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Interview: Voice Actor Billy West

Futurama’s‘ Fry Will Be At Spike And Mike’s Sick And Twisted Festival Of Animation This Weekend

Above: Voice actor Billy West making an appearance at Comic-Con. He will be signing autographs, providing photo opportunities, and talking with people at Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation this weekend.

Aired 9/13/13 on KPBS News.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with voice actor Billy West, who will be at Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation.

Transcript

Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation continues this weekend and talented voice actor Billy West of “Futurama” will be on hand for autographs, photos and Q&A.

Earlier this month, the animated series "Futurama" ended after seven seasons and we had to say goodbye to Fry played by voice actor Billy West. He created dozens of voices — including Zoidberg and Professor Farnsworth — for the series, and he explained that an animated festival like Spike and Mike's is vital as a showcase not only of animation, but also of voice talent because Hollywood is turning away from voice actors in favor of celebrities.

“[Animation] is not really ours any more, it’s been co-opted by Hollywood," West said, "They won’t even let voiceover people in them, they want to have celebrities, which is unfortunate because we spend our lives being artists and crafting a voice of any nature whether it’s genderless, or one gender or the other to do it all. You could create monstrous voices, you could do little pixies, whatever you were assigned to do, you could carry it off and then some, but we don’t have the luxury of coming in with just our own voice and just be able to skate through.”

But voice actors get to make this point clear when they work with celebrities on animated TV shows.

“We’d be recording a show," West said, "and suppose they stunt casted the episode with a celebrity, and whether they were old or young, they left with their head falling off because they had never seen people up close and personal do upwards of eight different voices a piece. So to then grow up into a future where it’s so funny that younger people want to do this stuff and they were inspired but the thing is they tell me I’m the one that inspired them. And so it’s like I could die a happy man.”

West described the work process for a voice actor beginning with the first meeting with a director and his creative team: “They describe what the character is all about and they show you a drawing of the character and that’s where you’re supposed to activate, and your mind’s got to go into overdrive figuring out 'What on earth can I do for this?' and it’s based on what they look like and also on the descriptions that they give you of the character. And you just formulate it and roll it round and, like usually my gut instincts are the ones I go with. The voiceover performance is recorded first and then they animate to it, and so you don’t have to watch something and try to fit in the words, they’ve got to animate to it. It’s surreal to hear yourself so when I watch Futurama I have to compartmentalize that I had nothing to do with it just so I can enjoy it or I’ll be too critical.”

Someone like West can convey so much with just his voice. Even without images, you know exactly what’s going on as you hear him struggle with a can opener or re-enact a fight.

“That’s because I never played it small," West said. "I always came on like a barnstormer, because if you play it small, you do no service to the universe. You need to play it big so that you can inspire other people.”

You can listen to West provide a taste of his vocal range as he fielded questions from an audience.

West hopes to inspire people this weekend at the Spike and Mike Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla.

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