INTERVIEW PART 2:
In this continuation of our interview with G1 voice actor extraordinaire Frank Welker, we discuss the origins of many of his most beloved G1 characters, the studio antics of the original transformers series, his golden voice, and the past, present, and future of his amazing career.
Where do you draw your inspirations from in creating a voice? What inspired you to come up with Megatron’s voice?
I find that I respond more visually than verbally and looking at a drawing or seeing pictures of the characters evokes an automatic reaction which suggests a voice or attitude. If there is a description and history it helps form a point of view that adds to the overall voice. I think I enjoy looping to picture…looping is the process where you record in a studio with the film or project on the screen and you voice over to what you are looking at…because you see the action on the screen and you just go for it. The character is there and it helps the director as well since he just has to show you the scene, it is a very liberating and creative process. When I auditioned for the Transformers show, there was a sign at the door that said “pick three”. There were piles of drawings of the characters on this table so I just picked up a bunch of the Autobots and Decepticons and had at it. I was drawn to the evil characters since a lot of my work had been mixed with way too many good guys. When I saw Megatron he stood out and I liked the fact that he was the leader of the Decepticons. I tried to make his voice different from what I thought the other actors might do in hopes it would stand out. In the case of Megatron it was the first voice that came to me and the powers to be said “Hello Megatron.”
As it turned out I got seven of the original parts…Autobots and Decepticons. I think Wally Burr the director was so busy doing other shows plus working this one he didn’t realize he cast me in all those parts…hey, I was lucky!!
Could you cite some other notable examples?
Well, Soundwave was a very bad impression of Barry White but again I wanted something different and it was another weird sounding voice. I think now I was not going with visual as much as trying to create a voice that was different from what I had already done and from the rest of my fellow actors. I didn’t realize until the middle of the season that Scotty, our engineer, had processed the shorts off that voice and added large amounts of that “vocal harmonizer thingy bobby”…that’s tech speak for “lots of sound stuff.” So anyway, it really was fun to do but I could have done Snooky Lanson and it still would have sounded the same. The younger folks will need to look Snooky up on Wikipedia.
Please describe some of your most memorable experiences working in this field. What’s the hardest time he ever had in the studio? Why?
Well the thing that makes for good memories is good people. And it is no exaggeration when I tell you that the actors I have had the pleasure of working with in the voice business are flat out fun, talented, weird people. Mike Bell who is a trouble causer from way back will make you laugh in all the wrong places…he could make me laugh at a funeral. Tress MacNeille, Jim Cummings, Rob Paulson, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie, Maurice La Marche on and on they are what make it memorable. It would be impossible to separate or delineate all of the great times. One of the worst times I had was doing a Michael Jackson video….I hated wearing that veil…just kidding. All I had to do was scream for MJ as he morphed from and old white man into a werewolf. Sounds easy enough right??? Wrong, the director had me screaming at the top of my lungs for 22 takes. The first take was the same as the 10th and the 22nd, the director, a Mr. Westmore, thought the screams were wonderfully unique and he was waiting for just the right quality…I think he was trying to have my lungs cover the microphone. I had worked for him before and I think he was trying to get even with me for drinking his coffee and accidentally parking in his parking spot. He won, I was hoarse for two days…
What are some of your fondest memories working on the original Transformers series?
I know it is cliche, but as I mentioned above, it was a hoot working with Mike Bell who loved to pick on Peter Cullen. Peter is such a good guy and has the best laugh in town. We all tried to get his number and he was pretty easy. Of course he could dish it out too and was very funny with great stories of the Great White North. He does a French Canadian that puts me away. It was an odd cast of characters literally…and that kept it fun.
Is there a particular episode of Generation 1 you remember enjoying the most, and if so, why?
I have to be honest with you…I was just happy going to work. I know we did several seasons, and I can’t really tell you about any of the specific shows. It was back in the 80’s and it all kind of runs together when you do that many shows. I do remember some shows where I was playing about seven or eight different roles…I found out what it was like being “Sybil.”
Can you tell us some interesting stories from the recording sessions with Wally Burr and the rest of the Generation 1 cast?
Well I don’t know how interesting this is but I remember we used to be booked all day for Transformers sessions. Most of us, as I mentioned before, had a lot of work to do in other shows at other studios and they wanted us and we needed to get out early. So we would stop the session, Wally, the director, would pick up our lines and off we went to another recording. This was very common in those days because sessions could be booked for eight hours but almost none would go more than three to four hours and now there is a four hour limit to a recording session. Wally was known for long sessions but he was considerate of those of us that had to leave. But on this one particular day lots people were leaving right and left and interrupting Wally’s flow. He was a very hard worker and this constant, “may I leave at 11:00 I have a Smurfs session?” started driving him crazy. Well, the day was running very long and people were still leaving…it was getting past 6:00 p.m. with no end in sight. Wally finally said, “Well that looks like that is the last of the interruptions!” then he added with a slight smile and pained relief; “Anybody have any more sessions I should know about?” I couldn’t resist, I raised my hand and told him, “Yes, I have a midnight at Hanna/Barbera!”
In other interviews, many other voice actors have said that you were a joker and a prankster. Can you tell us some of the best stunts you pulled?
Just rumors : ) I am a very serious actor.
Similarly, Peter Cullen talked about a “game” you and he played during the recording of the recent Transformers video game, where each of you tried to make the other laugh during their lines.
That Peter, he is forever the youthful “Peck’s” bad boy. He was always trying to get into my head much the way golfers do when the opposition is putting. But me being evil had its advantages…he was never sure if I was mad at him or just mad…or insane mad. It was the later, of course. We always have fun together because of our great mutual respect and a long history of working together. I don’t know if you or many folks out there are aware of how broad Peter’s talent is…he used to host a TV show in Canada, he does great impressions, sound effects, he is a great horse man…oh and he can laugh water through his nose!!!
Can you tell us anything about this? Are there any recordings of these out takes, or out takes from Generation 1?
You know the G1 sessions were a lot of fun and there was plenty going on…unfortunately, I don’t think there are any out take reels…too bad.
Also, have you succeeded in making Mr. Cullen squirt water from his nose yet?
Yes, and I am damn proud of it!!
Who was more fun for you to play, Megatron or Galvatron?
Megatron, I never really cared much for Galvatron. I was asked to do it and to try sound just a certain way which painted me into a corner…I think they wanted to use Nimoy but of course he couldn’t do it, he just wasn’t available. They wanted me on the Enterprise but I was busy doing Megatron ; ) (not)
I ended up working for Leonard when he was directing one of the Star Trek movies and he was great to work with…he is my kind of director.
Were there any other transformers that you enjoyed voicing even more? Were there any that
you preferred to voice as little as possible, and if so, why?
I think we started doing dinos and rocks and prehistoric bugs it was getting a little out of hand. Those kinds of creatures will eventually put you in the old voice actor’s home. But all in all it was very enjoyable.
Did you ever in your wildest imagination think that the Transformers would ever be going this strong over 25 years after you helped start everything off?
What do you do to keep your voice in shape, especially for roles (such as Megatron and Soundwave) that can really hurt after a while?
Not much really. I try and warm up on the way to sessions by doing the scales…and sing in my car (windows up of course) and sometime read aloud.
Why do you think your voice is so versatile?
Desperation….really, most of my voice actor buds can do voice gymnastics.
Are there any sorts of exercises you can attribute this versatility to?
No, not really. I think it is a gift, or in my case, an aberration.
Are there any voices you find you are unable to do anymore?
Can’t really think of any. It’s funny, as you get older you get more range. I find that I am doing all the same high voices I did like Freddy Jones from “Scooby Doo” now celebrating 40 years of being 17, and Curious George which is super high little squeaks and still have Soundwave who is at the other end of the spectrum.
You’ve played a lot of villains over the years, what was your favorite “evil” role?
Probably would be Megatron because he has been the longest running and most widely known. He is fun to do because there are no limits…he can be over the top and still work, or low and subtle and make wee ones have nightmares. And note, around this voice there is controversy, that is a good sign. I think it is important that you don’t sound like people expect you to, always good, unless you are running for public office!
Out of all your work, what has been your absolute favorite role? Why?
That would be like trying to pick your favorite girlfriend. In the end they all have value and meaning and are special for who they were and how you danced with them. It would be unfair and unwise to pick one over the other.
Please describe some of the work you’ve recently completed. What are some projects you’ll be working on in the near future? Are there any projects coming up you’d like to be a part of? Are there any characters you haven’t voiced yet that you’d the opportunity to voice?
We continue on with a new season of “Curious George,” number four actually, after winning an Emmy this past season. Great cast and crew keeps this show in top of the ratings and assures me of more bananas since I am Curious George. It keeps my acting chops honed going from the most evil of characters, Megatron to the sweet little monkey George. Along the way, we continue to do more Scooby Doo movies and Garfield the cat shows. I am a dog (Scooby Doo), and Freddy Jones (a teenager forever eighteen), a monkey and a cat (Garfield) along with other oddities which keeps me just slightly abnormal. Also, if you look closely you may see me in the “Informant”, Matt Damon’s new film. Other than that, it’s mending fences and avoiding the draft.
Are there other cartoons you’ve worked on through your career besides Transformers you would want to be a part of if they made it to the big screen?
Hey the sky is the limit…with technology and imagination nothing is off the table, I just hope I can make the meetings!
What advice would you give to someone wishing to become a voice actor?
Know thy self, sage advice from old…but true. Don’t wish you could do this or that, be honest with yourself. If you have the talent and inclination, no one can stop you. If you feel it inside that you can and must do this that is the first good sign. There are a lot of people who just want to do this…I had a dentist tell me he wanted to get into voices, I hear it all the time. It is a lot harder than folks think and you have to compete with some very good people.
Technically, I would first say…you should read, read, read, and try reading aloud. Practice doing commercials and animals (not too good please) and develop a range. Some actors are born with a beautiful voice and that is pretty much all they do. That is wonderful, but when you are born with an average tin voice like mine…you will need to develop a range. I can go from a baby to a 100 year old man with accents and dogs along the way that has saved me and given me a life in this business. Don’t tell Peter Cullen I said this, but he is one of those guys born with a hauntingly good natural voice plus, he has a great range. He also consumes less food than most actors which makes him a triple threat!
Which animal/creature did you find it hardest to make sounds for?
A horse, a real horse whinny. I can do all the other stuff (nose clearing etc.) and you might believe you are listening to a real horse. But the whinny I can only do for a limited time and then like Flicka, she’s out the barn gate and gone. I met a wonderfully talented young lady who does the most accurate birds calls I have ever heard, Nicole Perretta. I think some day she will do great things it is fun seeing new faces. I always prided myself on trying to be as authentic as possible when it came to working in film and looping animals. By the way, Nicole does a red tail hawk that blew me away and I am still trying to do it and others in her repertoire that put me to same.
Having provided so many voices for an impressive number of projects, do you ever find it hard to give each of your different roles a unique “sound”? Have you ever re-used a voice from one show for a different character in a different show? Have you ever been asked to do so?
Yes, it can be difficult coming up with totally new voices. I think we can vary them with accents and tricks of the trade, but physically you are simply who you are and there maybe limitations. But if you think about the incredible godfather of voice, Mel Blanc, he used a very similar voice for Sylvester that sounds a lot like Daffy Duck…and I don’t think you would find anybody who would complain. His acting and the writing took you down different road and both characters stand out as unique and are classic.
You’ve worked in voice acting for almost 50 years. How have you seen the business change over that time? Do you think that these changes have been for the better, the worse, or a mixture of the two? Similarly, how do you feel about the current state of animation?
How could that be if I am only 39???!!!!! I am not sure how to answer that really…life is always morphing and there is good and bad to that. There are a lot of great new technical advances that allow artists to do more innovative things but I will always miss and appreciate the old style of animation.
Are there any roles you are not so proud of, or would like to forget?
Yeah, let’s forget about them shall we!
Are there any times you’ve heard yourself in a role and wished you could go back and redo it?
Do you have an adding machine???
TFW2005 would like to thank Mr. Welker for sharing his time with the fans.