A quick note for all would-be interviewers looking to get in a word edgewise with veteran Transformers voice actors Peter Cullen and Frank Welker when you've got them both in the same conversation: give up now and just let these two talk. The men behind Optimus Prime and Megatron have not only worked together for decades on shows outside of Transformers, but are good friends as well, with an easy rapport that you catch almost immediately when they get on the phone. The duo is indispensable to the 25-plus year old franchise, and it would be difficult to image what shape the the two men in their respective roles.
December 6th will see the DVD release of Transformers Prime: Darkness Rising, the Shout! Factory disc collecting the first arc of the new Hasbro-produced CG series on The Hub. Once again pitting the Autobots against the Decepticons in their seemingly eternal struggle, the battle returns to Earth with Megatron planning to escalate the conflict using the "blood" (as much as giant robots can be said to have blood) of ultimate franchise baddie, Unicron.
With the disc on the way next week, we thought we'd chat with Welker and Cullen--or at least let them talk while we listend--about the legacy of their characters, the unique working rapport they've developed over the years, and how innovations in CGI has allowed for more drama in Transformers.
Geek: How have you guys been enjoying working together on the current season of Prime?
Cullen: I gotta say it’s just a wonderful pleasure to be able to see Frank again and to work with him. We’ve reincarnated our glory days of Transformers and picked up where we left off. And it’s a riot.
Welker: Well, I will second that and working with Peter’s always a treat—we never quite know what’s going to happen from day to day, but it sure is great to see each other and reestablish old ties. You know, we have this rivalry of good and evil going back and it’s just fun to do battle with someone who you just like. [both laugh]
Atticus Tsai-McCarthy asks: Are you basically the editors in the sense that you decide where scenes end, and how they flow?
Sam Montes, storyboard artist: I wouldn't consider myself an editor, because “Transformers Prime” has its own editors and they do an amazing job of making the show look good. I'd say storyboard artists are a lot like cinematographers because we are responsible for selecting the camera angles and compositions of every shot. We are also like choreographers because we have to plot out how the characters move, act, fight and interact with the environments.
Jazz Meister asks: How long does it take to draw a single storyboard? And how often do you have to change them because something wasn't quite right?
Sam Montes, storyboard artist: For each episode, I'm usually given six weeks to finish my storyboard. That may seem like a long time but you have to consider that a storyboard artist is responsible for anywhere between 400 - 600 drawn panels per episode. As far as making changes to the storyboards, I find myself making revisions all the time. Animation is definitely a team project so it's important to incorporate the ideas of the other crewmembers, especially the directors, producers and designers.
Melynda Barney asks: What is it like being an artist for a Transformers cartoon?
Bryan Baugh, storyboard artist: It’s fun because I can remember having some of the Transformers toys as a kid. So I went into this project already familiar with the characters. I guess you could say, being an artist working on a new animated show about those same characters is sort of like the grown-up equivalent of playing with toys.
Jocelyn Simmons asks: When you guys draw out the scenes, do you guys do basic sketches like we've seen from Miko, just something to get the gist of each clip, or do you get into some of the deeper details, with little pieces and parts and all the little bolts and screws that steal every fan's breath away?
Bryan Baugh, storyboard artist: We usually don’t draw excessive detail in our boards. A storyboard artist’s job is to figure out the shot-to-shot visual storytelling, the camera angles, and the basic composition of each shot. So it is better for the characters to be drawn simply. A basic figure - with just a few basic shapes or a couple of unique features - does the trick just fine. Trying to sit there and doodle out all the little complex details of every robot’s surface texture, is not only unnecessary, but it can also make a storyboard drawing confusing to look at, or difficult to “read” visually. You want to get the point of each image across as clearly and immediately as possible.
Yessie Nieves asks: Hi guys Thanks for this opportunity. Which characters are for you the most challenging character of the series (including the humans)?
Paul Harmon, storyboard artist: The trickiest part is the scale of all the different characters; there’s a big range of sizes.
Alec Weston asks: What was the creation process for the storyboarding and how long did it take for each board?
Paul Harmon, storyboard artist: Each team is different. For my director we would do thumbnails, then roughs, and finally revisions. It’s a very thorough process but you’re more likely to stay on the same page that way.
Julia In-Gyong Handschin asks: How do you start a storyboard and how do you proceed? Do you have some brainstorming sessions where you gather ideas for the show?
Jeff Johnson, storyboard artist: We usually start by going over the script with the director. He lets us know what the scenes should accomplish and what the main goal of the episode might be.
Kathryn Vergara asks: Are all your storyboards still drawn out traditionally, with pencil/pen on paper, or is it all digital these days? Is either method easier or faster? And do all the storyboards between the various artists share the same "style" of work, or are they all very different?
Jeff Johnson, storyboard artist: I still use pencil and paper when I'm first going through the script. I make little drawings on the side to jot down ideas during my first pass through my section. After that, almost all of the drawing is done with a digital pen on an LCD screen. It is both much faster and much easier, especially when it comes to making changes and keeping track of the entire episode. All the storyboard artists try to keep the various needs of the show in mind while drawing, but the finished boards inevitably have an individual style. We are all different people after all and that comes out in the drawings.
The chances are you do not recognize Scott Farrar's name, but his work has transported your imagination to some extraordinary places.
The Oscar-winning special effects supervisor is one of the most sought after people in Hollywood.
Credits in his CV include Back to the Future 2 and 3, Return of the Jedi, Cocoon, Chronicles of Narnia, Minority Report and Jurassic Park.
As one of his latest ventures, Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, goes on general release in the UK on dvd, he took time out to discuss his art form, and how it continues to shape Hollywood.
Chalrie Levitz asks: What was your favorite Arcee episode in season 1 and why?
Sumalee Montano: For me it’s a tie between Predatory and Crisscross. I love Crisscross because of the amazing fight and scenes between Starscream and Arcee. Both characters are at their utter best…and worst!!!
Predatory is also a favorite of mine because of the style and tone of the episode. It’s strikingly different from the others episodes, and it’s a huge turning point in Arcee’s character development. We meet her nemesis, Airachnid, and gain insight into Arcee’s vulnerabilities: her guilt over her partners’ deaths, losing those she cares about (Jack), and struggling with a desire for revenge (against Airachnid). Those are some pretty hefty character traits that, as an actor, I really enjoyed delving into.
Ryan Mulligan asks: How was it taking part in a show with such classic voice actors?
Sumalee Montano: Mind-blowingly awesome! I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with people who inspire you. And not only is this cast insanely talented, but everyone is so nice, generous, and giving – an absolute joy to be around! It truly feels like a family, and I’m convinced I’m the luckiest girl in the world to be a part of it. Plus, we laugh together sooooo much. It’s an incredible blessing and an honor.
Amanda Butt asks: How have you adapted your approach to Arcee's voice over time? When watching the early episodes it sounds like you played a more feminine angle, whereas by later episodes she sounds more dry and sarcastic. Was that intentional? And if so, what about her character is it you respond to and use to shape her voice?
Sumalee Montano: That wasn’t intentional, but I definitely appreciate your attention to detail. When we started, I focused on Arcee’s toughness, which vocally came from a certain posture and physical stance that I used (and still use) in our recording sessions. I chose a very specific way to stand in relationship to the mic/mic stand that makes me feel my strongest and most powerful. As time went on, I was able to “fill in” my physical stance with Arcee’s history and life experiences. Living through those things in my mind affects and shapes the voice.
Abby Ryan Cluster asks: As a female VO artist, how fun/hard/interesting do you find working in what some think is a "boys’ club?"
Sumalee Montano: Being an actor is interesting, fun, and continually challenging. I love my job! I don’t really think about it as being a boys’ club. Although that kind of thinking can push you to work even harder, which can be a good thing. But I basically see myself as a “guy’s girl,” so I always appreciate an opportunity to hang with the guys.
Jordan Hobbins asks: Are you planning on buying the toys?
Sumalee Montano: YES! All the toys! They’ll be great replicas of these hopefully indelible characters. There’s also a fun coincidence related to the new Arcee toy. I was talking to a friend on the East Coast who I hadn’t spoken with for years. I didn’t know she was part of the team working on Arcee’s toy packaging, and she didn’t know that I was the voice of Arcee. When I told her, she exclaimed, “Hey, I just worked on Acree’s toy earlier today!”
I love it when you discover how Transformers touches so many people’s lives and brings us together.
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