THE UNKNOWN STARS by guest Author David Perlmutter

Posted: February 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

I would like to say a few words in acknowledgement of a noble profession, one that does not get nearly as much respect as it deserves.

There have been people involved in this profession as long as films began to talk, which was exactly when their services began to be needed. And they haven’t stop talking since.

I am talking specifically about animation voice actors.

What, you say? What is that? Allow me to explain….

Voice actors are responsible for giving animated cartoon characters their voices. But their role does not simply end there. Writers may create their dialogue, and artists their physical appearance, but voice actors are responsible for filling in all of the blank spots within. They give the characters their hearts, their souls, their personalities and everything else which makes them appealing and sympathetic to an audience. In few other forms of acting is the actor so responsible for so totally immersing themselves into creating a personality for a personage that would not be functional or likeable without their input. Animation may have existed before sound, but its appeal was substantially enhanced by a number of amazing talented performers who did- and still- invest these mere drawings and sketches with the ability- for a while, anyway, to be true and understandable people in the eyes of the audience.

Okay, David, you say, if they are so important, why don’t I know who they are?

Well, that has a lot to do with the fact that animation itself has been considered a marginal art form until fairly recently. Consequently, the idea of actual “acting” existing in it beyond the odd shout, war whoop or cowbell on the soundtrack has been something that has taken even longer to be accepted. Because these people only used their voices, and not their bodies, to act, somehow they are not considered “real” actors and their work has been neglected.

I know better, though.

I have been an animation junkie from my earliest days, and, early on, I learned first hand about the importance of quality acting to the complete effect of the total animation immersion experience. It was the characters’ voices that gave me the essentials of their personality, in ways their outward appearance alone could only suggest. It was the characters’ voices that allowed me to distinguish heroes from villains, and cheer and hiss them respectively. It was also the characters’ voices that made me aware of the way their worlds worked- matters of gender, politics etc. as they existed in the narratives- and by extension, how they worked in the wider world as well. The voice of the cartoon character is equal to the eyes of the human being- the metaphorical window of the soul. And many of those souls are well worth knowing.

When I learned about acting and the theater in high school and college, I began holding the animation voice actor in higher regard. Totally immersing yourself into a role on stage and screen is one thing. But simultaneously playing as many as five or more roles at once in one series, as so many of the greats can handle, is something else entirely. Especially when this role-crossing behavior obliterates seemingly firm categorical differences like gender, race and ethnicity in the process!

I admired the voice actors of the world when I was younger, and I admire them still. They have the advantage of being involved in Hollywood while still having normal lives. We hear nothing about them signing multi-million dollar deals (though I’m sure they’d like them), nor anything about them being pursued relentlessly by the paparazzi. They are private people who happen to be involved in a very public profession, that’s all. But they perform that profession brilliantly and fans like me take their work directly to their hearts. And I’m sure that’s what they want, too.

The greatest tribute I can provide them, though, is the fact that, as a writer, I use their voices regularly as a recognition thumbprint to help me create my characters on a regular basis. A lot of my characters were inspired directly by listening to their performances, and the voices continue following me as I write my little attempts to equal their great achievements in sound. No matter how much I try to make them sound differently, when I write dialogue for my characters, they always end up sounding like my particular favorite voice actors in the end. If that’s not some kind recognition of how indelible animation voice acting can be on one person’s psyche, I don’t know what is.

It’s with these sentiments that I metaphorically raise my glass to my real life heroes, the animation voice actors, the once and future unknown stars of Hollywood.

David Perlmutter is a freelance writer living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where he has lived his whole life. His passions are American television animation (the subject of his MA thesis and a projected historical monograph), literature (especially science fiction and fantasy) and music (rhythm& blues, soul, funk and jazz.) This explains why much of his writing is as nonconventional and defiant as it is. He is challenged with Asperger’s Syndrome, but considers it an asset more than a disability.

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