Thursday, January 27, 2011

Peter Cullen, Optimus Prime, KARR, and How I Got Into Voice Over...

Optimus Prime is my homie...

See, when I was a kid I was a Transformers NUT! I had just graduated from He-Man and fantasy to the big leagues, Robots that TURN INTO THINGS! It was like getting TWO toys in ONE! How can you go back to a Hotwheels Corvette, when the Autobot Tracks turns into a Corvette with wings and missile launchers?

At the same time I was a sci-fi anthology junkie. I would burn A LOT of time watching shows like The Incredible Hulk, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and Knight Rider. It's that last show that would change my life forever, and it only took one episode to do it...

If you're not familiar with the show Knight Rider, it's basically a rip off of Lassie, but instead of a "Boy and his Dog", it's a "Super Secret Crime Fighting Agent and His Ultra-Hi-Tech Autonomous Artificially Intelligent, Talking, Crime Busting, Trans Am". When you take a step back and look at them, the two shows really are virtually identical...

So the show stars David Hasselhoff as the secret agent and William Daniels as the voice of KITT the UHTAAITCBTA (Daniels you might remember from St. Elsewhere or Boy Meets World), and the two basically just drive around foiling criminal machinations and quipping wise.

But one episode tilted my whole universe 17 degrees.

Season one, episode eight, titled "Trust Doesn't Rust".

In this episode we meet KARR, an early prototype UHTAAITCBTA, with a voice that was eerily familiar. A voice that stirred an emotional attachment I had to heroic robots, and toys that could turn into things. Yup. KARR was voiced by none other than Mr. Peter Cullen, who also provided the voice of Optimus Prime (and yes I really do own a copy of Cullen's VO demo on reel to reel).

I didn't know the phrase at the time, but I had just experienced my first destruction of suspension of disbelief. KITT really wasn't a talking car. The Hulk really wasn't a nuclear monster, but a big guy painted green (who would often sweat off his makeup). I had always "known" these things, that TV wasn't real, but now I understood that people did this, made all of this, worked at it. It was their JOB.

Anyone could grow up to be the voice of Optimus Prime.

Well not anyone I guess (though I've now worked with a few of them), but the seed was planted. Through high school, and into college, I never could shake the magic of that discovery, and when I started putting together what I wanted my career path to be, I eventually made my way to voice over.

Not to BE the voice of Optimus, but maybe someday I'll get to tell Optimus what to do...

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