After Thursday’s press conference with one iconic Batman (Adam West) I sat down with another one, Kevin Conroy, from the groundbreaking Batman the Animated Series and several DC Comics animated movies, as well as other voice actors and creators from the latest release, Batman: Assault on Arkham.
Andrea Romano is legendary in the business as the voice director for many animated TV shows and movies. With animation, the voice recording comes first and is then “shipped off” to be drawn.
She has worked with many actors, but I asked if there is anyone she’d like to use. She prefaced her answer by saying it may be an unusual choice, but she’d like to use Alex Trebek because he has such a great voice.
I told supervising producer James Tucker how impressed I was that they are able to sustain the quality for each and every animated release and asked if there was any formula for success. “I work with a tremendously talented bunch of people. The best directors, the best designers… and we work hard. I mean, these things aren’t easy to pull off, three a year with the deadlines they give us.”
I also asked him how long it takes on average to produce one of DC’s animated features. He’s apparently asked that question a lot and he finds it difficult to answer. At any given time, he’s juggling three projects in various states of development. Then, even when one is finished, it may be held for a few months before release.
Throughout our conversations, it seems that regardless of the title, Arkham is not a typical Batman animated adventure. Rather, it focuses on the Suicide Squad and is based on the smash hit video game rather than a comic story or graphic novel. Director Jay Oliva talked about the visual differences he used from the game.
“We took the design of the video game and then just really did a line drawing and based all our characters based on Batman’s proportions.” He said that the Batman from the games has a taller head and wider body. “From a directing standpoint, what I wanted to do was it to feel like you’re playing the video game, but I didn’t want to be hamstrung by it.”
Speaking of great voices, Conroy said he sometimes uses the Batman voice to call his friends’ children and tell them to do their homework or go to bed. He also said, “It’s actually not Batman that’s the performance. It’s Bruce Wayne that’s the performance. That’s the face he presents to the world.” Originally, it was his idea to do two different voices for Batman and Wayne.
Although he has played Batman in different animated interpretations with various styles and tones, he stated more than once that he has to be consistent with his performance, yet not let it get stale. “You never own the role, you rent it. I’ve had the opportunity to rent if for a long time. But it’s always interesting to see what someone else does with it.”
Matthew Gray Gubler, who plays Dr. Spencer on TV’s CSI, plays the Riddler in Assault on Arkham. “It’s funny, it’s almost like I psychically somehow willed it to happen. I love Batman, I love villains, I’ve always wanted to play a super-villain and I got a phone call out of nowhere asking me to play the Riddler, which is a true dream come true.”
He continued, “I love the Riddler because he’s sort of so conceited in the sense that he thinks he’s the smartest person in the room. It’s always fun to play a brazen character that ultimately gets caught. There’s a certain comedy to that that’s really fun.”
John DiMaggio plays King Shark in the new feature. When asked how in the world he came up with a voice for a man who is a shark, he attempted to explain how he looks at the character design and it just comes from deep down in the throat. Better than explaining, though, he demonstrated. “I guess it’s just second nature to me.”
DiMaggio has played man-beasts in several other projects. When asked if that’s a niche he’s found, he responded, “Maybe as an actor people respect that I have a sense of play to bring to it. I’m pretty willing to jump in and play and do whatever… I don’t know what it is. I’ve just been fortunate enough to do that.”
Troy Baker takes the reigns from Mark Hamill and plays the Joker in Assault on Arkham. Much was made of the fact that someone new was treading on Hamill’s iconic performance of the character. Romano earlier said his performance is reminiscent of Hamill’s. DiMaggio said he’s “awesome” as the Joker.
DiMaggio said, “Whenever you think of the Arkham universe, you think of the Joker and you think of Mark Hamill. I think when I start thinking in those terms I lose focus. So what I try to focus on is the story we’re telling and as long as they let me do it, I’ll do it, because I think he’s literally one of the most compelling characters ever.”
I think the value of animation is sometimes discounted, ranked well below live action movies and television shows. After talking with these talented actors and creators, I have a new appreciation for the medium. It was an interesting and informative session.