Friday, December 14th 2007 7:42am EST
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Our very own Stormrider
had the awesome opportunity to interview a very influential man in our fandom, this man is no other than the voice of evil himself Frank Welker!
Frank Welker has done so much in his life and has been called a "voice god". We all know him for his role as Megatron in the original Trasnformers, but he has literally done hundreds of different voices or appearances in various shows and cartoons like Fred of "Scooby Doo" to several different voices in Transformers. You can view his impressive resume on IMDB.com
and read more about him on Wikipedia
We are very proud to be able to share this interview with all of you.
Stormrider: Hail Mr. Welker (Leader of the Decepticons).
Welker: Greetings humanoid Stormrider!
Stormrider: I would like to thank you for this opportunity. It is truly an honor to chat with such a legendary voice artist. Your numerous voices have been a big influence on cartoons and movies, and have made millions of children and adults smile. Today, I have several questions to ask you (that your fans are dying to know).
Welker: Thank you for your kind words, I do appreciate it...now, off your knees lest your fellow humanoids see you,...ask Lord Megatron what you wish....
Stormrider: I would like start off by asking you some questions about your role with Transformers:
Welker: Absolutely, fire when ready.
Stormrider: Regarding your work with the Transformers cartoon, when did you first realize it had such a huge and lasting effect? And along that line - when did you realize that you had such a huge following of Transformer fans? Were you ever surprised?
I first got the feeling that something was going on a few years back. I kept getting these invites to Botcons, Transcons and other various cons. I had no idea what they were and was surprised to find out that these folks wanted me come out to their venues.
I remember calling Peter Cullen after one particular invite, an event being held in New York. I asked him if he would like to go. We agreed that if we both went it could be fun and I should go ahead and confirm the date. Something came up at the last minute and I wasn't able to make it. Peter ended up going without me. He told me later that he really enjoyed the experience. Of course he wouldn't speak to me for a month. He said the fans were great and that there was an incredible interest and following in all things "Transformer." I think I can speak for both Peter and myself in saying that we had no idea of the huge "Transformer" fan base. It was a big surprise.
Stormrider: What is it like to look back at your work from the Transformers series 20 years ago? Are there any special memories you would like to share?
Again, I had no idea about the popularity of the franchise. I received a box set of the television series from an Australian fellow who wanted to do an interview to go along with the impending release of this set. So, I watched some of the shows and was very much surprised how much I had forgotten. I really got a kick out of seeing the old shows and hearing our G1 voices.
I remember at the time of the recordings we were allowed by the Screen Actors Guild contract to do 8 hour sessions and for "Transformers" most of those sessions ran the full 8 hours. Today, you can only record four hours. Anyway, eight hours with a bunch of crazy, talented, fun, actors is like being at scout camp with crazy glue and spray string. We were kids having fun...Oh, there was much work (and often times hard work) but the people made it fun. Mike Bell, Jack Angel, Scatman Cruthers, Chris Latta, Greg Berger, Casey Casem, Don Messick, Peter Cullen and on and on with all these folks; it was recipe for fun and folly.
Mike Bell was an instigator. He and I loved to see if we could make Cullen break up during sessions. Mike was a master of saying incredibly fun nasty things...let me explain. When our director, the hard working Wally Burr, would give us direction he would hold down the talk button and speak to the actors...we could hear him, but he could not hear us. While he was giving Peter direction, Bell would say the most god awful, demented, hysterical, things that Peter would hear while Wally was imparting acting plums on how Optimus must save the world. Peter would try to respond, but you know what he was picking up and it was not Wally's well thought out direction, but Mike's deranged diatribe. Peter would start laughing and when Wally lifted his finger off the talk button and looked up to see if Optimus was ready to save the world and get the Allspark...there was Peter snickering and laughing at him. Wally would ask him what part of the direction was so funny and we were all gone...childish, I know, but wonderful times and great memories of industry "giants gone wild."
Stormrider: It sounds like great fun. Do you consider that period of your life as your true heyday?
I think for a lot of us this was the Renaissance period for animation. It was such a great time. There was this desperate need for material because of television's classic Saturday morning shows and the new burgeoning syndicated market. There wasn't a lot of feature animation that was yet to come, but a whole new group of artists and actors were born.
Before this period, I was lucky to work with the greats who graced the hallways and studios before me. I was the new pimpled kid on the block. There was Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Paul Winchell, Hal Smith, John Stephenson, Joanie Gerber, Mike Bell, June Foray, Bill Scott and others. There weren't a lot of young folks to speak of, but a few years later I began to work with the new wave; this surge of new people. These folks are now my contemporaries with a newer crowd pushing in as we speak. I can say there are more people now than there was ever before, plus a lot of on camera folks are also now in the mix.
Yes, it was a very happy time. I think I once did close to 12 shows in one day. Three with a full cast and the others shows with just pick ups. Gordon Hunt, a close friend and director of animation at Hanna/Barbera told me I must have set some kind of record. He then asked me if I had anything to eat that day...I hadn't.
Stormrider: Megatron is certainly one of the most well known Transformer characters. A lot of fans here would love to know what you feel is the driving force behind him.
When I created the voice for Megs, I was just trying to come up with a sound, something different that would set me apart from my fellow actors. As I looked at the drawing and read the description of the character, the voice that you know as Megatron was what came to me. I played up the scratchy, edgy sound because I imagined Megatron as always on the edge. He trusted no one and was driven to stay one step ahead of not only the Autobots, but the Decepticons. I think it worked, it separated me from the other actors and it made the character very recognizable. When people hear that voice they know it's Megatron.
Stormrider: Regarding Megatron's voice - is it difficult for you to do? Does it strain your throat? Are any effects added to Megatron's voice in the studio to give it that unique raspy quality?
The voice is easy to do, but there was a lot of yelling and over the top performance. We were directed that way because of the constant action and effects. It could be painful. When we did the recent "Transformers the Game," I was hoarse at the end of the day. I did a lot of yelling and fighting sounds for that project too, but I enjoyed getting back on the horse and pumping electrodes again. When we did the more subtle lines it was joyous taking Megatron down deeper and slower and letting him have a vicious simmer or two. In the old shows, they did put just a hint of something like echo or harmonizing in our tracks which added a bit of "other worldly" quality, it was nice.
Stormrider: Peter Cullen based Optimus Prime's voice on his brother. Are there any Transformers characters that you created from people in your life, or have any interesting background stories with?
When I did the voice of Soundwave, I was doing a bad impression of Barry White, "Baby, baby, baby, I want to kiss your nose" etc. I also used that same voice for, Dr. Claw in "Inspector Gadget." In the final mix Soundwave was very processed...I was hoping they would use more Barry and less mix. Soundwave, the "Motown man."
Stormrider: Barry White, eh? Do you have any other Transformer voice secrets that you want to share? ... Rumble as "Vanilla Ice"?
Well, Rumble was kind of a bad impression of Leo Gorsey from the "Dead End Kids." But No Ice cream Vanilla or otherwise....
Stormrider: It was great to hear your voice as Megatron in the new video game. How did it feel to return in the role after so many years?
Thanks, I was very happy playing "Megs" again. There were a lot of lines to record, a lot more than we ever did in the television show but I really enjoyed it. By the way, I was very pleased to see the reviews of the game's "sound and voices" were so positive; it was a nice thank you to the folks at Activision.
Stormrider: What was it like working with Peter Cullen again?
It was fantastic. Peter and I did not get to work together directly in the game, but we did the promotional video and just when in to orbit. We feed off each others' energy. We worked together a lot in the old days. I remember a show called, "Mighty man and Yuk" (I was Yuk to Pete's Mighty Man) we mostly recorded just the two of us and we did almost the entire show by ourselves. We entertained each other with impressions and sound effects trying to top one another. A lot of people don't know this, but Peter does some great impersonations and sounds. He is an all around performer. By the way, when two actors do the entire show, there may be a lot more lines but there's also a lot more donuts!
Stormrider: What was it like when you auditioned for Megatron in the recent Transformers movie? The selection process between you and Hugo Weaving seemed to have been very close, and fans were surprised that you did not get the part.
Yes, apparently there were differences of opinion among the producers but the ultimate decision was Mike Bay's. He felt my voice didn't fit his idea of what the new Megatron should sound like. Hugo Weaving is a terrific actor; he is a creative and inventive. I was surprised that they would use him then process his voice to the point of being unrecognizable.
Stormrider: Have you seen the new Movie yet? What's your impression of it?
No, I have not seen it. But from what I hear, it is a lot of fun. I know the purists were a bit disappointed. I have seen some trailers and scenes via "YouTube" and I will say I really liked Optimus Prime, but Megatron's mouth bothered me- too much in the world of large insects. Also, I got a kick out of the clips that some bright "YouTuber" put together of Peter and me doing the G1 voices to the trailer. It sounded great, and it fit beautifully.
Stormrider: If you were asked to dub Hugo Weaving's lines as a special feature for a future DVD release of the Movie. Would you do it?
Sure, if they wanted Megatron to sound like Megatron I would be happy to...of course now I would want a bigger trailer with a refrigerator and an iPod.
Stormrider: Are you interested in auditioning for any parts in the sequel? Would you want to do Megatron in Transformers 2 and Transformers 3? Or, maybe Soundwave?
I would consider it, but I would insist auditioning to picture. In dealing with a major project or motion picture that is the way it should be done. It is professional and nothing gets lost in translation.
Stormrider: Hypothetically speaking- if Hasbro and a production studio were to develop a new Transformers series that retold the entire Generation One Saga - with quality animation, great writing, and superior production standards would you be interested in reprising your role as Megatron?
Yes, and since we are in the land of hypo, how about Robert Zemeckis and in 3D?
Stormrider: Let's talk about some of your other roles. What are some of your favorite characters other than Transformers?
Dynomutt, Jabberjaw, Baby Kermit, Slimer, Dr. Claw, Fred Jones (sentimental favorite), the Gopher in "Caddyshack!". This is too difficult of a question; it's like asking a cannibal if he has ever met a person he didn't like?!?
Stormrider: Interesting, Fred Jones? Didn't you originally audition for Scooby Doo and not for Freddie?
Freddie was the first voice I did, that's why I say he is a sentimental favorite but yes, I was originally auditioning for Scooby. When it became apparent that Scooby was going to be voiced by the wonderful Don Messick, they asked me to read for Freddie. My next choice of course was Shaggy, it was a comedy role. Casey Casem wanted to read for Freddie. We both ended up getting opposite roles from what we thought. You know what? It worked out great and we are still doing those rolls 35 years later...go figure.
Stormrider: Which do you enjoy doing more - good characters or bad characters? Why?
As an actor, I think you always enjoy going out on the limb and pushing into new territory. I think that is why I liked playing Megatron, a villain. I have played so many good guys and little fluffy characters that he was a wonderful departure. I remember doing Magua the villain in the, "Last of the Mohicans" for Hanna/Barbera. He was one of the most despicable fellows I remember from my youthful literature. What a thrill it was to play him, although for Hanna/Barbera the character was quite different - he was still a villain but a straight acting part. Then the next day...there I was doing Bunji a very cartoony voice and the Shmoo totally lovable innocents. That is what I think actors respond to, the chance to play outside. That is why type casting and line readings are the demon nemesis for actors.
Stormrider: What was it like to work for Hanna/Barbera? They pumped out a tremendous amount of cartoons and characters from the 1960's - 80's. You did a lot of voices for them. Was it difficult work?
It was on the job training. Joe Barbera directed a lot of the shows that I worked in and I really liked working with him. We became friends and I miss him. He was such a funny guy, always had a joke at the ready. H/B was an incredible production entity and they produced a huge amount of product. I managed to squeak into a lot of those shows, and I learned a tremendous amount during that period.
Stormrider: What was it like when you started off as a voice actor? Please describe for us your first voice acting role. Were you nervous? How old were you? How were you inspired to get into voice acting?
Well, I was doing stand up comedy at "Ledbetters" a folk house here in L.A. in the early seventies. In my act, I did a cat and dog fight. After my show this fellow from, Irwin Wasey, an advertisement agency, asked me if I would like to do a voice over for a Friskies dog food television commercial he was producing. This was cataclysmic for me in many ways. Steve Martin, the comedian, who was working on opposite nights of the week at this club, would miss out on this opportunity because this producer just happened to pick my night to come into the club... and of course Steve wasn't doing any dogs in his act. I have often thought this probably adversely affected poor Steve's career...I'll let you be the judge. Anyway, I was to meet and work with one of our great funny men, Ted Knight, who was the announcer for this spot and had not yet become a super star on the Mary Tyler Moore show. One more thing about this bizarre start in the voice world, the producer's girl friend just happened to be working for ABC and was casting a show called "Scooby Doo." She had me come in to read for the show, and that led to my first voice over animated series which I am still doing to this day. Call it what you will...synergy, serendipity, fate, Allspark or just plain luck but you have to admit; it has kind of an "Outer Limits" quality to it.
Stormrider: It sounds like fate had your calling card. Though, I am now trying to imagine Steve Martin as Megatron and you starring in the movie "The Man With Two Brains".
Hmmm, Megatron with silver hair and a fake arrow through his head....I like it!
Stormrider: Are you working on any projects right now?
Yes, we are starting the third in a series of DVD's for "Garfield" the cat. Needless to say this is a great project and terrific people. I have worked for Jim Davis the creator many times and he "is" Garfield the cat which is great, you just supply him with kibbles and good readings and he will smile and then nap. I am doing the voice of Garfield and am trying to keep it close to Lorenzo Music. Lorenzo was another good friend and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed his company. I had a deep respect for him and his wonderfully distorted look at life. Our first DVD, "Garfield Gets Real," has just been released.
Stormrider: It is sad to see many great voice actors pass away. Do find that the voice acting industry is changing as a whole as new talent come on board?
It is the way of things. It is nice to know that their work will live on forever. I miss the greats, but there is always new talent and you can't keep them down, they will show us their stuff. It's like oil in water; no matter what it will rise to the surface. It is the immutable force of nature and change is part of that mandate.
Stormrider: You have performed in countless TV shows and movies. Is there a difference when performing for a movie as oppose to a TV show?
Yes, there is a difference, and most of the projects I work in are project driven. In other words you do what is needed for that specific project. In motion pictures, I do mostly looping, which is one of the truly enjoyable things I do.
I'm sure most of your readers know, but looping is when an actor goes into a dark room, usually a sound stage or studio, the editor rolls the film and the actor does the voices or sound effects for what is presented on screen. Often times you can add things that weren't in the script and it really helps make a character come a live. You can do this just by adding in breathing and subtle sounds. I did all the animals in Disney's, "Homeward Bound". Even though the live action animals had human voices, when they didn't have anything to say, I could breathe for them. It helps bring an element of belief in a very unreal situation. I like this process because you see what the director needs, it is already there on the screen you don't lose so much in the verbal exchange or explanation.
I have always had this weird ability to go with what I saw on screen. I could fit sound or dialog into the track and usually without rehearsing it. I can't explain it exactly, but it's kind of like flying. You are lost in what you are doing, in the zone...It may not be a talent, but more of a weird aberration; regardless sound editors love it. It cuts down on their editing time and the time they have to spend going through the sound library. In my old stage act, I would put a TV on stage and make up dialog and put it in people's mouths, just going with what was on screen. The audience got a kick out of it becaus they knew I was making it up as I went along and it was high risk.
Anyway, back to your question...when you record to script, you need to honor the writer, then of course the director, and then the producer has a vision. It can be confining unless you have a great team effort and mutual respect. In TV shows, we usually record to script and read it much as you would a play so it is quite different from looping. When you record for a movie (not looping) such as Aladdin, I did about three 2 to 3 hour sessions over a period of about three years, another totally different process.
Stormrider: Okay, now some lighter questions.
You played both Megatron and Galvatron. And as we all know, Galvatron was a reformatted version of Megatron. So when you voiced Galvatron, how did he differ in your mind? Are they two different robots or just one robot that became insane?
Forgive me, but I honestly don't remember. I was just given the script and told what they wanted...but if it leaned toward insane, I would go with that!!!
Stormrider: People tend to sing in the shower. Do you sing or do voices?
I do voices singing (off key) in the shower.
Stormrider: I have heard that you are quite the comedian. Have you ever pranked someone with one of your voices? Tell us the truth - are people an easy target?
Yes, and yes. I once called a studio owner at the request of his secretary and pretended to be Richard Nixon's public relations representative. When the gentleman came on the phone I told him I was calling for the president. Often times he made calls to small businessmen and wished to speak to this gentleman because of a letter he had written to the White House about just that very subject. All this information was supplied by his personal secretary so I had plenty of facts to set the stage for the conversation he was about to have with the president. Well, I did my job a little too well and he bought it hook line and sinker. We got too far along and when I hung up I got a bad feeling. I called his secretary and asked her to tell him it was her prank...She said she couldn't tell him because he had recorded the call and was now playing it for friends and clients up and down the hall. I begged her to tell him quickly....a couple of hours later, I got a call from this fellow and he was so down and sad that he had been fooled with this call from president Nixon. I felt terrible...To this day I am very leery of playing practical vocal pranks.
Stormrider: On which voice actor from the old Transformers cartoon can you spill some dirt on?
Stormrider: To make this interview fun and a bit interactive - a few fans have submitted questions. Are you ready? Here we go:
Stormrider: The first one is from Seibertron.com member, Skywarp-2
Dear Mr. Welker,
Most actors view their role as a success when a plastic toy is produced in their honor of that character. In many ways a toy of Megatron personifies your character and is a physical homage to you and your voice acting. Being that your role as Megatron was such a huge contribution to the American Pop Culture (and your voice and acting is forever linked to that iconic character) what are your thoughts on the greatest physical representation of that character -TakaraTomy's Masterpiece Megatron? Do you own one?
First of all, thank you for your eloquent praise. It is a bit overwhelming to think I had a part in what you mention above. I do remember the Megatron toy that turned into a gun. It was fantastic. It took me a very long time to transform it. This kid of about nine did it in seconds and then years later I couldn't find the toy. I have since named that nine year old kid "Starscream" a master at the five finger discount and disappearing Megatron toy.
Stormrider: The next one is from Seibertron.com member, Counterpunch
Mr. Welker, thank you for your work on Transformers. I hope you realize just how far reaching your impact was on a generation of kids. I'd like to ask you, as an artist, what traits or elements of your own character influenced your portrayal of Megatron? In what ways was Megatron a reflection of your own personality?
Hi Counterpunch, thanks for the good words. I love that you feel that way about my work. Sometimes we forget there are fans who really appreciate what it is we are trying to do.
I really draw from my initial instincts and reactions to the art work and drawings, I am very visual when it comes to creating a character. I am afraid it is a bit prosaic but that is pretty much the way it works best for me, seeing the artwork. It is more difficult listening to someone describe or read what the character is like. Seeing it always brings an immediate response and I can build from there.
I remember reading an interview with Peter Sellers, one of my all time favorites, and he said he had to get the voice before he got the character. I always found that interesting. Anyway, I will tell you that playing a very evil character is great fun...I'm no angel, but Megs and I are quite different.
Stormrider: And the last one is from Seibertron.com member, Raymond T
Do you know that to most of us, YOU...ARE...GOD?!?!
Uh, let's make that "a" god...remember the trouble the Beatles got into!?!?
Stormrider: In closing, is there anything that you would like to say or share with your fans?
I want to thank you all for being such great, loyal and discriminating fans and for keeping all of us in the "biz" honest and aware of what you think and what you want. Let's be clear, it is you "the audience" who is paramount for us...who try to bring life to the characters and artists visions. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don't succeed. With Megatron, I tried to separate him from other villains and was pleased with my decision and the results. Still, I had no idea that he would resonate with a hard core legion of fans and ultimately become an arrow of controversy. That alone has given me a taste of the, "Allspark."
"Long live my loyal Decepticons!!!!"
Megatron Leader of the Deceptions