Delivering sounds of strength comes as second nature to fellow comic Cleese, a longtime radio buff who has done voice-overs since his 1970s announcements for Monty Python’s Flying Circus (that’s him cackling the line, “And now for something completely different … ”). Today, at 73, he’s a voice-over vet with numerous credits to his name, including King Harold in the Shrek franchise, the gentle narrator of Disney’s 2011 feature film Winnie the Pooh, as well as dozens of commercials, training videos, games and even downloadable traffic directions for TomTom GPS navigation systems.
For his Disney’s Planes role of Bulldog, Cleese gave director Hall a variety of British voices to choose from in order to convey the “bombastic, old-fashioned R.A.F. officer from the World War II Battle of Britain days.” The actor remembers Hall showering him with stacks of photographs and other pictures as character references. After studying both real-life aviation photos and mock-ups of the animated planes, it took just an hour or so to confer with the director and agree on the proper intonations. “There aren’t huge changes in the voice, but you’d be surprised how long it takes to find exactly the right tone,” Cleese says. “Once all of that is done, you just start doing the lines.”
Hatcher, the former Desperate Housewives star, recently launched a second career as a voice-over talent, contributing to the 2009 stop-motion 3-D hit Coraline and a couple of other projects before boarding Disney’s Planes as Dottie, a purple mechanical forklift. “I enjoy telling a story through just my voice,” she says, “reading lines all different ways and then allowing the editor and director to piece together dynamics of the story.”
While no one, including Hatcher, recorded during the same studio session as his or her co-stars, she still felt part of a team. “It takes lots of great characters to tell a great story, and I’m happy to be one of them,” she says. Besides, she adds, “I didn’t work with any of the other actors in person, but I periodically play poker in real life with my movie cohort, Brad [Garrett].” (No word on who’s the better bluffer.)
Explains Hall, “Traditionally in animation, you come up with the story, then you do rough ‘scratch’ vocals with the story team and local actors, mimicking the voices you want until the characters and story arcs get fleshed out.” During the audio recording, a camera also films the voice actor’s face to use as animation guides. “We’re looking for little nuances,” Hall says. “The lift of an eyebrow, the squint of an eye, the curl on a lip or just the way they turn their heads when saying the lines — we try to incorporate as many of these subtle bits as possible because it makes the actors’ performance in the scene much more authentic.”