>> Sunday, January 27, 2008
During our talks with the guys behind Philips Funhouse, one interesting topic was about their unreleased kids-project on CD-i: Treasures of Oz. Oz was going to be a 'younger version' of Funhouse classics like Merlin's Apprentice. The project started in 1995 when some 'FunHeads' started a new games department within Philips: Philips Kaleidoscope. Unfortunately not known by a lot of people as in the end they didn't release any titles, but Treasures of Oz will be remembered as one prototype of their catalogue. Things got even more interesting when Philips signed Diana Ross to do the voice-over of the Oz story! Below you'll find some interesting anecdotes from during the time Oz was produced. Like how Diana Ross got involved with the project.
"I hardly know where to begin! There was a long list of possible candidates for Glinda, including my top choice, Julie Andrews, who was unfortunately not available. The Director of Development for the Home and Family division, Laurie Sale, contacted Miss Ross' agent, and the dates were set.
MIss Ross liked the irony. In case you didn't know, she had starred as Dorothy in a production of The Wizard of Oz titled "The Wiz" (which also starred Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow). And now here she was doing the voice for the Good Witch of the North.
Despite Miss Ross' status as a superstar, I found her very easy to work with and willing to take direction; this was her first job as a cartoon voice. What she didn't know (and I never told her) was that it was also my first job directing a cartoon voice. I had helped Cliff record Cam Clarke for all of the Merlin's Apprentice voices, and the many voices of Labyrinth of Crete on CD-i, but I had yet to go solo, and I actually directed Diana Ross, our superstar talent, before I recorded the other voice artists. More about my other seven--actually eight--voice actors later.
Miss Ross was only with us twice, both times at the Mark Graue Studio in Burbank, California, which specializes in voice-over recording. The first time was to record the voice for the actual animation. The second was to record the instructions for the games.
It was a bit later that I really appreciated the power of digital sound. Near the end of production, after we had already recorded Miss Ross, we changed one of the games, so that you needed to get only three answers instead of four, at the easiest level. Problem was, we had already recorded Diana Ross saying "four times." And she was in Europe on tour. And calling her back would have been prohibitive. We considered scrapping her instructions and rerecording them using the voice of the Wizard, when I remembered that Miss Ross had said the word "three" in another context, something about the silver shoes taking her home in only three steps.
The inflection was all wrong, The timing was all wrong. The pitch was all wrong. Back in the old days when we edited sound with tape and a razor blade, we never could have substituted the "three" for the "four" and made it at all believable. But with the power of digital sound, I stretched, pitched, and equalized that "three" until it fit. I can still tell, but no one else can. (I had done something similar, although not as difficult, with Cam Clarke's voice in Cartoon Carnival.)
Cam Clarke should have been dubbed "the voice of CD-i." And what's funny is that he kept getting all of these gigs at Philips without any referrals! One group would cast him, and without even realizing that he had every done another CD-i title, another group would cast him. I don't know how many titles he worked for, but I know he had at least one voice in every Funhouse title, and a voice in Oz (the Scarecrow). He also narrated Surf City (Philips Sidewalk) and Zombie Dinos (Philips POV).
Cam was the casting director on Oz, and he told me that both the casting session and the actual voice recording were unusual in the animation industry. The auditions were unusual because I didn't ask the actors to lock down a specific voice before I chose them; I was looking for a particular acting style and ability, knowing I could get the voice I wanted if I picked the right actor. Apparently this is unheard of, and actors are constantly trying to remember what they did in an audition when they actually get the part, sometimes months later.
The other unusual thing I did was to record all of the actors at once. Normally, the voices are recorded one at a time and then spliced together. It makes it easy to isolate and adjust voices in the mix. But I don't much care for the acting performances, and so I put everyone who was in a particular scene in the same room, each with a separate microphone, and had them play out the scenes in real time. The actors loved it, and, as you can hear, the performances were very lively.
Oh, and about the eighth voice I mentioned. I had originally cast seven voices other than Dian Ross to play in Oz, and many of them "doubled up" to play other voices. At the last hour of recording, we had one scene left to play, the one with the tiger in the woods who asks the Lion to kill the giant spider. I asked for readings from every male voice there, but they sounded too much like other voices they had done in the show. Suddenly we realized that one of the engineers, John C. Hike, was also a voice artist with a union card. We signed some paperwork, put him in the booth, and got our tiger at the last minute.
With all of the material we produced, and the vast amount we had planned, there was always something exciting going on there."
With great thanks to the ex-members of Philips Funhouse