The lure of the Transformers saga starts a new chapter as all foes return, legendary heroes rise and new ones are found in unlikely places. The new CGI animated series Transformers Prime, produced by Hasbro Studios, currently airs on The Hub television network, deepens the epic mythology of both the Autobots and Decepticons, while starting fresh for a new generation of fans. Arch rivals the Autobots and the evil Decepticons, lead by Megatron, once again face-off in their rivalry for control of Earth in this new show.
Transformers Prime recently garnered two Emmy® Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation and six Emmy nominations.
In November, Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime, and Frank Welker, who plays Megatron, talked with me about how much fun they have recording episodes for Transformers Prime.
Both Peter Cullen and Frank Welker have nothing but love for Transformers Prime, The Hub and their fellow cast members. They thoroughly enjoy their recording sessions, which they do as a group. "We have a chemistry," Cullen said, after working together for so many years. Cullen said that sometimes Welker goofs off just to see him shoot water through his nose. Welker referred to Cullen as "The King," and persuaded him to imitate an idling tractor-trailer for me, laughing all the while.
When I asked how they got started and who has influenced their careers, Frank Welker immediately said, "I've learned from everyone I've worked with." Both actors grew up trying to make their friends and family laugh. Cullen remembered his start in Hollywood working with Sonny and Cher and the Smothers brothers.
Both actors mentioned working with Mel Blanc, someone who Peter Cullen remembered seeing as the only credited actor for a film he saw in a movie house as a child. Welker remembered a time when Mel Blanc said he was having trouble with his voice and ask him to take over. Cullen remembered Mel Blanc ribbing him about his wimpy dinosaur who was supposed to sound mean.
Speaking of animal sounds, Frank Welker is credited in many, many cartoons for "animals' vocal effects." Though he usually records in a group session for Transformers Prime, Welker said that for animal sounds he likes to record alone. "That way I can improv. I get on a roll," he said.
In the beginning, Peter Cullen and Frank Welker had no idea how devoted fans were to Tranformers until they visited Activision to record lines for a video game. After the session, they agreed to sign autographs on their way out. "These guys were lined up down the hall, out the door," said Cullen. Welker said his buddy was completely astonished when an Activision employee led them out to the parking lot where he asked Cullen to sign his car. "I had no idea people felt that way," Cullen said. "It's an honor to be re-cast as Optimus Prime, every time."
Not only do they play Transformers on the small screen, but also in the big screen movies directed by Michael Bay. "The process is completely backwards," Frank Welker said. For Transformers Prime, they're shown the cartoon but the animation is based on their line recordings as a group. For movies like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, they record without the benefit of playing off their castmates. They must fit their line recordings to match the film.
Obviously there's a difference in acting techniques between live action and animated projects. "When [live action] actors come in to record their lines for Transformers Prime, they're humbled," said Frank Welker, because the process is so foreign to them and the cast has already established a comradery. He said you can always tell someone who doesn't have voice-over experience. "They turn to you when they say their line," he said, instead of talking into the microphone.
Regardless of whether they're recording lines for TV cartoons, feature films or video games, these gentlemen are consummate professionals, loving their work. "The decision to focus on voice-over work was the best decision I ever made," said Peter Cullen. "I have no regreats." Neither do we.
Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Arcee, Ratchet, Bulkhead and many others are back to "roll out" against Megatron's latest attempt to conquer Earth. And Megatron proves to be more powerful than ever, having acquired a rare element that allows him mastery over life itself. Optimus Prime and the Autobots may be few against the Decepticon hordes, but they find increased strength through bonds forged with three human teenagers.
On December 6, 2011, Shout! Factory, in collaboration with Hasbro, will release Transformers Prime: Darkenss Rising on DVD, featuring the entire five action-packed episodes edited together in a seamless, riveting movie and special bonus content that includes animatics and a special look at concept designs for characters and backgrounds.Transformers Prime: Darkenss Rising boasts an all-star voice cast, including Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Steve Blum, Jeffrey Combs and Dwayne Johnson.