that are much better experienced naively. I think it might actually be too scary for little kids, which surprised me; there’s some dark stuff. Really, the story turns on the central relationship between the little boy and the old man, which I think means it’s really a movie for people who think about aging, disguised as a kids’ movie.

Things to like: (no spoilers)

Character designs are awesome.

Voice performances are fanatastic, especially 9-year old newcomer Jordan Nagai as chubby boyscout Russell

Asian lead character!

No fart jokes. Pixar never needs to stoop that low. Compare and contrast to G-Force, the awful-looking Disney trailer that precedes UP, which has a fart joke AND a poo joke in a 2-minute trailer. If they couldn’t find two minutes of footage without a cheap joke, all I imagine is a movie that’s basically gonna be someone’s sweaty uncle with a keychain farting machine and some rubber turds.

Some nice reversals with characters turning out to be different than you expected.

Perfect set-up and payoff for pretty much every single plot point and joke.

Classically well-constructed movie. They should teach this in screenwriting classes, actually.

Funny, and sweet, and sad, and then funny again. So good.

Cats talking, and how to film & voice rodent actors

May 29, 2009

Watch a little of this clip first (if you are not a crazy cat lady, you don’t need to watch the whole thing)

Then watch this clip:

Usually in animation, the voices are recorded early on and the animators match the picture to the voice performance. But when speaking for animals, the actors have to match the voice performance to the animal behaviour, since the animals’ timing is so difficult to control.

I do a couple voices on a really cute kids series where all the characters are rodents: the lead is a hamster, and there are mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs (I know rabbits and guinea pigs aren’t technically rodents but let’s just relax with the taxonomy for a sec) and a chinchilla (what did i say about your taxonomic rigidity).

Anyway, the scripts are written ahead of time, the sets are built to animal scale (using a lot of dollhouse props), and then they pop the animals into the set and film them running around interacting with things. Lots of seeds, bits of broccoli, and peanut butter are strategically placed to get the animals to hit their marks and interact with props.

Convincing a dwarf hamster to flop over on its back and point its tiny right foot?  NOT EASY

Convincing a dwarf hamster to flop over on its back and point its tiny right foot? NOT EASY

The director shoots the animals like they were human actors, taking wide shots and closeups of them, and because you can’t really tell a chinchilla what to do, the crew ends up rolling until the animals finally approximate the behaviour that he needs, more or less by chance.

With human actors, this director usually shoots about 3-to-1 or maybe 5-to-1, which means 3 or 5 takes in order to get the 1 take you need. With furball actors, he shoots 20-1: it might take 20 takes before he gets the hamster to walk down the stairs and pause to eat the broccoli.

The hamsters are paid extra for stunts, as per the ACTRA upgrade system.

The hamsters are paid extra for stunts, as per the ACTRA upgrade system.

One thing I love about this particular director is that he goes out of his way to choose takes where the animals’ behaviour is extra-cute: for instance, perhaps all that he needs at a given moment is a closeup of the rabbit that lasts 3 seconds.

But if on one take, the rabbit were to sneeze, you can pretty much guarantee that’s the take he’d use in the episode, which means the voice actor now has to sneeze midway through his line to match the rabbit’s behaviour. It adds richness and humour to the series.

They tried to use this glossy baby gerbil in an episode but it was so cute that I ate it.  Oops.

They tried to use this glossy baby gerbil in an episode but it was so cute that I ate it. Oops.

Later, in the voice record sessions, the director plays us the footage, along with a “scratch track” of himself reading the lines at approximately the right pace, with many of the little extra details included.

He gives the actors tons of freedom and lets us create lines that reference what the animals are actually doing. I’ve gotten to improvise lines where Burfy, my shy salesmouse character, is talking, and out of nowhere she shakes herself (“Brrr! Is it cold in here or is it just me?” or where she’s speaking and the hamster randomly starts licking her face (“Sir, please! Too close! Too close!”).

You can see some examples in this clip- in the beginning a rabbit cleans his face while he’s talking, and later the hamster has one of my favourite lines from the whole series: “What the–? How the–? Blublle blubble bluuble blubble-the–?”

This series was double Gemini-nominated last year, which I thought was well deserved.

Anyway, all this to say that’s why I love the talking cats video so much. Having to match performance to an animal’s behaviour can lead to some really awesome little moments, and the cat video has lots of these. When he muffles his mouth for the cats as they hunch down and whisper while licking each other? Man. Canadian YouTube user Klaatu42, the dude who did those cat voices, totally rocked it. I wonder if he does animation?

Or maybe he just wanders around with small animals sitting on his shoulders and interprets their innermost thoughts for them, like he’s totally insane, yet oddly saintly.

YouTube how-to: link to a specific spot in a video.

February 28, 2009

I just found out that when you send someone a videoslap, you can direct them to a specific timecode in a YouTube video if you add the timecode to the URL.

So a typical YouTube URL might be:

And if I wanted you to notice the cute voice of a certain talking mouse, a voice that occurs at 2m22 into the clip, I’d append that information (#t=2m22) to the URL.

Isn’t that nice?

(Also, that clip is pretty cute, it’s a 4min math series for kids that I voiced.)

Baracking all the Single Ladies

January 28, 2009

I like Obama and I like Beyonce. Ergo, I like this.

It’s also the best impression of BHO’s voice I’ve heard. The actor perfectly captured his harsh American R’s, got the right mix of nasal and throaty, and totally nailed the quick, floaty way Obama ends key words (“President”, “ability”, etc). It’s a pretty sharp performance, voice-wise, says I.

Plus, badass man-pony dancing. Can’t go wrong.


Heck, while we’re at it, here’s the original video, which is weirdly compelling, considering how repetitive it is.

Update: A YouTube user named Cubby has created his own take on Miss Bee. You might think I’m posting this because I’m making fun of him, but actually I’m jealous- he’s a much better dancer than I am and I’m really not being modest when I say that.

Voice actor Kathryn Klvana voices a political ad many ways

October 4, 2008

This is interesting. One performer reads the same political ad copy 8 different ways. She’s really good. Click here to watch.

Kathryn Klvana, voice actor

Kathryn Klvana, voice actor

I’ve often thought that media training and production should be a part of the school curriculum. After seeing how sincerity is manufactured (no offence on Klvana, either- all performers and public speakers do the exact same thing), you start to appreciate the craft- and therefore the deliberate manipulation- inherent in all ads. An understanding of media production should lead to a populace that’s better able to evaluate information and make smarter, more critical decisions, rather than simple gut decisions based on criteria like “She’s just like me! I would invite her to a dinner party! Hence I will vote for the political party she endorses, and buy the eye cream, too!”


August 29, 2008

This video combines several things I like: voice acting, Japanese talk shows, and cuteness.
~30 seconds.

Elmo Don’t Know Y.

August 26, 2008

We’ve all seen Feist’s lovely Sesame Street appearance, right? (If not, go check it out, it’s great). And also great is this: Norah Jones and Elmo’s heartwrenching rendition of “Don’t Know Y”.

Speaking of Elmo? Okay, so picture for a moment… what you think the actor who does the voice of Elmo, might look like. Ready to be surprised? Here.

10 tips for doing cartoon voices

July 21, 2008
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Cartoon me; Illustration by Scott Hepburn.

Today I took a voiceover workshop. I’ve done a bit of voice work before, but recently, I recorded scenes opposite two really experienced animation performers, and observed this thing they both had, which I’ve chosen to call “technique”. I thought I’d try riding that-there bus myownself.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the things I’ve learned about voice work- some from the workshop today and others just from using my looking.

1. If you observe yourself, you’ll fix most of your problems yourself.
I always say this to anyone who will listen (seriously, like on busses and stuff, it confuses people). But it bears saying again: it’s really useful to record yourself. I put myself on tape at home to prep most on-camera auditions, and I’m gonna start putting myself on cassette for voice auditions, too. Common sense and observation are highly underrated teachers. This also applies to many types of dating faux pas, and also to unzipped jeans.

2. I verb, you verb, it verbs, we verb.
That thing we learned in theatre school, about verbing everything? I never do that. Too bad, because today I learned that it really helps. This afternoon I was rehearsing my scene in front of the mirror in a warm washroom that someone had just made warmer (such is my dedication to my craft), coffee on the floor outside so it wouldn’t get poo-taminated, and I figured out a couple good line reads that I wanted to keep.

So I tried to notate what I’d done. On Line One, I used a cryptic series of wiggly lines and carefully-drawn emoticons; and on Line Two, I used a single, active and meaningful verb: “reassure”. When I got in the booth a scant three minutes later, the wiggly lines meant absolutely nothing, they might as well have been in Klingon (no, I do not speak Klingon, what you must think of me). So Line One was pretty much a lost cause. But Line Two? Let me reassure you that Line Two was exceptionally reassuring, and sounded just like it was supposed to, ie, reassuring. Moral of the story: Use verbs. Choose a nice, uncomplicated, active verb for each mini-beat, and write it in the left margin so you scan it naturally as you read the sides.

3. Gesticulate like a madwoman.
I’m talking, like, arms up, over your head. Wave those suckers. This is really hard to do, because all voice work is recorded in a glass-walled booth- and on the other side of the glass wall sits a sound engineer. Invariably, he is a cool, salt-of-the-earth hockey guy, and you just know he would NEVER humiliate himself like you’re about to do. But he also doesn’t get to play a talking cheese wheel in a cartoon that takes place in a refrigerator, so who’s laughing now? He is. Arms up.

4. Bring room-temperature water.
Because cold water freezes your voice, and the astringency of tea or coffee makes your mouth sound pasty. I like to bring a lollypop, too- I’m very neurotic about spit-smacks and mouth-noise (because I believe they make you sound like Heath Ledger). And so sometimes you need to swish water to kind of wash away the pasty spit; and sometimes you need something tangy to encourage your poor nervous salivary glands to make more spit. It’s a delicate balance, but do you wanna be famous or not?

Okay, so you get the script. You pick your verbs. Your next burning question:

5. What happens in a session?

First of all, every line in the script is numbered. The director will break the script into little beats- generally trying to find tidy little self-contained chunks of the story. You’ll record all your lines within each chunk as a “pass”. The director will say, “This first pass we’ll do lines 1-6”– and out of that pass, you might have lines 1, 4, and 6 (with other characters owning lines 2, 3, and 5). Most likely the other actors won’t be there, so nobody reads with you. It’s lonely; be strong.

It's not like this.

Basically, you have to quickly scan the line before yours so you know what your character is responding to- you can even whisper it aloud to help yourself out. Then you take a little pause before cleanly delivering your line. Pause, quickly read ahead in the script, then deliver your next line. If you mess up, just take a quick pause and re-start the line. They can & will edit out your mistakes, it’s no big deal. So don’t even bother apologizing, because nobody cares and it just makes more edit work for them anyway.

And now some basic microphone technique tips, or MicTekTipz, as we* like to say in the biz.
* NOTE: by “we”, I mean “douchebags”.

6. Face the mic at all times.
Don’t turn your head to the side, even if you ‘re speaking to a different character.

7. Soften the harsh sounds.
Lean slightly back or dip your chin slightly on plosive consonants like Puh and Buh, so your air doesn’t make a popping sound on the mic. Duh. (You see what I did there?) Also, if you’re gonna get loud (yelling, squealing, etc), lean or step back in proportion to the loudness so you don’t overload the mic.

8. Avoid “dirty audio”
Dirty audio is any noise that interferes with, or overlaps, a scripted line: this means shuffly noise from your script pages or clothing, noisy gestures like clapping or slapping your thighs, and overlapping other actors’ lines if they’re in the booth with you. Don’t worry about pacing at all- deliver every line between a couple seconds of neutral silence. The secret to comedTIMING- but the secret to audio recording is


9. Project, and keep all sounds on-voice.
Even if you’re delivering a quiet line, always keep a solid stream of sound & energy moving forward out of your face. If laughing, it’s probably better to do it with a fully verbal noise rather than a wheeze, for instance. If you need to whisper, do a “voicey” whisper.

10. Don’t tinkle in the booth.
Don’t wear tinkly clothing- I always take off my earrings so they don’t hit the headphones. You might not wanna wear your chainmail vest.

11. Bonus tip: Look at your shoes.
Try to wear shoes that your character might wear. If you’re reading for a 5-year-old, don’t wear heels- they change your alignment and make it harder for you to act young. Likewise, auditioning to play a 50s housewife while wearing Chuck Taylors is just trashy, fellas. The right shoes- or at least the right height of shoes- will instantly make you feel more like the character.

I learned a lot of other cool stuff, but I don’t wanna give away all the teacher’s secrets, because she deserves to be paid for her expertise, yo. She’s a solid teacher, gave thoughtful & specific feedback to each person, and gives easy-to-understand, very practical notes. I noticed that she was especially good at helping people create character voices on the cute-and-energetic end of the spectrum, although that’s by no means all she does. She also had great tips for stuff like getting into character quickly, what kinds of questions to ask in auditions, how to create young characters, and how to develop a roster of characters. All in all, I’d say the class was a solid investment. And voice work pays really well, so you’ll be able to afford a lot of weiner cakes.

How is this relevant, you ask?  I'm not going to tell you.

How is this relevant, you ask? I'm not going to tell you.