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Giving Voice to the Toons

LA Studios' animation voiceover business is booming By Frank Moldstad

Jesse Meli, CEO of The LA Studios, Inc.
Some of the most recognizable characters in recent animated movies and TV shows have found their voices at LA Studios, a voiceover production house that sits just down the hill from several major Hollywood studios on Cahuenga Boulevard. They include Eddie Murphy as the voice of the donkey in DreamWorks' Shrek, Shrek 2 and soon, Shrek 3, as well as professional voiceover talents whose voices are immediately recognizable, even if their faces aren't.

LA Studios is one of three audio post production houses under parent company The L.A. Studios, Inc., the others being Margarita Mix Hollywood and Margarita Mix de Santa Monica. Each has a specialty -- Margarita Mix Santa Monica serves the West Side advertising community, Margarita Mix Hollywood does a lot of DVD production and mix-to-picture work, while LA Studios has carved a niche in voiceovers, including animated hits such as Shark Tale and the Shrek series and TV shows such as Father of the Pride.

Recently, we visited LA Studios to talk about the facility's booming animation business with Jesse Meli, CEO of The LA Studios, Inc. We also spent time with Mixer Larry Winer, and QuickTime video clips of our interview with him are sprinkled throughout the story.

LA Studios has been doing voiceover work for a lot of animation projects lately.

As weve become increasingly more branded in that category, business is just booming. We dont really solicit to studios with animated pictures, they generally come to us.

Why is that?

Because we sound great. Our studios sonically are so well tuned for voice recording, and obviously voices for an animated picture or television show are critical.

And in addition to that our guys, our mixers, are very astute at how to appropriately record the talent, and how to mic them. A lot of it is positioning, how close or how far away somebody is from the mic. It depends upon the timbre of their voice that will determine where their position is. And only a seasoned veteran that has done this for several years, or in our case, several decades, will know this.

So youve got the quality of the sonic environment along with the expertise of the people who do the recording.

How does the talent usually record -- do you have a lot of vocal booths?

Well, weve got very large booths. Originally one accomodated a full orchestra, 25 years ago.

What's it like to record an ensemble cast of voiceover talent for an animated project? LA Studios Mixer Larry Winer, who's recorded the voices for Shrek 2 and Shark Tale, among other projects, explains.

And you call that a booth?

Yeah [laughs]. We isolate different areas of the booth, and its great for ensemble recording. Some animators or animation companies prefer to recording as an ensemble, as opposed to one at a time. In addition to the recording, we also do the editing. So theres a note taker involved in each session that  then sits down and follows the instructions from the director or the producer and then we mix that down or make the edits appropriately.

Whats the process? Youve got the talent and youve got the script, and is the show on a monitor?

No, its usually not that way. The voice comes first. Well, nine out of ten times. Again everybodys different, but first well do a table read. Thats where the actors come and just sit at a table, and read the script for the first time. It gives the directors a perfect  opportunity to see how they interact, see what needs to be tweaked, and changes are made. Then they come back in and they do a full-on recording. The recording is then given to the animators so they can animate to it. Theyll come back in well do pick-up lines, and make any changes. Very often we deal with celebrity voices. Sometimes their schedules conflict, sometimes the script changes. Theres a number of different things. 

Very often, the people that we record are professional voiceover people. Hence the importance of having a seasoned vet direct them appropriately. Our guys really make them feel calm. We really pamper, and theres all sorts of different tricks that our clients like to do to make their people comfortable. Some people need to have the room really dark. Some people like to have storyboards all over. Some people like to wear costumes or be made up. All sorts of different things.  

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