Monday, June 2, 2008

News - 06/02/08...

Fire at Universal Studios

A large fire tore through a back lot at Universal Studios early Sunday, destroying a set from "Back to the Future," the King Kong exhibit and thousands of videos and reels in a vault

The blaze broke out on a sound stage at the theme park in a set featuring New York brownstones facades around 4:30 a.m. Sunday at the 400-acre property, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said. The fire was contained to the lot but still burning several hours later.

Roughly 40,000 to 50,000 videos and reels were in the video vault, but there are duplicates stored in a different location, said Ron Meyer, NBC Universal president and chief operating officer. Firefighters managed to recover hundreds of those titles from the vault.

"Nothing is lost forever," Meyer said.

Let’s pray this isn’t true. In addition to Universal’s own library of classic films (and Walter Lantz cartoons) the studio holds the master elements to Paramount’s pre-1950 feature films.

The videos included every film that Universal has produced and footage from television series including "Miami Vice" and "I Love Lucy."

The iconic courthouse square from "Back to the Future" was also destroyed, Freeman said, and the famous clock tower that enabled Michael J. Fox's character to travel through time was damaged.

`Star Trek' director Joseph Pevney dies at 96

Joseph Pevney, who directed some of the best-loved episodes of the original "Star Trek" television series, has died. He was 96.

Pevney died May 18 at his home in Palm Desert, said his wife, Margo.

Pevney directed 14 episodes of the 1960s series, including
"The City on the Edge of Forever," in which Capt. Kirk and Spock travel back in time to the Depression, "Amok Time", in Spock returns to his homeworld, Vulcan, for a brutal marriage ritual, and "The Trouble With Tribbles," in which the starship Enterprise is infested with cute, furry creatures.

Pevney loved the series, said his son, Jay.

"He was surprised at the longevity of it because it was not a popular series at the time; it hit its real popularity (in syndication) after it was over," he said.

Pevney directed with precision and was highly organized
"but he was very relaxed — in fact, jovial — in the way he directed," said George Takei, who played Sulu. "I enjoyed working with him."

Pevney had made his movie debut playing a killer in 1946's
"Nocturne." As an actor, he made several other film noir appearances but then turned to directing with 1950's "Shakedown."

Pevney went on to direct more than 35 films, including two memorable movies from 1957:
"Man of a Thousand Faces," which starred James Cagney as silent star Lon Chaney, and "Tammy and the Bachelor," a romantic comedy starring Debbie Reynolds that spawned her No. 1 hit record, "Tammy."

In the 1960s and '70s Pevney turned to television, directing dozens of episodes of series such as
"Wagon Train," "Fantasy Island," "The Incredible Hulk" and "Trapper John, M.D."

He retired in 1985.

Born in 1911 in New York, Pevney began his entertainment career as a boy soprano in vaudeville. For several years in the 1930s and '40s, he acted in or directed Broadway productions. He came to Los Angeles after serving in the Army in World War II.

Star Trek producer Robert H. Justman dies at 81

Now comes word that one of STAR TREK's unsung heroes is gone. Robert H. Justman was a producer on The Original Series as well as the inaugural season of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. He was 81.

Known for guiding with a firm-but-even hand, Justman demonstrated vast appreciation for the creative process. Producers will often micro-manage budgets with little concern for the impact their scrutiny will have on story lines, characterization, atmosphere, and so forth. Justman worked feverishly to preserve, and even enhance, the intent of writers and creators...inventively laboring to realize their ideas whenever, and however, possible.

Sometimes his contributions were subtle - like conjuring a way to create "alien" skies on planetary sets by using gels & lights instead of significantly more costly (and sometimes cost prohibitive) painted backgrounds. In other instances, his impact was both profound and indelible - like his campaign to cast a moderately known British actor named Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard when
THE NEXT GENERATION was ramping up. Many weren't so sure...Justman was.

Justman wrote a great deal about his adventures on (and contributions to) Star Trek in a book entitled INSIDE STAR TREK: THE REAL STORY, co-authored with Herbert F. Solow...Desilu's Executive in Charge of Production for The Original Series. You can find it HERE.

"There seems to be a big 'Star Trek' convention and everyone is going,"..."Everyone is getting beamed up."

...says Justman's son Jonathan about the recent passing of his father and other STAR TREK alum, in an LA Times article you can find HERE.

Cameras Roll on the Wachowskis’ Ninja Assassin

As their live-action adaptation of the anime series Speed Racer flounders in theaters, Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski have begun filming a new movie titled Ninja Assassin for Warner Bros. Once again teaming with director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta), the brothers are producing the action flick, along with Joel Silver and Grant Hill. The script was penned by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski.

Ninja Assassin stars Korean pop star Rain (Speed Racer) as Raizo, one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, he was trained to kill by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is
considered a myth. Haunted by the Clan’s merciless execution of his friend, Raizo breaks free and vanishes, only to emerge later to exact his revenge. The cast also includes Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World s End), Ben Miles (V for Vendetta), legendary martial arts performer Sho Kosugi (Revenge of the Ninja) and Rick Yune (Die Another Day).

The Wachowskis are known for giving audiences inventive action sequences and liberally using digital visual effects to tell a story, and this film should be no exception. As with
Speed Racer, principal photography is taking place at Babelsberg Studios and on location in various parts of Berlin. It’s not yet known if the shoot will rely as heavily on green screen work as Speed Racer did. Ninja Assassin is a Warner Bros. Pictures presentation in association with Legendary Pictures and Dark Castle Ent.

EM.Entertainment Sold to Studio 100

EM.Sport Media AG has sold its entertainment division, previously known as EM.Entertainment, to Belgian media company Studio 100. A major provider of children’s and youth entertainment in the Benelux region, Studio 100 has agreed shell out $41 million Euro ($63.5 million), a sale price that remains subject to alteration until the transaction is finalized. EM.Sport Media will also retain future proceeds from claims against the insolvency administrator of KirchMedia GmbH & Co. KG a.A. i.l., amounting to approximately $3.8 to $6.2 million.

Selling off its entertainment business will allow EM.Sport Media to again focus its efforts on expanding its sports activities. The company has also increased its shares in Highlight Communications to 37.6%, and plans to drive both companies forward to create a leading media group within the European sports, film and TV production sectors.

The transaction remains subject to the approval of the antitrust authorities in Germany and Austria, as well as the Bavarian Regulatory Authority for Commercial Broadcasting (BLM) and the Commission on Concentration in the Media (KEK). EM.Sport Media was originally seeking $132 million for the entertainment unit, but had trouble finding a taker at that price.

EM.Sport Media’s distribution library includes the animated kid shows Master Raindrop, a co-production with Big Communications and Flux Animation Studio; Zigby from Greenpatch Prods., Big Communications and Thunderbird Films; Croco Loco, a co-production between EM.Entertainment and Peekaboo Prods. GmbH; Staines Down Drains from Flying Bark Prods.; and Zeke’s Pad, produced by My Pad Prods. Inc., a partnership between Bardel Ent., Leaping Lizard Prods. Inc. and Avrill Stark Ent. PTY. Ltd, a division of Flying Bark Prods.

9 Story Pacts with Licensing Shop

Canadian entertainment production and distribution company 9 Story Ent. has named The Licensing Shop its exclusive worldwide (excluding Germany) licensing and merchandising representative. The first properties set to be presented at the 2008 International Licensing Show in New York City are Almost Naked Animals and Best Ed, two new animated series aimed at kids 6-11. Product categories identified for the initial phase of the licensing and merchandising plan include social expression, novelty toys, publishing, apparel and video games.

Almost Naked Animals (52x11) is an animated comedy series based on the popular website The series features a cast of cheeky animals dressed in underwear led by a hospitality-challenged dog named Howie.

Best Ed (52x11) is a 2D comedy series revolving around the unlikely friendship between the always helpful Ed, a dog, and his squirrel pal, Buddy. The series is an original Teletoon production and has been presold to Cartoon Network Europe, Middle East and Africa, as well as ABC Australia. The first completed episodes were recently presented at MIPTV.

The Licensing Shop Inc. is a Toronto-based agency specializing in the merchandising and management of entertainment brands. The company was founded in January of 2006 by Stephen Fowler, former president of 3DO Europe, and Nancy Fowler, former VP of worldwide licensing for Viacom Consumer Products and president of DIC Consumer Products.

Founded in 2001, 9 Story Ent. produces such popular animated shows as
Peep and the Big Wide World and Skyland. The company is led by exec producers Vince Commisso and Steven Jarosz, and can be fund on the web at

New Anime Coming To Sci-Fi Network

Aniplex and Bandai Entertainment announced they have licensed the television and digital distribution rights to the series Gurren Lagann to Starz Media, which has set the series for its US premier on Sci-Fi Channel July 28 at 11:00 p.m. eastern.

Two episodes will air each week on Sci-Fi during a 14-week run in the Ani-Monday block, which features leading programming from Manga Entertainment, a division of Starz Media. The series will run through late October. Sci-Fi will air a newly prepared English-language version. The production studio for the English version will be Bang Zoom Entertainment.

The 27-episode science fiction, mecha action series centers on Simon, Kamina, and Yoko, youths who live in an underground village in the future. They become embroiled in a conflict with surface Beastmen who pilot mech known as Gunmen, one of which they take for themselves and name GURREN, and lead the battle against the Beastmen. Recently the series won “best television series” and “best character design’ at the 2008 Tokyo Animation Fair (TAF).

Newsarama Interviews Larry Kenney, Voice of "ThunderCats" Lion-O

Newsarama's Animated Shorts has interviewed Larry Kenney, best known as the voice of ThunderCats leader Lion-O. Kenney discusses how his career started on radio with Don Imus, how the decision to produce ThunderCats in New York City led to his casting, and the moving letters he's received from numerous fans of th show.

Larry Kenney looks like he’s having a very good time. His booth at the recent Florida Super Con constantly has at least a half-dozen or so fans in front of it, and he’s more than willing to sign autographs, pose for pictures and talk about the days when he was the voice of the King of the ThunderCats, Lion-O.

“It’s wonderful,” he admits to me later that day, over a couple of cold drinks.
“The nostalgia is just amazing. I mean these days I meet both adults and kids, and all of them are fans of ThunderCats. I get emails from people from all walks of life. Many say that ThunderCats was more than entertainment to them. It helped them develop their character.”

As one can imagine, Kenney is a bit of a character himself. He’s actually an old-school radio man who started as a DJ in 1963.

“I started out in radio when I was 15 years old in Peoria, Illinois, in 1963,” he recalls. “I had a real Midwestern accent, short “a’s,” flat vowels and all that. I worked in Cleveland for three years at KYC, from 1970 to 73, when it transitioned into WWWE for a local legend named Nick Miletti. From there I worked in Chicago and then New York. I was a disk jockey until 1972. It was at that time I decided to move over into voice over work.”

His voice work drew attention of Don Imus, who quickly hired him.

“I stayed with him for the next 35 years,” says Kenney. “He was my MAIN man. He was a giant part of my personal income. I would do voices like Nixon, General Patton, Ted Kennedy and Presley. I would write and do all these skits with him. He was everything you could imagine, good and bad. He is what you hear. He can be nasty sometimes. He was also very generous. He gave me lots of creative freedom.”

Then he would make his mark, in a field that was actually pretty new to him, animation.

“It was fun!,” says Kenney. “Being a New York actor, I wasn’t used to doing animated shows at that time. Most were being done in California, in L.A. Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera, all of them, were there. So when Rankin-Bass decided to do ThunderCats in New York, a lot of people were actually going around asking why they were doing it there. Personally, I’m glad they did.

“I remember when I got the call to audition. Actually, everyone involved was surprised they got the call. The cast was made up of a very unusual group of actors. We all wound up working well together and it was a lot of fun. In fact, I still can’t think of a more fun thing to do than a cartoon series.”

Even by the standards of the mid-80s, the show was exceptional. The superlative animation was from a Japanese studio called
Topcraft, which evolved into Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli shortly thereafter. Besides Kenney as Lion-O, the cast included such veterans as Earl Hammond (Jaga), Peter Newman (Tygra, Wily Kat), Earle Hyman (Panthro) and Lynne Lipton (Cheetara, Wily Kit). In fact, this core cast would be heard over and over again in many of the ‘Cats allies and villains.

It was the story of a group of aliens who resembled giant cats that really caught the fans attention. Lion-O was forced to be king, even being forced to mature into his adult form way before his time. In his heart and mind, he was still a pre-teen in a man’s body. He also had his incredible weapon, the Sword of Omens, which gave him incredible side powers. What kid didn’t like that? Then there were the parental figures in the forms of Tygra, Cheetara and Panthro as well as the comic relief of Lion-O’s former nanny Snarf and the Wily Kats. Finishing it all off were the villains, lead by the ancient Mumm-Ra. Yes, there were others who gave the ‘Cats fits, but Mumm-Ra and his equally decrepit pet Ma-Mutt that were the ones who really kept things going.

But what clinched the entire series is its rich background and constructed history. The tale of Third Earth was every bit as incredible as the
ThunderCats themselves. It was a universe ripe with incredibly bizarre tales in its own right and we managed to see quite a lot of it over the next five years. One that is still open to many more possibilities.

“It’s now recognized as an animation classic,” Kenney says proudly. “I mean I did some other animation work, like I did Silver Hawks and a show called Tiger Sharks, but by the time we did that, the formula was getting pretty old. Also, the whole thing was really watered down. It was like doing the sequel to a sequel to a sequel.”

What amazes Kenney though is the show had a very interesting side benefit. One he never imagined.

“In the last several years I started getting emails from a lot of people,” says Kenney. “They told me how they didn’t have, for lack of better words, very good childhoods. You can tell from the letters they either suffered from abuse or were neglected. I wasn’t just one or two letters. It was a lot. ThunderCats was one of the few good things of their childhoods. It gave them escape. It helped them get over whatever they were going through. It helped them grow up to be doctors and lawyers. I know how it sounds hokey, but I got them.

“To me it was nothing more than a job. Yes, I liked it. It was fun. It was not excessively violent like a lot of other shows. The episodes usually presented the characters with problems and they’d try to solve them. We didn’t think too much about it back then. We also were lucky that it was a good, quality show.”

These days, Kenney is keeping himself busy. He is the voice of
Count Chocula and The CoCo Puffs bird. While he wouldn’t answer this one, one gets the feeling that if Imus ever gets back on the air, he’ll be doing his skits again. Imus is loyal like that.

“[I’m doing] Pretty much the same, except for Imus,” he acknowledges. “I’m doing a lot of voice over work. That’s mostly what I do. I’m also working on a pilot for a new animated series, something called Redneck Space Track. We’ve done about 14 episodes.”

There’s even talk of
Redneck Space Track eventually going to one channel or another. We’ll have to wait for further announcements on that.

In the meantime, Lion-O has reappeared in the oddest of places. Kenney himself voiced the lion king in a recent cameo appearance of
Family Guy. Lion-O has also been neutered, living in a trailer park with Cheetara and leaving a host of villains stranded on an L.A. highway in Robot Chicken.

“I don’t try to keep up with animation these days,” he admits. “I only do it when I can. I usually rely on my son Tanner to keep me up to speed. When Seth McFarlane wanted me to do a guest appearance as Lion-O on Family Guy, if Tanner didn't tell me what the show was about, I probably would have passed on it. In fact, previously I had only seen about two minutes of it and thought it was too loud, vulgar and violent. I didn’t want to be associated with it. Then Tanner straightened me out about it. Who knows? Maybe next I’ll do The Simpsons.”

From the looks of the fans who were surrounding his table that weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised.

New International Hellboy II Poster

Empire Online has premiered a new international poster for Universal Pictures' Hellboy II: The Golden Army, opening in theaters on July 11. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (upcoming The Hobbit and its sequel), the sequel stars Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Seth MacFarlane, Anna Walton, Brian Steele, Roy Dotrice and John Hurt.

You can see the full poster by clicking the image below. For more previously-released international posters and images, go

Full Incredible Hulk Gallery Online

Universal Pictures and Marvel Studios have provided with the full gallery of photos for director Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk, opening in theaters on June 13. The action-thriller stars Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell and William Hurt.

You can view the 2-page gallery by clicking here!

Frank Miller's New Spirit Blog!

Superhero Hype! has your exclusive first look at The Spirit writer/director Frank Miller's ninth Production Blog in which he addresses the fans' concerns about his adaptation of the Will Eisner comic. Opening December 25, the action-adventure-romance stars Gabriel Macht, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Paz Vega, Jaime King, Dan Lauria, Stana Katic, Johnny Simmons and Louis Lombardi.

here to read the entry!

Hoodwinked sequel coming in January 2010

The Weinstein Company set January 15, 2010 as the release date for Hoodwinked 2: Hood vs. Evil which will be directed by animator Michael D’Isa-Hogan (Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Home on the Range, Looney Tunes: Back in Action). A star-studded cast was already announced for the sequel to the 2005 sleeper hit: Heroes‘ Hayden Panettiere will replace Anne Hathaway as Red and will be joined by Joan Cusack (Witch), Glenn Close (Granny), Patrick Warburton (The Wolf), David Ogden Stiers (Nicky Flippers), Andy Dick (Boingo), Benjy Gaither (Japeth the Goat), Martin Short (The Woodsman), Wayne Newton (Jimmy Ten Strings), David Alan Grier (Troll), Amy Poehler (Gretel), and Bill Hader (Hansel). Hoodwinked 2: Hood vs. Evil will find teen Red Riding Hood who will be training in a distant land with a mysterious, covert group called the Sister Hoods. When Red and the Wolf get called upon by Nick Flippers the head of the Happily Ever After Agency over to investigate the disappearance of Hansel and Grendel.

New cast and more updates on Tinker Bell movie

Bye bye Brittany Murphy! Tinker Bell will magically get a new voice in her first feature film due October 28th on DVD and Blu-ray. MovieWeb reports that Tinker Bell now stars Mae Whitman as the title character, along with the voices of Raven-Symone (Iridessa), Kristen Chenoweth (Rosetta), Angelica Huston (Queen Clarion), America Fererra and Lucy Liu (likely to voice Fawn and SilverMist respectively). This first direct-to-video feature in the Disney Fairies franchise will feature several special features including a magical guide to Pixie Hollow; deleted scenes with introduction by the filmmaker; a Creating Pixie Hollow featurette; as well as enhanced BD Live Network interactive features on the Blu-ray version. Here’s the official movie synopsis for ya: “Long before Peter Pan and the Lost Boys soared into Never Land, the world’s most beloved fairy and her friends were creating their own special magic. For the very first time in film, Tinker Bell opens the doors to Pixie Hollow, a secret hideaway deep in the heart of Never Land, where the Disney Fairies make their home. Have you ever wondered how a flower gets its color…or pondered the source of a dew drop … or contemplated from where rainbows originate? It’s all the work of fairies! This landmark motion picture from DisneyToon Studios reveals the story of Tinker Bell’s early life in the fantastic world of Pixie Hollow. Each fairy is born with a special talent, whether it’s making flowers grow, giving fireflies their light or tracing beautiful patterns into a winter morning’s frost. Tinker Bell thinks her fairy talent as a “tinker” isn’t as special or important, because tinkers don’t go to the mainland like the other fairies. But when Tink tries to change who she is, she creates nothing but disaster! With encouragement from her friends Fawn, Iridessa, Rosetta and Silvermist, Tink learns that the key to solving her problems is found in her unique abilities … and discovers that when you stay true to yourself, magical things can happen.”

Update: DVD Town points out to two great Tinker Bell videos: make sure to check out this clip of John Lasseter introducing Tinker Bell’s “first words” as well as the movie’s latest trailer.

Be an Igor!

The official site for the upcoming animated comedy Igor currently has a new contest titled “Be An Igor”. The grand prize winner of the contest will get the chance to lend their voice to the new film, as well as be featured on the eventual DVD release. Four runner-ups will also have their entries included on the DVD, and will receive an Igor-themed prize package. To enter the contest, you are required to film your best Igor impression. Several videos of previous entries can be viewed and rated on the site as well. Igor hits theaters on September 19th.

Kung Fu Panda prizes up for grabs

Radio stations nationwide are hosting
online contests, giving you a chance to win some cool Mattel toys from the upcoming DreamWorks Animation film.

Animation books reviews

Head over to the SF Gate to check out Charles Solomon’s reviews of two new books about the Pixar studio: David Price’s The Pixar Touch and Karen Paik’s To Infinity and Beyond: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios. Meanwhile, AWN takes a look at Don Peri’s new book Working with Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists.

Disney and John Lasseter going back to female characters with Tinker Bell

The L.A. Times takes a look at the challenge that Tinker Bell might represent for the John Lasseter-run Disney studio: “The female character’s success should be an interesting test for Lasseter, whose Pixar animated films over the past decade have largely catered to boys. Somehow Pixar and parent company Disney have managed to largely overlook a marketplace filled with little girls fixated on princesses and fairies.”

Jack Black discusses his role as Po in Kung Fu Panda

The actor tells
Daily Camera that “in a way, I feel like this is my most fleshed out and the most satisfied I’ve been with a role. Where a lot of times, on most movies, I have a lot of leftover stuff that I didn’t feel I totally nailed as much as I wanted to. I had no regrets on this one, though, no parts where I was like, I wish I could have done this better.”

New motion capture techniques give filmmakers greater flexibility

Variety takes a look at “newer, less-obtrusive options” for performance capture.

Another Panda clip

An exclusive new clip from
Kung Fu Panda has appeared on Latino Review. This clip centers on the Furious Five, a group of martial arts masters, and their intense training room. Kung Fu Panda hits theaters on June 6th.

Cartoon Network Planning To Lure Young Boys

Parents of children beware: it seems that Cartoon Network, in its middle age, has developed a fascination with young boys. A recent article in Variety, describing the new direction of network, sounds off the alarms with the headline “Cartoon Network Eyes Young Males.” In it, various Cartoon Net execs try to justify their new perversion by explaining that the network “has a strength with boys” and that they want to rebuild themselves as “the home for boys.”

Most disturbingly, the writer of the article warns that Cartoon Network has
“set their sights on male teens and tweens” and plans to have boys’ action shows “up the wazoo.” After years of masquerading around as a network that offered cartoons to viewers of all ages and genders, they’ve finally succumbed to their true feelings and revealed plans to seduce young boys exclusively into watching their channel with enticing boy candy like Ben 10, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Remember, the next time you see Cartoon Network lurking around a school playground, it may not be as innocent as it looks. They like young boys now.


Fly Me To The Moon

It’s getting crowded in outer space. In addition to
Wall•E and Space Chimps, nWave Pictures is releasing Fly Me To The Moon, a 3-D animated family film this August in Imax Theatres (hence the overt science angle). Trailer below, production blog here.


Harvey Comic Art exhibit

The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco will be presenting a major exhibit of Harvey Comics artwork, “From Richie Rich to Wendy the Witch: The Art of Harvey Comics” from June 28 through November 30. Casper, Wendy, Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Sad Sack, Joe Palooka, Little Dot, Little Audrey and many more will be showcased with original art from various Harvey comic books and merchandise by stalwarts such as Warren Kremer (1921-2003), who along with animator Steve Muffatti (1880-1968), defined the Harvey look.

The exhibition features artwork by Warren Kremer, Ernie Col√≥n, Sid Couchey, Howard Post, Fred Rhoads, Ham Fisher, Dom Sileo, Marty Taras, and many more. Image above, a Bill Tytla Little Audrey gag drawing, will not be in the show. Details regarding the opening reception and other upcoming Harvey events will be announced shortly on the Museum’s website.


"ReBoot" to Return in Online Comics and Trilogy of Animated Movies

Rainmaker Entertainment Inc. (formerly Mainframe Entertainment Inc) has re-launched the website, announcing the return of the popular CGI Saturday morning animated show in an online comic series and a planned trilogy of CGI animated feature films.

Autobot Jazz Returning for Transformers 2?

At the beginning of the year, director Michael Bay
said that Jazz wouldn't be back for Transformers 2, but it looks like things have changed. writes:

The Pontiac Solstice vehicle prop of Autobot Jazz arrived on the set of Transformers 2 earlier today. In addition we've received confirmation from a second tipster that Darius McCrary, the voice of Movie Jazz, is now on set as well.

Filming for the sequel is now taking place in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at the former Bethlehem Steel site.

Disney and Pixar: a Hollywood marriage that works?

The New York Times takes an interesting look at the surprisingly smooth integration of Pixar into Disney two years after their merger. Among other victories, the paper points out that while Cars racked up a relatively low (to Pixar’s standards) $460 million in global ticket sales, the franchise generated $5 billion in sales of related retail products. Which explains why a Cars virtual world is opening on the Internet, a Cars ice-skating show will begin touring the nation in September, and work is under way to bring an entire Cars experience to the Disneyland Resort in California. As for the 2012 theatrical sequel, Cars 2, it “will take Lightning McQueen and his pals on a tour of foreign countries.” The NY Times also points out that John Lasseter is no longer opposed to outsourcing some direct-to-DVD animation to India, “a departure from its rigid stance that outside animators could not deliver the necessary quality.” And although some bloodletting has been involved in Pixar’s efforts to rebuild the studio — the original director of Bolt was replaced, resulting in some hurt feelings — John Lasseter said he was pleased with the way the transformation was progressing. “We were very nervous coming in, but to see the change has been amazing. Disney has become a filmmaker-led studio and not an executive-led studio. We are very proud of that.” John’s team has heavily reworked Bolt, the tale of a Hollywood dog star who becomes lost in New York and has to make his way back to California, by among other things playing up a wickedly funny side character, a hamster. Additional story details are also revealed in the article about Pixar’s Up, “a comedy about a cranky, cane-wielding 78-year-old who transports his home to exotic locales by attaching hundreds of helium-filled balloons.” As for Disney’s plans for hand-drawn animation? They are “unclear, with only one project currently announced: The Princess and the Frog. (…) A Disney spokeswoman said animators were deeply immersed in marrying older hand-drawn techniques with new technology for future movies, adding that plans for a new headquarters for Disney’s Burbank animators were slowly progressing.” Meanwhile, Wall-E, which features long sequences without dialogue, is under extra pressure to perform at the box office because of soft initial receipts for a recent Disney film, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Says Ed Catmull, “it’s some of the best work I’ve ever seen. I am confident it will be the next success story for Disney and Pixar.”

Verizon Internet to Add Manga Entertainment Anime

The premium channel operator Starz Media, film distributor Anchor Bay, and anime licensee Manga Entertainment have launched a subscription-based download-on-demand service with Verizon Communications that will give Verizon high-speed Internet customers access to over 3,000 titles from their catalogs, including movies, Manga Entertainment anime (films, OVAs and series), sports videos, and other content. The service will also feature a live feed of the main Starz cable channel. The subscription price for the Starz Play service is set at US$5.99 a month. In addition, customers of Verizon's FIOS TV will get access to all 16 Starz movie channels, as well as the associated video-on-demand options.

Starz is already operating its own Vongo service, with anime offerings including
Blood: The Last Vampire, Ghost in the Shell, and Street Fighter II: The Movie. However, Vongo subscriptions are priced at US$9.99 a month, and according to the latest statistics, that service only has about 315,000 users.

Gregory Noveck on Batman Gotham Knight

Warner Home Video has provided us with another interview on Batman Gotham Knight. This time, DC Comics Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck discusses the July 8 animated DVD release. Below it, you'll find new images focusing on the wide array of spectacular backgrounds throughout the movie:

DC Universe original animated movies are created by a unique collaboration between four diverse units within the Warner Bros. family – Warner Premiere, Warner Home Video, Warner Bros Animation and, the source of the characters and many of the stories, DC Comics. Leading the charge for the latter group is Gregory Noveck, Senior Vice President, Creative Affairs for the iconic comics company, and credited as Executive in Charge of Production for DC Comics on all of the DC Universe films.

Noveck was instrumental in launching
"Batman Gotham Knight" into production, guiding the team toward its original concept and recruiting an amazing array of writing talent for the project. It proved to be a most interesting production at every turn – including diverging from many of the traditional processes to bridge the creativity between the writers, the production team at Warner Bros. Animation and the directors and animators at three individual studios in Japan.

As Noveck says, the end result is even more intriguing, inspiring and visually stimulating – and he looks forward to witnessing the reaction of Batman fans across the planet. His first opportunity will come at Wizard World Chicago on June 28 when he moderates the panel following the world premiere of
"Batman Gotham Knight."

"Batman Gotham Knight" will arrive July 8, 2008 on DVD and Blu-Ray disc, and will also be available that day On Demand via digital cable and for download through broadband sites.

Noveck explained the origins of
"Batman Gotham Knight," his sentiments on the movie, and his thoughts on how it will be received by fans in a short interview this week.

Question: How did this film originate, particularly in terms of recruiting such a fantastic group of writers and animators?

Gregory Noveck answers:
When we decided to make this film, we wanted to get the best Japanese animators and the best Batman writers we could. David Goyer was an obvious choice, having written "Batman Begins" and the story for "The Dark Knight" and knowing Batman so well. Jordan Goldberg had worked with the Nolans extensively on the films and was a natural to help us conceive the story. Then we said, "Who has written some of the best Batman comics?" and Brian Azzarello and Greg Rucka immediately came to mind. We wanted a screenwriter with a gritty, realistic tone, and we thought of Josh Olson, coming off an Academy Award nomination for "A History of Violence." And then we said, "Is there someone that has been involved with Batman for a long time and never gotten the chance to really go edgy with the character?" Alan Burnett was the easy call there. Amazingly, everything fell into place. Everyone was our first choice, everyone said yes, and we ended up with an awesome lineup.

Question: Do you have a favorite segment amongst the six?

Gregory Noveck answers:

All of the segments have a special appeal to me for different reasons – from Greg Rucka's Gotham Central aspect to Brian Azzarello showing us a side of Batman we've never seen before, to Burnett's showcase of Deadshot. It's all pretty dazzling. Conceptually, my favorite is probably Josh Olson's opening segment because you get the unique, individual perception of Batman through the eyes of several people. The entire movie is really about that theme – how Batman is viewed from other perspectives – and that theme succeeds on many different levels.

Question: Does the final visual product match what you envisioned when the film was initially discussed?

Gregory Noveck answers:
The look of the film ended up being something I couldn't have imagined. The idea was to bring in some of these really well known Japanese animators, people who might have always wanted to work on Batman and never had the opportunity, and just let them have at it. There were certain limitations on what they could do – in terms of staying within the styles. They couldn't put him in red, not that they wanted to. But what they did really exceeded anything beyond what I'd imagined. They gave Batman so many new, different looks, and still kept him recognizable as Batman, and that's what we wanted.

The opening segment – and the very first Batman that audience will see in the film – is a very good example of the limitlessness of the animators' creativity. To see that for the first time was strange, but really cool. Not just his physical appearance as a shadow morphing into the Batman, but when he turns toward the camera and gives that first look, it really catches you. At first, it was strange to see – but when you put it in the perspective of that image being seen through a kid's eyes, then it makes perfect sense. And that segment has grown to be the most visually arresting. I like the Batman in Jordan Goldberg's
"Field Test" segment because he reminds me of the G-Force/Battle of the Planets cartoons when I was a kid. Batman has such a sleek, high-tech appearance – I just love the look of him in that segment.

Question: You know the Batman and comics fans as well as anyone. How do you think the fans will react to this Batman film?

Gregory Noveck answers:
I think fans will be enthralled with the film's strong blend of original, never-before-seen interpretations of Batman and some very familiar aspects of the character. The visuals of this film are amazing, particularly the unique perspectives of Batman and the detailed, intriguing visions of Gotham City. At the same time, fan favorite Kevin Conroy keeps Batman grounded in familiar territory with his renowned voice – as does the inclusion of both villains like Scarecrow and Killer Croc, and allies like Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Lucius Fox and Crispus Allen of Gotham Central fame. It's a great mix and I think, from the opening moments to the closing credits, fans will be blown away.

Chopa, Superman's next love interest?

It seems unlikely that they would've begun casting for the film already - but then again, a source did tell me this week to expect some "Superman" news very soon, so maybe there is something to this? - but according to Zee News, Bryan Singer is eyeing Indian actress Priyanka Chopra for a role in the forthcoming "Superman : The Man of Steel".

According to the site, Chopa has been offered the role of Superman's love interest, some sort of scientist, in the new movie.

If the film has really inched that far ahead, in that they're already casting, my hat's off to the filmmakers - they've kept this quieter than a poor man at an auction.

RoboCop 3-D?

A 3D “Robocop” movie!? Suddenly my interest in a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s original film just frittered into the red area....'ll be talking to some of the chaps involved in the original film – for the new “Starship Troopers” film – in the next couple of weeks, so hope to get more on this then, but in the meantime, lets just be happy that MGM simply aren’t remaking the cult classic for the hell of it… they’re going to shake it up a little! Nothing like seeing every nut and bolt that lies under the helmet, hey?with 3D, it's possible!

"'RoboCop" would be great in 3-D, as would something we're hoping to announce soon," MGM's Mary Parent tells IndieWire.

Read what 'Nash' from Robocop Archive has to say about the new film here.

Bolt teaser trailer debuting this month

Do not expect a teaser for Pixar’s Up to be attached to copies of Wall•E, according to JV Pixar News. Instead the first trailer of Disney’s own Bolt will debut in front of Pixar’s latest film. Check out JV Pixar News for more updates on everything Pixar, including the new soundtrack cover artwork for Wall•E.

Dustin Hoffman discusses Kung Fu Panda, The Tale of Despereaux

Dustin Hoffman gave some advice to the makers of Kung Fu Panda via the Hartford Courant: “Anyone who does animation, who is involved with this extraordinarily intricate process, has to have real emotional issues and I hope you get help.” And if his Panda performance didn’t work? Hoffman smiles. “It’s the animators’ fault!” The 70-year-old, two-time Academy Award winner seems to be on a kids’ jag right now. He provides the words of an animated rat in The Tale of Despereaux due out Christmastime. It’s a given that Hoffman provides full input into any of his characters, whether flesh and blood or imagination and pixels. Artistic differences have tended to simmer instead of boil. “I never have fought on the set with the director,” explains the L.A. native and Strasberg grad. “You draw the line. They are the director, the captain of the ship, and you don’t show disrespect. You work it out privately.”

3-D “a revelation” for Sigourney Weaver

Sigourney Weaver suspects that director James Cameron’s epic science fiction adventure, Avatar, will change Hollywood forever because of the stunning new 3-D technology that Cameron has perfected. “It was quite an adventure,” the actress tells CanWest News Service. “We were in New Zealand for a lot of it, where I’d never worked. We were working at Peter Jackson’s studio with his crew. It was a demanding shoot but it was very exhilarating because we were all doing something we’d never done before. We’d run off and watch these 3-D dailies… and they were so beautiful! I don’t know why people haven’t used 3-D for a legitimate picture before - it’s always been something like Flash Gordon. But these scenes were really about something, played beautifully by our young actors, and to see them in a 3-D context was a revelation to me. It’s such a natural step forward for our business. I think kids soon will be saying: `I don’t want to see that movie - it’s flat.”‘ Sigourney Weaver, whose friendship with Cameron dates back to Aliens some 20 years ago, felt as though she was embarking on her own adventure when she signed up for his inter-planetary epic and was plunged into a world of digital animation, motion-capture technology, up-to-the-minute virtual reality techniques, spectacular live action sequences - all of it employing a 3-D process which took her breath away. “I’m so fond of Jim personally. He loves actors. He’s a good director. He has no ego about his writing. He works in primary colours and it’s always based on really strong themes, so it’s a real challenge to deliver characters of the size he wants in a subtle way. But I had a great time working with him. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years, and we picked up as if we’d never been apart - like an old married couple.” While filming Avatar, in which she plays an inter-planetary botanist named Dr. Grace Augustine, Sigourney loved to watch James Cameron work. “He’d invented these cameras. He operated them on almost every shot - and they’re huge. And he had so much to do with the design and the whole concept of this different world. He invented so many of the creatures - I just can’t believe what he’s capable of. It’s going to be really awesome.” To a degree, she ended up feeling that the character she was playing in Avatar was a facsimile of the driven director himself. “He’d called me up and we had a long talk about what he’d not been doing and what he had been doing. And then he said he really wanted me to see this character he had. He’d thought about making it into a man but decided in the end he wanted it to be a woman - he wanted it to be me. I’ve teased him that I’m playing Jim Cameron in the movie with his kind of brilliant scientific approach: driven, idealistic, perfectionist - but with a great heart underneath.” Sigourney Weaver’s voice can be heard in two animated films this year: Wall•E as well as The Tale of Despereaux which she will be narrating.

Bollymation’s upcoming boom

Variety thinks India may lead medium’s next creative wave and tells you why. The online article also offers an exclusive first look at the Disney short Glago’s Ghost, about a Russian border guard spies an alien during his shift.

Very first animated project turns 100

Debate flares whenever someone tries to identify the world’s first animated film, which means some will surely take exception as the Annecy fest gives the honor to Frenchman Emile Cohl this time, celebrating 100 years since the debut of the artist’s landmark toon Fantasmagorie. It was on Aug. 17, 1908, that Gaumont released Cohl’s two-minute animated short. Read more about it here.

Iron Man Reaches $520 Million Worldwide

Internationally, Iron Man made $8 million to bring its foreign total to $243 million and worldwide total to $520 million. has posted the weekend box office estimates and Iron Man dropped down to fourth in its fifth weekend:

Marvel Studios and Paramount's Iron Man added another $14 million its fifth weekend in fourth to bring its domestic total to $276.6 million. The Robert Downey Jr. starrer was budgeted at $140 million.

Click here to get more box office stats.

Exclusive: Zimmer On "Dark Knight" Score

Hans Zimmer has been responsible for some of the most iconic film music from the past two decades, from Driving Miss Daisy and Lion King, to more recent scores such as Batman Begins, Kung Fu Panda and his upcoming Dark Knight.

One of the hardest working and prolific composers in Hollywood, the German-born musician still has the boyish enthusiasm of his work, while at the same time balancing career with a life. "Balance is for the times when you're out of work," Zimmer says laughingly on the other end of the phone from his office, where he is been busy promoting the Dark Knight soundtrack. "But let's just put it into perspective. It's not like coal mining, where you have to get up at three in the morning, strap on the pit helmet and go underground and break your back. This is actually something that, frighteningly enough, I really want to do and it's got nothing to do with success, but everything to do with that I genuinely like writing music for movies. I just think I'm a lucky bastard and as long as they're letting me, I'm going to do it."

Zimmer has composed or supervised hundreds of musical compositions in career that began in the late 80s. The composer is circumspect when asked how he avoids repeating himself. "It's very simple. You spend hours in frustration trying to make something that fits and I think it's been the same it's ever been. You try to find a singular tone for the thing, try to come up with ideas that are appropriate, and at the same time, original. Of course it's difficult to avoid repetition. I mean, part of it is style, part of it is trying to solve questions you have in your head, so you keep going back to certain intellectual themes. Of course you try to avoid repetition and the funny thing with sequels is, you're required a certain amount of repetition but at the same time, you're trying to reinvent it, throw the whole thing out, rejuvenate it and make it appropriate for whatever the story is at that moment in time," Zimmer says, referring to the new Batman film The Dark Knight, the score of which he and collaborator James Newton Howard completed.

The music in Dark Knight is a collaboration between these two venerable giants in the Hollywood music industry. Zimmer says that the secret of a successful musical collaboration is "friendship. Part of the secret of writing a piece of music, is it leaves you very vulnerable, in that you cannot write from some incredible intellectual point of view. At one point you have to then go, and it has to become very vulnerable and when you play it to somebody else, and you play to another composer, it does up the ante. So friendship is the hundred percent requirement for us to be able to do this."

In contrasting Batman Begins with The Dark Knight, Zimmer says, "I think it's a better movie and I think it's more intelligent. I loved the writing, it's somehow more epic and it encompasses this larger theme. I mean when you've worked on a movie, every time you see it many times, from different perspectives from each time, because otherwise you're going to get bored. So, the last few times I've looked at it, I've looked at it literally like a philosophical treatise with great action bits in the middle."

And clearly, Zimmer and Howard's music expresses that. "We worked in great privacy, up until this moment with the interviews, and we're now having to actually show our things to people, which is terrifying. But we did work in great privacy, which afforded the opportunity to be far more daring, in a way. I think one of the things about the score is, it's pretty provocative, and I think it's pretty provocative, ostensibly, for a Hollywood summer movie and I don't think anybody's ever really just gone where we've gone with this before."

Movie audiences will be able to judge the music of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard when The Dark Knight bursts onto movie screens on July 18.

Madhouse’s Kato to Appear at Anime Expo

Madhouse animator Hiromi Kato will make a rare appearance as an official guest of honor at this year’s Anime Expo, taking place July 3-6 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, Calif. Other dignitaries lined up for the event include up-and-coming director Masahiro Ando, prolific American voice actor David Hayter, famed Pokemon director Masamitsu Hidaka, the dynamic duo known as Jyukai, veteran voice actor Toshihiko Seki and new Japanese “It girl” Shokotan.

Inspired by the NHK TV anime series Mirai Shounen Conan (Future Boy Conan), Kato began his animation education at the age of 16, learning from renowned animator Yasuji Mori at Nippon Animation Co. LTD. He first worked as a key animator on Peter Pan no Bouken (Adventures of Peter Pan), and made his debut as an animation director with Trapp Ikka Monogatar (Trap Family Story). In addition, he worked as a character designer on Daisogen No Chiisana Tenshi Bush Baby (The Bush Baby), Ai to Yuuki no Big Girl Tonde Buurin (Super Pig Of Love And Courage), Hameln no Violin Hiki (Violinist Of Hameln) and other titles while at Nippon. At Madhouse, Kato is currently working as an animation director on the musical anime series Beck and Paradise Kiss, and as a character designer for Clamp in Wonderland 2.

Organized by the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), Anime Expo is the nation’s largest anime/manga convention. This years main sponsors of Anime Expo are FUNimation, ImaginAsian Television and Digital Manga Publishing. For more information and to register online, go to

Toon Zone News Interview Series: "A Life in Voice Acting" with Bob Bergen (Part 2)

In part one of our interview with Bob Bergen, we followed his training as an actor, his careers as a tour guide for Universal Studios and as the host of the Hollywood Christmas Parade, and his approach to acting in the studio. In part two, below, we focus in on his roles as Porky Pig for Warner Brothers, Luke Skywalker for Lucasfilm (and the fringe benefits that come with the role), and his other work as a voice acting teacher, a TV game show host, and the centerpiece of an autobiographical one-man show.

TZN: Now, you're best known for doing Porky Pig. What sorts of requirements does the studio put on you when you're doing Porky?

Back when I first got the gig, at every session, they would play me reference tapes of Mel Blanc. The problem I had with that was they would have a 4 or 5 minute compilation reference tape, but some of the lines were from the 30's, some from the 40's, and some from the 50's. And the character changed and evolved over the years, and the amount that they speeded up Mel's voice changed over the years, and he grew as the character. And I would always say to them, "Which one do you want?" because they were all very distinct. I was grateful when that stage of the recording process ended and they finally just said, "You know what? He knows this character well enough, let's just let him just do his thing."

I'm also not fond of it when they write my stutter into the script. Not because their writing or their comedy isn't good, because quite often, they'll write some really funny stuff. But I'm having a difficult time finding the actual line because they've tried to type in my stutter. Or they'll type in my stutter on words I would never stutter on. On the other hand, when it's an independent writer or producer licensing the character, they think they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. I've never complained in a session about it. If I were to get a series and they had the stutter written in to the first two or three episodes, I'd ask the producers, "Can you tell your writers not to write the stutter into the script? It's kind of distracting."

But if I'm doing a commercial or a game...we did a video game about two years ago where they had written my stutter in, and I said to the producer, "Are you married to the stutter in the script?" He said, "Absolutely not. Do what you want to do. Make it your own." Which is great...that's exactly what I want. But had he said, "I guess we're married to the stutter, do it here," I would do exactly what he's asking me to do, and then I would ask him, "May I try something different?" If the answer is, "No," we move on, because my job is to perform and his job is to get the performance he wants.

TZN: Relating to that reference tape, do you find that kind of thing happens a lot?

Well, this happened, I'd say, for the first couple of years with the Warner Brothers characters. It doesn't happen today. I don't think I've had a reference tape for...oh, my goodness, 15 years. I don't blame them for doing this, because from 1936 to 1989, they had one guy doing these voices. They never had to worry about a reference. Now they have a whole new crew of actors trying to do their best to sound as close to the original characters as they could. There was no rulebook. How do you do this? And, to be honest, the producers at Warner Brothers at the time were not cartoon historians, so what they were trying to do, I would imagine, is to give the voice actors as many references as they could so their new sessions could be as diverse and, I guess, have as much variety with the personality as they possibly could. Playing me a reference of Tweety didn't help me at all because Tweety's voice was sped up electronically. So, you know, that's not going to get me the best performance of Tweety. I need to hear Mel's real-time voice.

TZN: Do they still need to speed up Tweety when you do his voice?

Yeah, I record it in real-time, and in post production they speed it up.

TZN: So they do the same thing with you as Tweety as they did with Mel, then.

Sure. My Tweety is sped up, my Speedy Gonzales is sped up. My Porky is NOT sped up because my natural speaking voice is higher than Mel's.

TZN: Has there ever been a moment when you were in the studio with a script and you looked at it and said, "That isn't Porky?"


TZN: How do you deal with that?

It depends on the project. For instance, when I said to that producer for that game, "Are you married to this stutter? Are you married to this line?" The only time I got, I guess, adamant was for the film Looney Tunes Back in Action. My agent called me up and said, "Warner Brothers is doing this movie called Looney Tunes Back in Action along with 12 theatrical shorts that will be released for a year leading up to the release of the feature," and they asked me to audition. And I said to my agent, "Can't they just use 12 years of my career and call that an audition?" and they said, "No, they've hired an independent producer to take over the franchise, and he says that if you don't audition, you don't get considered, and whoever books this project will be the official voices forever."

So I went down and I auditioned and I got the job. I got Porky and Tweety. And the first day of recording, this producer wanted to change the way I played Porky to a way where I sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk stuttering when I was sped up. His philosophy was to take old Mel Blanc cartoons, slow them down, have me imitate Mel Blanc, and then speed me up. And I told him the problem you're going to have with this is that, first of all, Mel Blanc's speaking voice was deeper than mine. He smoked. They used old-fashioned ribbon microphones, which are very different than the digital mikes that they use today. The old cartoons at Warner Brothers were actually recorded on movie sets. They didn't have a recording studio, and you had a lot of room noise. That's why Yosemite Sam screaming had echo to it, because you're hearing Mel Blanc recording on the set of Casablanca. And everything today is soundproof. So you put all those factors together and then when you speed my lighter voice up like Mel Blanc's, I'm going to sound like a Chipmunk. The other problem I had was with the scripts. The shorts had content that I found inappropriate. I'm not a prude at all, but there are certain things that I don't think the Looney Tunes should do.

So for a month, between the way I sounded and the way the scripts were, I found myself arguing with this producer/director. I finally went to my agent's office and I said, "You know, after wanting this character since I was five years old, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I want to quit." And he said to me, "Well, you're five minutes too late because they just fired you." So I was fired from the project and they hired other actors to take over my parts. About six months later, I got a call to do Duck Dodgers, the series, which surprised me because as far as I knew I was fired from Warner Brothers, but evidently not...just that project. And about a week or two into Duck Dodgers, they called me up to go back and work on Looney Tunes Back in Action. The shorts had been shelved for inappropriate content and they fired the producer.

So, the moral of that story is to stick by your guns if you find something to just go against your grain ethically or morally. The only thing you own is your integrity. And there will be other jobs, and maybe this job will come back. Who knows? But if it screws up with your integrity, it's not worth the gig. Fortunately...and I will say Looney Tunes Back in Action was not the world's greatest project to ever come out of Warner Brothers. The animation was superb, wasn't the greatest script in the world, but it was amazing animation. Really good gag writers, gag artists, and the shorts got shelved, which is great. I mean, I would love to see Warner Brothers do shorts again. I think there's an audience for it, but they have to be done right. That doesn't mean they don't have to be edgy. They should be edgy. They were edgy back in the 40's. They need to be appropriate.

TZN: They were pretty transgressive back in the day.

Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, Bob Clampett and Friz Freeling and Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, these guys...if they'd been around today, the gags would have been a little edgier, the gags would have been a little bit more audience savvy, but I don't think they would have been inappropriate. And these cartoons were never made for kids. They were made for adults, and to entertain the people who were producing them. But I can't see these guys doing the kind of content that I saw in these shorts.

TZN: If I can go back one Looney Tunes movie to Space Jam, I read an interview with Billy West a while ago where he said that the voice talent was exiled to the small theater for the Space Jam premiere. Is that true?

That is true. After recording the film, my agent tried to get me an invitation to the premiere, and she was told by whoever was coordinating that that, "Well, the premiere is only for talent." To which my agent said, "Well, what do you think I represent?" After many backs and forths on, "No he can't, I'm sorry," my agent tried and tried and tried, and the producers finally decided to invite the voices of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck because they thought that they were bigger stars than Sylvester and Tweety and Porky, etc. So Dee Baker, who did the voice of Daffy in Space Jam -- his wife was nice enough to allow me to go with him in her place. So Dee and I drove to the Grauman's Chinese Theater together where the premiere was, kind of excited because neither one of us had ever been to a movie premiere, and we're walking down the red carpet and we've got our tickets in our hands, and they look at our tickets and they say, "OK, you guys are in the overflow theater next door."

So we go to the overflow theater, which is half-empty and occupied by secretaries and accountants and janitors from Warner Brothers. All the other voice actors could have been invited to the premiere in the overflow theater because there were plenty of seats. I think Billy was more upset by this than I was. I was not thrilled by it, but this is the lot of a voice actor. We don't get to go to the premieres because the premiere is not to celebrate the opening of your movie. The premiere is to PROMOTE your movie. It's a PR thing. You see Will Smith and John Travolta and Demi Moore going to a movie premiere with the paparazzi taking pictures, and you're like, "Wait a minute, they're not even IN the movie." Well, no kidding. But their presence sells the movie for box office. So having a person who voices a classic character but nobody knows his face is not going to bring box office to the weekend grosses. So, I did get to go to the premiere. It's kind of a sad thing, but we deal with it. Every once in a while, you get an invitation, but most of the time, no. I got to go to the premiere of Santa Clause 2, but I did not go to Santa Clause 3.

TZN: So that really hasn't changed at all over time?

Not at all. I didn't get to go to Looney Tunes Back in Action.

TZN: What do you think has to change for voice actors to get the same kind of recognition?

It won't. Bottom line, it won't change. There's no reason financially for it to change. I mean, for the studios just to be nice people doesn't bring in money. It's all about money. It's all about business. So how will it change? Well, it'll change if the head of a movie studio is also a fanboy who worked his way up in the ranks to get this position, and decides, "You know, what, dammit, the voice actors deserve some respect." That's how it will change. But it's his butt on the line if the money's not coming in from the movies. And if he has to sacrifice a few voice over actors going to premieres for the celebrities to come in and have the paparazzi take their pictures, that's what you have to do.

There are people out there, like the John Lasseters, who are very nice whether it's Paul Newman or Bob Bergen. And I've been invited to most of the Pixar premieres that I've worked on. Granted, they're usually up north, and it'll be a weekend and I may not be able to go, but they're terrific.

TZN: I'm also wondering now that he's the head of Disney Feature Animation, but I guess they haven't done a feature yet that's under his reign yet.


TZN: The other really big name-brand role you've got is Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars video games. How did you get that role?

I auditioned. In fact, I passed on the audition originally because I told my agent, "I can't sound like Mark Hamill." So she called the people up at Lucas, and they said, "Don't do Mark Hamill. Do Luke Skywalker." So I went to that first audition and I just played the character as opposed to imitating Mark. And there are two Lukes. There's pre-Return of the Jedi and post-Return of the Jedi, so I had to be able to adjust the personality accordingly. And I got the job, so I've been doing the games forever. I also played Luke on the special Star Wars Robot Chicken episode. Did we talk about Robot Chicken at all?

TZN: Not yet.

All the goodies that I wasn't allowed to talk about at the time, I can talk about now.

TZN: Honestly, I'm still a little surprised that Lucas was willing to let them do that.

Not only willing to let them do that, but he voiced his himself in the film. He invited us to Skywalker Ranch for a tour of the facility and screening the show. Just to screen Return of the Jedi in THX in Lucas' screening room was pretty damn amazing. And then he gave us each a lightsaber.

TZN: Cool!

And we're all walking in the airport with our lightsabers going, "I ain't checking this." We all got on our planes with these lightsabers and the flight attendants were all looking at us like, "You're either a bunch of geeks or you're doing something with Star Wars," and we couldn't say a damn thing. We were all sworn to secrecy.

TZN: Are you talking about just handles, or are you talking about the whole...

We're talking about the whole thing. If you saw Joey Fatone on Dancing with the Stars a while ago, he came out with a lightsaber one day and that's the one he got from the Skywalker Ranch. It is the coolest thing! I wanted to get a Luke lightsaber, but they were out of Luke, so I think I got Darth Vader.

TZN: Well, you know, same DNA.

EXACTLY! This is what I'm sayin'.

So it was an amazing day and I couldn't tell a damn soul, including my own agent, until it came out in the Sunday New York Times. I mean, they announced the project I think just before we met in New York, so I could talk about the project but I couldn't talk about going to Skywalker Ranch.

TZN: I saw one interview where you said you thought your Luke wasn't that good...

Oh, I didn't say it wasn't good. I just said I didn't sound like Mark. I do my best to uphold the integrity of the character, but I don't think sound a bit like Mark Hamill. It's funny, there've been reviews of the games I've done where they've said, "Mark Hamill sounded great," but it wasn't Mark Hamill, it was me. They didn't stay for the credits.

TZN: Mark Hamill has quite a career as a voice actor himself, now.

And he's brilliant.

TZN: Have you ever met him?

Yeah. (laughs) Actually, I met him on a panel at the San Diego Comic-Con a couple of years ago.

TZN: Was it a Star Wars panel?

It was a voice actor panel. Billy West, me, Joe Alaskey, Mark, a bunch of us, and I was sitting in the front row, and Mark was behind me. During my Q&A or my introductions, the moderator said something about me being the voice of Luke Skywalker, and Mark was like, "Excuse me?! What??" Yeah, sorry, dude. But he's terrific. His Joker is legendary, just brilliant.

TZN: Did you ever actually talk to him about being Luke?

No. It didn't feel appropriate.

TZN: You've done quite a bit of stuff outside of voice acting, too. You were the host of Jep! which was a kid's version of Jeopardy?

Basically, yeah. It was the same producers, and it was just Jeopardy for kids.

TZN: How did you get that job, exactly?

I was on a talk show in New York promoting Space Jam, and an agent in Los Angeles saw it and contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in hosting. She said, "Frankly, you were more interesting than the host." I said, "I'm not interested in hosting, but thank you for asking." Then my voice-over agent said, "Don't be a schmuck. If they know your face, I can get you more for your voice." So I went back to the hosting agent, and I said, "Look, OK, I'll give this a shot, but I don't want to do anything controversial." At the time, Morton Downey, Jr. and Jerry Springer and Geraldo's chair-throwing thing were all in the news. I said, "I don't want anything that's going to be, you know, 'Lesbian Nuns who Like Men.'" It's just not my thing. So, the first thing they sent me on was Jep!, and it's not that I didn't want it, but I didn't have a passion for it. I went to the audition sort of like, "Well, whatever happens happens." And I got several auditions, callbacks, and then they wanted to screen-test me.

The screen-test was basically on the set of Jeopardy doing a 30-minute episode with 3 kids who were plants. They were all the kids of the studio executives. And, you know, I said to my agent before the screen test, "Look, I've seen Jeopardy, I've never memorized Jeopardy, so I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to do this," and she said, "Just go with the flow." So when I got to the studio, I walked up to each of the kids and I said, "Kid, if you make me look good, I'll buy you each a car." And they're like "Cool! OK!" And then we start the game, and I had no idea what the categories are, and one of the categories is "Famous Cartoon Characters." And for every clue that came up, I did the voice, so it would be Popeye and Yogi Bear and Bugs Bunny and I did the voice that matched the clue, and at the end of the screen-test, the producer came up to me and said, "OK, first of all, it was a perfect screen test, we're going to contact your agent about negotiating the deal, but...have you ever thought of doing voice over?" They had no idea that I had a background of doing voices for cartoons and commercials. I said, "Well, actually, voice over is my day job. This would be my night job." So I booked the job, and I bought each of the kids a Matchbox car. I didn't tell them what kind of car I'd buy them, and that's how I got Jep!

TZN: Did you learn anything about acting or about technique doing Jep!?

I learned that to host a game show is one of the most difficult jobs on television. You have to moderate the show, keep the show moving, you have to interact with the contestants, and allow the game and the contestants to be the star and not you, while trying to give it some personality. The problem that I had with Jep! as a performer was it was a kid's game show and the producers kept wanting me to be "up." You know, "really be up and energetic!" and I said, "Well, that's not what I did in the screen test and that's not me." But, on the other hand, that's what they wanted, so I did it. Creatively, I think I could have done a better job if I had toned it down a little bit, but it was fun, I had a blast, and I learned a LOT about that part of the business. I met some really nice people, like Harry Friedman, who also produces Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I met some really neat people in the business who love what they do as much as I do. That's was what was enjoyable about it. These people were passionate about game shows as I am about cartoons.

TZN: You're also well known for hosting a popular voice acting seminar. How did that start up?

Well, what happened was that I was doing a play at the time, and in my bio it said that I was a voice-over guy. So one night at the theater, this guy came backstage and said, "Great performance. I'm opening up an acting school, would you like to teach an animation class?" and I said, "You know, I've never taught before. I don't think it's something I'm interested in doing, but thank you for asking." And a few months later, I got a call from AFI and the SAG Conservatory asking if I would do seminars for them, like 2 or 3 times a year. And I said, "Well, what do you pay?" and they said "Nothing, it's voluntary." And I said, "Great! I'll do it! Because this way, if I suck, I can't feel guilty taking actors' money."

I did that for about a year or two, and I found that I had a knack for it and I was enjoying it. So then I called this guy with the acting school, and I said, "If you're still interested, I'd like to give it a shot." And I taught there for about a year, and then I went on my own. This year starts my 21st year teaching.

Daws Butler also encouraged me to teach. Daws' classes were Wednesday nights. I was first asked to teach animation voice over on a Wednesday night. And I said to Daws "What do I do?" And he said, "Teach." I said to him, "I can't do it because it's the night of your class," and he said, "Sure you can." And I said, "OK. All right." So that's when I stopped taking animation voice acting classes and started teaching it.

TZN: What's changed in the seminar over time?

What's changed is my experience in the business. Even after 20 years of working in the business, I learn all the time from my students. I learn every time I work. And with my experiences over 20 years, I'm able to bring that to my students. I'm able to take the technique I came up with and fine-tune it to where it's concise and it's specific. I've got a very specific technique on how to create characters. But I also bring a lot of my knowledge of the business. 20 years ago, I didn't have as much business savvy as I do today, and I share that as much with my students as much as I share the creative aspect, because you could be the most brilliant talent in the world, but if you don't know how to work as a business person, you're just entertaining your friends.

TZN: I did think that was one of the unusual things about your seminar, that you talk about the business of being an actor.

Well, most actors are not good business people. A lot of bad actors get out there and they get heard because they happen to be better business people than they are actors. I'm in the process right now of putting together a book proposal just on the voice-over agent, because the most common question I get from people all over the country is, "How do you get an agent? What are they looking for? What are they looking for in demos? How do I get it heard? What's protocol?" Cover letters. All that stuff. So I've come up with a 40-question interview for every voice-over agent in the country, so no matter where you are, whether it's New Mexico or New York, you're able to cater your voice-over career for that market. And if you're planning to leave your market for a bigger market, you'll know what the bigger markets are looking for.

TZN: What kinds of things have you picked up from students over the years?

Well, first of all, when you're at the mike working or auditioning, you're not able to direct yourself the way you can direct someone else because you're too busy performing. So, it's really helped me in my choice-making to direct other people. I'm able to come up with ideas for my students that I could never do for myself while I'm working on the copy because I'm too busy. And I'll take those ideas and I'll use them myself.

TZN: You also do a one-man show periodically about your life as a voice actor. When did you decide to do that?

I decided to do it...oh, gosh, about 8 years ago. I came up with an idea to do a pilot script about a voice actor who's working at a major motion picture studio as a tour guide.

TZN: Sounds suspiciously familiar.

There you go. A writer buddy of mine joined me in trying to come up with a treatment, and as we're coming up with this treatment, he said, "Hollywood gets thousands of scripts every day, could you present this as a one-person show?" I said, "Probably." So we started adapting it as a one-man show. And then he said to me, "You know, I think the audience would get a kick out of hearing something about how you got to this point and how you wanted to be Porky Pig, and now you're working as a tour guide." So, we added that chapter to this, so it was a two-act thing. And we did it for an invited audience in Burbank. I was working on 3x5 cards. There was nothing memorized. He videotaped it and showed the video to his friend Ken Kragen, who was a personal manager, and Ken Kragen says, "If you can take 20 minutes of this, I need an opening act for my client Kenny Rogers for the rest of his summer tour." And I said, "Well, when would you need to know?" And he said, "You'd be performing in Oakland, California in two days."

TZN: Wait a minute, Kenny Rogers the country singer?


TZN: ...OK.

So I said, "You want me to take 20 minutes of a show that I've not memorized and perform it...How many people?" He said, "About 7,500." And so I was 35 people the other night, and now I'm 7,500 people in two days in Oakland? He said, "But I need an answer right away." And my writing partner said, "Yep. We'll do it." So, I did a 5 city tour at the end of his 1999 summer tour, came back to Los Angeles and performed it at a comedy club called the Ice House in Pasadena, and I did two nights at a theater in Sherman Oaks, California. A producer saw it and said, "I'd like to put this up in my theater in North Hollywood." It ran for three months in North Hollywood, and then last year, I taught a voiceover workshop on board a three-day cruise to Mexico and for my students, I decided to perform the show because we had a free night. I thought they'd get a kick out of it. I kind of got the bug, and I had 8 years worth of life experience to add to the show, so called my original writing partner, we futzed with the script a little bit, made it now a three-act show, and booked a theater out here in Los Angeles. So now I've got people interested in booking it for other venues around the country. A producer saw it opening night last year, and wants to do a documentary on me, so she's been shooting that. It's been really fun.

TZN: Is the documentary a home video thing or theatrical?

No, actually I think it's being produced for the Internet. She's got 26 episodes she's doing. I'm the first one. She had June Foray and Don Pitz, my first agent. She came to a session with me and into a class. It'll be on my website, too, but I can't put anything up until it's actually on-line.

TZN: To close things out, here's where I play James Lipton and ask a set of the same six questions to all the interview subjects. What's the strangest thing you've ever had to do in a recording studio?

The first thing that pops into my mind was when we did an episode of Fraggle Rock where they wanted us to sound like we were underwater, so they put bowls of water in front of the microphone and we talked into it. And I was terrified that the mike would fall into it and zap me. Oh, and one more. When I did the movie Gremlins, there was a scene where a gremlin jumps into a pool and it bubbles and multiplies. We were laying on the ground and they were pouring Kern's Apricot Nectar into our throats, and we were choking and gurgling on that. So those are two odd things. I gave you two for the price of one, I'm sorry.

TZN: What do you do when you can't find a character's voice?

You wait tables? (laughs) No, I'm just kidding. First of all, I'm not opposed to passing on something if I don't think I'm right for it, but it's rarely not finding the voice, it's not finding the character. And like I said before, sometimes you have 5 minutes with the script before you have to audition, so you have a little Rolodex of characters in your head that you try to go to, and based on what you've done on the past and the information they're asking for, you try to find a happy marriage. But, there have been many times where I'm thinking, "I don't know what they want" or "I don't think I can do what they're asking for," so I'll just give it my own twist. Totally opposite of what they're asking for, and more often than not that'll give me a callback, because it's creative. They'll hear something other than what they're asking for, so it sticks out amongst the masses of sameness.

TZN: What's the fastest way to get you to turn down a role?

Well, don't pay me. (laughs) The fastest way to get me to turn down a role is if I find that what they're asking me to do is unethical. I mean, for instance, I won't do cigarette ads. I won't do cigarette ads that run in Europe, since they don't run here. If I find what they're asking me to do is distasteful to the point of, "Yeah, we're advertising this for children, but it's really not." I don't do a lot of games for that reason. I'm not a prude at all, but I turn down CD-ROM games more than I accept them because they're SO violent and they're SO crude. They're also very throaty. I know they say, "M for Mature," but the kids are going to get it. If I don't have to contribute to that, I'm not going to.

TZN: What's the quickest way to get you to say "Yes" to a role?

Offer it to me. I'm serious. The nice thing about voice-over is that every day is a different adventure. I don't know if it'll be a promo, a commercial, or a cartoon, but if I audition for it and they like what I've got and they're paying me, I'm there.

TZN: What piece of advice would you give the young you, just starting off in a voice-acting career?

Become a solid actor first. Study acting. If you're a kid, get involved in school plays. Get involved in college theater. Community theater is great. School plays -- terrific. It's not about the voice, it's about the acting. A good solid actor will always have the voices. Study improv. Study study study.

If you want to be in the voice-over industry, you have to be where the voice over industry is. If you want to be in animation, you're going to have to be in Los Angeles. Commercials are anywhere, but the big commercial markets would be Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago.

It's obvious, but start watching cartoons. Continue watching cartoons. Start mimicking. Record yourself. Keep a list of every character that you can do. Have a repertoire. Read comic books out loud -- they're like storyboards with written dialogue. But I think the most important thing you need to do is act. You've got to be a good actor.

TZN: What do you want of yours in the vault after the apocalypse hits?

You know, honestly, it has nothing to do with my career. I want the vault to have some remnant of a note that says, "Yeah, he was a nice guy." Seriously! To me, that's more important than a work legacy. I think for anybody, no matter what your career is. There's some kind of respect factor there. But, work-wise? You know, as far as I'm concerned, there's one Daws. One Mel. One June. One Don Messick. But it would be really nice if that there's a history book of animation, and it lists all the people that just worked in this industry that I love so much, just to have my name associated with Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Rob Paulsen, Tress MacNeille, Charlie Adler, Don LaFontaine...the people who I respect and the people who I think are admirable at what they do. Just to be amongst those is the highest compliment I could have careerwise.

Toon Zone News would like to thank Bob Bergen profusely for allowing us to take up so much of his time for this interview (and for taking so long to get it published!). Visit his official website for more information about his upcoming projects, voice acting seminars, the return of his one-man show, and the upcoming documentary film. Keep an eye out for more in the "Life in Voice Acting" Interview Series soon!

Squirrel's gone wild when porn airs on Boomerang

The wrong acorns were on display Friday afternoon when two suburban Jackson, Mississippi youngsters were watching what was supposed to be "Secret Squirrel" on the Boomerang Channel.

Instead, furious dad Dexter Branscome said, hard-core pornography appeared on the boob tube.

"As a parent, I'm just completely disgusted and mad," the father of three told NBC affiliate WLBT-TV. "How do you explain to your kids what's going on when it goes from a cartoon on Channel 124 Boomerang to pornography full-blown?" lamented the Ridgeland resident.

Two of his children, ages seven and four, were watching Boomerang on Comcast Cable when the obscene stuff showed up. At first, he couldn't believe it when one of them told him what was on the air.

But Branscome has proof of the dirty deed. He has a digital video recorder and showed WLBT how the programming switched instantly from cartoons to XXX live action.

"Is it the box? Is it the cable channel? Is someone doing something? Is this a bad joke? If it is, it's not funny," Branscome said.

But it wasn't just the box. Comcast officials confirm that two customers from Jackson and another suburb, Pearl, complained about the same thing.

A Comcast cable worker soon arrived at Branscome's to investigate the snafu. He appeared shocked by what he saw. "I can honestly say I've never seen that happen before, and I would very much like to know how that's happening," the employee said.

"Because each of the customers had the same type of equipment, because it was not happening on our TV sets and our head-in, we are looking first at the equipment," said Frances Smith, director of government affairs for Comcast Mississippi/Louisiana.

The cable company is examining the possibility of an equipment malfunction, and calls it an isolated incident.

Maybe it's a rare occurrence isolated in Mississippi, but porn has aired in place of cartoons on Comcast at least twice elsewhere.

For at least an hour in early February, viewers of Cartoon Network in central Tennessee saw pornography via the network's cable provider, which was also Comcast. In a statement at the time, Comcast area vice-president John Gauder said the problems stemmed from "some highly unusual issues."

And in May 2007, Comcast in some sections of New Jersey aired a porno video by mistake in place of Playhouse Disney's broadcast of Nelvana's computer-animated Handy Manny cartoon. At that time, Comcast spokesman Fred DeAndrea described the error as "an isolated issue."

Branscome has filed an official complaint against the Boomerang Channel with the Federal Communications Commission in connection with the latest incident.

In the latest incident, cable boxes were replaced in each of the three households that complained to Comcast.

However, given what just happened, Branscome is now reluctant to turn on the TV at all.

"As a parent, trying to keep your children from this exposure, I'm doing what I think I can, but obviously it's not enough, so I guess I just need to turn off the tube," he said.

Secret Squirrel: Does he have a second life that he's not talking about?

Beryl Cook, UK painter of hefty ladies, dies at 81

British artist Beryl Cook, famed for her colorful, humorous paintings of plus-sized, fun-loving ladies, died Wednesday at 81.

Cook had been suffering from cancer for some time. She died peacefully at her Plymouth, England home with her husband and son at her side.

In 2004, the British Broadcasting Corporation aired a two-part animated TV special, Bosom Pals, based on the characters that she painted. The two half-hour shows -- seen on BBC1 in primetime -- were made by Tiger Aspect Productions, which also made the Disney Channel kids' cartoon series Charlie and Lola, as well as the live-action shows The Vicar of Dibley and Mr Bean.

The cartoon special showed Cook's larger-than-life women in Plymouth's Dolphin Pub, second home for seven irrepressible Bosom Pals. Under the watchful eye of Billy, their faithful landlord, they can laugh, cry, have a temper tantrum, put the world to rights, show their naughty bits… and generally be outrageous.

Bosom Pals had an all-star voice cast, including Alison Steadman, Rosemary Leach and Timothy Spall, with Dawn French's voice as Stella, the main member of the pals. The programs received great critical acclaim, as well as several animation awards.

Cook had no formal artistic training. She didn't start painting seriously until she was almost 40, but her work became hugely popular in Britain.

Her paintings showed such familiar social situations as girls in a nightclub or shopping, on a hen night, or men in the pub, at a strip club or at the market.

Her work has been displayed at the Portal Gallery ever since it was first exhibited in London.

"It's very sad indeed. She was painting until very recently," said Portal Gallery co-owner Jess Wilder. "We had a marvelous 80th birthday party here."

In October 2006, the gallery held an exhibition celebrating Cook's 80th birthday.

Cook was born in Surrey in 1926. According to her Web site, she left school at 14 "showing little talent for painting." She held various jobs, including working as a showgirl in a touring production of The Gypsy Princess.

She began painting in the 1960s, when she and her husband John moved to Plymouth, where they ran a guest house. That's where she was "discovered."

People staying at the guest house started talking about the paintings on show. An antique dealer friend talked her into to letting him try to sell some. The paintings sold quickly.

In 1975, she had her first exhibition in Plymouth. It was extremely well-received.

Cook's characters were mostly inspired by people -- particulary women -- she saw in her local pub.

The art establishment paid little attention to Cook's work. But after a South Bank Show about her in 1979, the general public came to love it.

Cook was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1995.

Comic Victoria Wood described the artist as "Rubens with jokes."

"I don't know how my pictures happen, they just do," Cook once said. "They exist, but for the life of me, I can't explain them."

Beryl Cook painting at home. (Photo: Chris Capstick/Rex Features)

A scene from Bosom Pals, based on Beryl Cook's voluptuous characters.

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