It's that time of year again. Nickelodeon has opened voting for their Kids' Choice Awards, which will be broadcast on March 28th. Phineas and Ferb made the roster again, along with SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents. I don't remember what other shows were in last year, but this time, they have Adventure Time, Teen Titans Go! and the new version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Beyond that, there is only one other category where P&F is peripherally connected, and that is through Disney Infinity 2.0 being in the "Most Addicting Game" category. Phineas and Agent P were the last characters released under version 1.0, but they are still playable in 2.0.
I don't think we need to run a blog about the voting this time. A mention here is enough, with a reminder. Whatever the outcome, it's never about it being "fixed". It's simply a case that any Nickelodeon show will have an advantage because they can advertise the Awards and other networks can't, or won't because it is mentioning a competitor's network.
Head over to the KCA 2015 website if you want to see what is going on and cast your votes in the 21 categories.
Who's your hero?
Wikia announced a feature last month called the "Hero image" or "Cover image" and it replaces the "Special:Promote" feature from a couple of years ago. Basically, it's a picture that is inserted at the top of the main page. It's great for panoramic or extremely widescreen pictures like the 2.39:1 cinematic widescreen ratio.
You can read more about it in their blog. It's still in beta testing, but it sounds interesting and it got me thinking about what would be a good P&F picture that we could use there. If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments.
Wikia is also working on some other changes that we need to be aware of. They've put a lot of effort into the WYSIWYG editors, but now they're doing updates for the Classic editor, also known as Source Mode. I use Source Mode because it helps me identify errors in the page that would otherwise be missed, such as when someone puts in a picture and it's inserted in the middle of a word. You don't see that when you're reading the page, but because the person dragged and dropped the picture there, that's where it wound up in the code.
First up, there will be some color-coding to the wikitext so you can easily identify each piece of the code you're looking at. They are currently looking for wikis to try out this feature. Details are in the Syntax highlighting - helping you read and write code blog.
Second, they have already put in a change that affects how we preview pages. There's now two big buttons right above "Show changes" and the "Publish" or "Save" button. One says "Mobile" and the other says "Desktop". It's so you can see how the page will look for both kinds of devices. The drop-down menu is still available inside the preview, but now you can start off with either one. Next to that is a "Best Practices" button that takes you to a help page with advice about how to organize things better.
Wikia added the two preview buttons because more and more people are using smartphones and tablets to visit pages. The notice at the top of the preview shows it's over 50%. It's a big challenge to make a page look good on a desktop and a mobile device. Sometimes you have to choose one or the other. One particular company learned the hard way what happens when you try to force those two together.
Our main page's design hasn't been updated in several years. It may be time to see what we can rearrange or replace to make it a little more mobile friendly.
And one last change to wrap up this Crat Corner. Last month, I got an inspiration about how to automate the birthday lists. I have it set up so that the template now retrieves the list of names and birthdates based on what month it is. For example, right now it's March, so the March birthdays are retrieved.
It's working for the Community birthday list and I'll get it going for the Cast and Crew birthday list. Once the second one is done, it means that we never have to update those two templates again that are on the main page. People can just add their names to the appropriate month, or turn in a request to have it added if they're not experienced enough to add it, and as we go from one month to the next, the main page updates that part of itself automatically. Neat, eh?
The issue numbers for the newsletter are now out of sync due to me (RRabbit42) completely missing the second February newsletter. We'll get them straightened out shortly.
All tickets to Emerald City Comic Con for this year are sold out.
RRabbit42 here again. My ability to get screencaps just took a nosedive when I upgraded to iTunes version 12 and found out they don't allow QuickTime to play iTunes files any more. Can't find a way to undo this, either.
Cameo appearance alert! Someone from the P&F cast is in the film McFarland USA, currently shown in theaters. All I (KinHikari) have to say is... it's well worth watching.
After months upon months of speculation, discussion, and anticipation, it finally happened earlier this month: pitchers and catchers reported to baseball's Spring Training! (All the more special for those of us up in the frozen tundra, as this is the first true sign that spring is on its way - groundhogs be forgotten.) And something else is happening also: The Numbers Game! This is the newsletter column that breaks down the numbers of our favorite show, back with some new ones for your perusal.
The long-awaited "Act Your Age" continued Season 4 on Emoticon Monday, Ferb-ruary 9. Along the way, 712 thousand viewers found out what might have been and what actually was, earning a 0.1 rating among Adults 18-49 in the process. Exact numbers for the initial Disney Channel airing on Friday, Ferb-ruary 20 remain a secret to everybody, but based on its lead-in I would estimate it to have been even to slightly up over the previous episode "Lost in Danville / The Inator Method".
But let's try to put that viewership figure in some perspective. I was able to get Phineas and ferb ratings on Emoticon for a short time last year; during that period, none of three new episodes scored higher than 522 thousand. Even the Platypus Day marathon that dominated its week's viewership chart was likewise unable to reach the viewership of this new episode.
Looking at things another way. Emoticon averaged 428 thousand viewers in prime time over the last four weeks, a figure that "Act Your Age" well outpaced. Meanwhile, Disney Channel averaged 1.772 million viewers in the same time period, which neither of the 2015 premieres may have even matched (depending on how well the newest episode actually did). That means about four times as many viewers watched the big channel last month. If you take that 712 thousand figure and quadruple it, that gives about 2.8 million; the last Phineas and Ferb episode to actually draw that well on Disney Channel was the "Terrifying Tri-State Trilogy of Terror" all the way back on October 5, 2013. So while I wouldn't necessarily call them great ratings - as it falls short of Emoticon ratings leader Gravity Falls, which drew 1.169 million for its most recent new episode - "Act Your Age" was by no means a straggler.
With no new episodes of Phineas and Ferb scheduled at the moment, The Numbers Game heads into the archives next issue, just in time for Platypus Day 2015, falling this year on Saturday, March 7! And Perry has no shortage of adventures to look back at, but which one will it be? Even I don't know yet. Until then, leave your thoughts down below, go Brewers!, and remember...that the numbers never lie.
In the February newsletter, I went way overboard in describing an experience I had in writing something. In a way, I have to apologize to Ashley Simpson for stealing a lot of the thunder I had wanted to give her when I wrote the article. But it really was a moving experience, so I guess it was important to me to get that documented.
Since then, I've learned a few things. I want to share them with you so that if any of you are interested in writing, they may help you like they did me.
First, I did find some passages that needed to be changed or fixed. I found this by using an old technique I used to use a lot. For as much as I use computers, I still comprehend things better when I read them on paper instead of a monitor. I don't know why that works. But it matches with the fact that when I am really serious about writing, I break out pen and paper and write it out by hand. It takes longer and helps me think things through. I said before that some of my best articles for this newsletter have been because I did it that way.
Second, there is still a place for the spellchecker and grammar checker in word processors. I turn those off first thing because I can usually spot when I misspell a word and my writing style almost never conforms to what the program thinks it should be. But if I had turned those on at least one time, they would have caught a typo that was in the story for over two weeks. I kept missing it because I was so familiar with the story that I didn't see it.
Another technique is one that I just remembered from school. If you want to catch mistakes, read it backwards. Start at the last word in a paragraph and work your way to the beginning, one word at a time. I've never tried doing this, but it's another technique others might want to try.
Four, watch out for repetition. If you see a particular word or phrase being used over and over again, you need to change that. I generally try to not use distinct words and phrases more than twice. In my case, it was "flick", "flicked" and "flicking". That's one too many. So now, the horse's tail swishes instead of flicking, which is actually a more natural and more accurate description of how they move their tails when they run.
Five, it's okay to write something that no one will ever see. If you write something and it makes you happy (or sad or angry or whatever emotion you felt you needed to express at the time), that should be more important to you than if anyone else even reads it. Likewise, having a scratchpad where you can explore an idea in a separate space works really well. You can try something out and if it works, put it in the main story. If it doesn't work there, don't get rid of it. Lots of writers find that an idea that doesn't work in one spot can be used somewhere else.
Finally, there are some phrases in Sunset that prompted me to write something completely different. It was another case of being compelled to write it. I stopped what I was doing, took the hour or two to work through it, and come up with something that I am going to be sharing with my family. It's a lot shorter than Sunset, but in many ways, it's more important. Writing this second piece has helped me see how special the event was that brought the first story to light. It makes me want to have that happen again many more times in the future.
So, if the writing bug bites, my advice to you is this: don't just scratch. Look at what kind of bug has bitten you and then get a scratchpad (paper or electronic) and get the ideas down so that you can explore them later more fully and give them life.
1980 was the year that The Empire Strikes Back came out. Like a lot of kids, I was doing a Yoda impression. Mine was the "adventure/excitement, a Jedi craves not these things" line. Was that enough that I could have become a voice actor? After watching I Know That Voice, I'd have to say about 99.8% "no" and 0.2% "yes". I look back now and see I was a "one trick pony". I had my one impression and I did it the same way over and over again.
So why do I say there is a chance just slightly above zero that I could have been a voice actor? Well, that's the lesson of I Know That Voice (hereafter just called "IKTV").
It's a documentary created by John DiMaggio that helps celebrate what it is to be a voice actor. If you don't know, DiMaggio has done some very famous voices, from Bender in Futurama to Jake in Adventure Time to Doctor Drakken in Kim Possible to Marcus Fenix in Gears of War, and on, and on, and on. He's someone who has been called "the Meryl Streep of voice acting", with people saying he "can do anything".
IKTV starts off with a quick summary of how voice acting came about, tracing its roots to Chinese silk screen projections with rod puppets. In more modern times, the path goes from British musicals, vaudeville, silent movies, "talkies", cartoons and the "old-time" radio programs of the 1920s-1950s. Actors on radio programs were selected to be voice actors, because they're very much the same: everything you would see in an actor's performance in a movie has to be put into just the voice.
Throughout IKTV, there are numerous examples of how being a voice actor is so much more than someone who just reads lines and does funny voices. It's also not a "consolation prize" or a stepping stone to "real" acting.
Those last two items are in the IKTV panel from the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con that's included on the DVD as a bonus feature. Tom Kenny (SpongeBob, Peepers) told about how his neighbor asked when he was going to "step up" to real acting. James Arnold Taylor (Fred Flintstone, Johnny Test) said a director had told him they were "going to bring in the real actors later on". In both cases, there was a collective groan from both the audience members and the rest of the panel. John DiMaggio then demonstrated that if anyone were to try that on him, they might do it once, but there would not be a second time. He's a big guy and he's got the muscles to back himself up if he needs it, but I suspect that he's clever enough to make the point in other ways.
Those sorts of reactions to voice acting are very common misconceptions and worlds away from the truth. Here's some of what a voice actor has to do:
Sound as little like yourself as possible. Or, sound as little like the character you did an hour ago as possible.
Be able to sustain that character's voice for a full four-hour recording session, the standard set by the union.
In those recording sessions, record new lines, ADR (Automated dialogue replacement/"dubbing"), and re-record whatever they need to have done.
Do variations of a character in different situations. For example, as Taylor said, if you can do Michael J. Fox, can you scream as Michael J. Fox? Can you get electrocuted as Michael J. Fox? Can you get punched in the stomach as Michael J. Fox?
When doing those kinds of variations or when presented with a new situation, make adjustments quickly without having to stop and think about them.
Create a voice that is appropriate for a new character by looking at a drawing of them, reading the show bible and/or reading the script.
Find the "musicality" and rhythms in how the character speaks.
Take all the written directions about what to say and translate them into just the voice.
Take as many acting classes as you can and do as many live performances as you can (stand-up comedy, theater, etc.) so that you can build up "armor" to handle rejection better, give you more confidence, and improve your vocal acting.
If you're looking to continue a role started by someone else, do more than just sound like the character. You have to be able to put life into that character.
If you're doing a recording session for something that's already been completed, like an anime series or a video game, be able to say the same line in many different ways.
When recording a character for a video game, be able to say very similar lines over and over again. "Dialogue trees" result in things like "the elf went north", "the elf went south", "the elf went easterly". For as many possible outcomes as there are, you have to record those variations.
Treat your voice as an instrument and a muscle, taking care of it. Warm it up properly, watch what you eat and drink, and be careful about getting sick. Because if you get sick, you can't do the work and that job goes to someone else.
Be aware that each job is temporary and very short-term. Usually just for the four hours in the recording session. Long-term employment is rare.
Go through a lot of auditions. According to Richard Horvitz (Invader Zim, Daggett Beaver), you'll spend 98% of your time "doing the business of doing business, like tracking down opportunities, doing auditions, sending in the MP3s", etc. so that the other 2% of the time you "actually get to play and have fun".
If you don't happen to get a particular job, be ready to suggest another voice actor that you know has the skills for the role. You help your fellow voice actors out.
When Tom Hanks was on Inside the Actors Studio the second time, he was asked about what it was like doing voice over work (which would have been for Toy Story), Tom said that you could do 32 takes of a line, and then the director would ask for a 33rd variation on that line.
For Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Dee Bradley Baker did the voices for all of the clones. But as you listen, you hear differences in that same voice: one a little younger, one a little older, one with more swagger, etc. And there were numerous times in episodes where he had to act against himself as the different characters. That's one of his talents. He can switch between characters fluidly, whereas some other voice actors might have to do all of the lines for one character first, then all of the lines for the next character, et cetera. The bonus of doing more characters is that you get paid more. The standard contract is for three characters plus one extra, so on the day that he did seventeen different voices for one episode of Ben 10, he got paid at least four times the standard amount.
The "easy" gig
As you can see, it's a lot of work being a voice actor. And that's why my single impression of Yoda never became a career as a voice actor. I never made the effort to do anything more with it or to try different things.
But as mentioned, there are people who think it's easy to be a voice actor, and some of them are live-action actors who come in to do a role for a TV show or a movie. Most of the time, they're doing a character voice that's really just themselves. It was Tom Kenny that noted that voice actors do the opposite: sound as little like yourself as possible.
In the past, Billy West (the Red M&M, Phillip J. Fry, Stimpy) has been critical of celebrities doing voice acting. In one interview for the A.V. Club back in 2005, it was because he saw instances where a voice actor would record lines in a particular way, and then the big-name actor would come in and be given them as an example of what is needed. I also get the impression that he felt it took work away from professional voice actors.
But in IKTV, Billy also points out the other downside, which is that it gives the impression that you have to be a celebrity first and have won Oscars and Emmys before you could be a voice actor. So the "19 year old firebrand" who wants to be like Rob Paulsen or Jim Cummings may be discouraged before they even begin.
While it's not an easy job, there are many rewards. Here's just some of them:
Being able to take on roles that you couldn't otherwise play. John DiMaggio couldn't play an African-American in a live-action production, but in animation he can, making him "the blackest white guy" Grey DeLisle knows. Eric Bauza is a Filipino Canadian, but he does a great Chris Rock, and that's shown in an animated sequence of Chris Rock talking about voice acting. James Arnold Taylor looks nothing like Fred Flintstone, but he's got the job.
Being able to play roles for a much longer period of time. June Foray is still doing Rocky the Flying Squirrel at the age of 97. Tom Kenny's been running with SpongeBob for over fifteen years now.
Computers and the Internet now make it easier for voice actors to demonstrate their abilities, reach more potential employers and reach a bigger audience, as noted by Swampy.
Having some anonymity, which helps them when they want to go out in public. Jim Hanks has seen what his brother, Tom, has gone though. And while Tom handles it graciously, that's not for Jim.
Having a job that gives them many chances to stretch and test their skills.
Coming up with a last-minute idea for a character that lands them the job.
Seeing the joy when people do recognize them, because the people who love cartoons, anime, video games and the like, and want to learn more about the actor doing that a character's voice, are usually quite appreciative, kind and respectful of their work.
Seeing that their work has a profound effect on people and makes them happy. "Thank you for my childhood" was the first thing three people said before they asked their questions at the 2013 SDCC panel.
The voice actor
Voice acting has become more widely known and more respected over the years. IKTV does a great job of showing us how we've come to this point. Though I didn't include most of their parts in the documentary in this review/article, the Phineas and Ferb cast members who are featured include Dan and Swampy, Carlos Alazraqui, Kari Walhgren, Seth Green, Clancy Brown, and Dee Bradley Baker. Though he was featured in one of the promos, Diedrich Bader wasn't in the documentary.
After watching this, I have a lot more respect for Dee's abilities. Not only can he do pretty much any animal sound imaginable, he was the first person that others on the panel pointed to when someone asked for advice about how to get into voice acting. Dee has a website called I Want To Be A Voice Actor! with a lot of advice and tips, some of which he shares after being in recording sessions.
Though you can get I Know That Voice through iTunes or Amazon Instant Video, buy the DVD. That Comic-Con panel is as important in learning what it takes to be a voice actor as the main documentary is. Plus, you get other bonus features like the actors sharing personal anecdotes and tips, hearing Dee do the full monologue from Shakespeare's "All the World's a Stage" as sixteen different characters.
Shortly before I started going through this DVD (almost doing a transcription because there were so many good quotes in there), I found another DVD called Adventures in Voice Acting, Volume One. I don't think they actually ever made a volume two, but this seems to be more hands-on information about how to become a voice actor. I'm going to watch it and see if it's worthwhile to review it. It's from a few years ago, so it probably doesn't have anything to do with Phineas and Ferb, but it might still be useful to include in a newsletter.