Wednesday, July 5, 2023

A Salute to Animators, Illustrators, and Voice Actors

For the third year, I took my kids to Comic Con. While I had less time this year than the last two years at Dallas Fan Expo, I was particularly impressed by both sessions I attended, each showcasing some of the most underappreciated artists who play a vital role in many of our favorite art forms: illustrators and voice actors.

The first session we saw was with illustrator and cartoonist Joe Wos, the host of Cartoon Academy on PBS. We came to his session very intentionally after seeing him last year, where he told stories while illustrating them live, and it was the highlight of my children’s experience. They wanted to go again, and this time he was teaching illustration live and we got to draw along. My kids had so much fun they’ve been watching his PBS show and learning more drawing skills ever since, and they’re getting pretty good!

Joe Wos is a prolific illustrator of children’s books and comics, not to mention the current official illustrator chosen by Charles Schulz’s estate for any new illustrations containing the Peanuts characters. He’s also a great teacher with a gentle demeanor who appropriately broadcasts his show from the studio originally used by Mister Rogers.

Joe Wos event Fan Expo 2022

The next session we went to was a panel with the voice actors from The Clone Wars: Dee Bradley Baker (all clones and various background voices), Matt Lanter (Anakin), James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan), and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka), followed by a special 15th anniversary screening of the original animated film.

These four voices have more screen time as their respective characters than any of their live-action counterparts. They’ve also been the voices in many other animated productions (like Lego Star Wars), video games, theme park attractions, toys, and even tooth brushes!

They also lend their voice talents to a wide variety of other animated productions as well. In fact, Dee Bradley Baker is the only person to be credited as a regular cast member in series for both Star Wars and Star Trek (where he voices Murf in Star Trek: Prodigy). He’s also the current official voice of Daffy Duck and has leant his voice to such a wide variety of animated shows and films, from Paw Patrol to Avatar: the Last Airbender, that it’s almost easier to list animated properties he ISN’T involved with. Baker and Taylor put on a good show for a while in the panel, switching between many of the various characters they’ve voiced over time. (We also learned that if you ever see Matt Lanter in person, you should offer him some ketchup—a long running prank on Ashley Eckstein’s part to convince fans everywhere to do this to him.)

When we think of those who entertain us, we often think of screen actors like Tom Cruise or Sandra Bullock, or even big name directors like Steven Spielberg. But have you ever enjoyed a comic? An animated film? An illustrated book? Visual artists and voice actors play a huge role in your entertainment, even if you can’t name as many of them off the top of your head. Thinking of you favorite animated television series, can you name the lead illustrators off the top of your head? If not, maybe take a moment and find out who they are and learn a little bit about them to celebrate their contributions.

Do the same for voice actors, too! Many voice actors are dedicated specifically to that craft instead of live-action acting. Historically, animated films relied on specific voice actors to bring characters to life.

Although some older films occasionally used a big Hollywood name for an animated role, it wasn’t common. That changed in the 90’s. Disney famously hired Robin Williams for Aladdin. He was so wary about roles being taken from dedicated voice actors that he did not want his name used to advertise the film. Disney broke that bargain and feuded with Williams for years. Then in 1995 Toy Story was released with two of the biggest names in Hollywood in the lead roles. Since then, it has been common practice for lead roles in animated films to be voiced by the hottest stars of the day. Some of them have made the switch well, while in many cases the quality of voice acting has declined as someone was cast for their name, not their ability to bridge the gap between traditional and voice acting. Dedicated voice actors are masters of their craft, even if their name-recognition is much lower.

Take some time to honor the behind the scenes heroes of some of your favorite films and shows by looking up and learning about the illustrators, animators, and voice actors who create the books, shows and movies we love so much.

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