ATX Television: Bailey Breaks into Anime

'Party of Five's Scott Wolf hangs with the vocal elite for 'Kaijudo'

"We have the easy part. We just go in and say the stuff, and they have to make this whole magical world." Scott Wolf on the animators behind his character Ray, hero of 'Kaijudo – Rise of the Dual Masters': (Image courtesy of The Hub)

If you grew up in the Nineties, then odds are that Bailey from Party of Five was a part of your life. Now actor Scott Wolf is hoping to influence another generation with his new animated show Kaijudo – Rise of the Duel Masters.

Now a father (one three-year-old, and another kid on the way), Wolf was on hand at the ATX Television Festival on Saturday for a special pajamas and pancakes screening of Kaijudo, plus two of The Hub channel's other hits – My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Transformers Prime.

Much like Pokemon, the Kaijudo series ties in with a collectible card game (in this case, Wizards of the Coast's Dual Masters.) But don't think of it as a mimic: In fact, there's been so many franchises that blur the gaming/anime lines (Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh!) etc etc that it's arguably a genre in its own right. In this case, it's also attracted some of the heaviest hitters in the voice over community. Frankly, trying to list all the credits for Grey DeLisle (The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Phil LaMarr (Samurai Jack, Futurama), and John DiMaggio (everything, ever) would basically be a list of every major animated series and video game in the last 20 years.

And somehow Wolf, who has already assembled an impressive post-Party career on TV and stage, has found himself in this rarified company.

Austin Chronicle: Kaijudo's cast draws from some of the best voice-over talents in the industry. What was it like, getting entrance into that community?

Scott Wolf: It's a very insular community, it's a very tight knit group. Once the producers and directors trust people and know they know what they're doing – and it is a unique skill set, to some degree. Think of it as one little chunk of the picture, in terms of performance. You're not using your face, your body, but that poses unique challenges, and so it's not quote-unquote easy work. So someone who can do it, and do it in a timely way, and do it in an effective way, becomes very valuable to the people who are making this stuff. Plus, you're locked in small spaces together, so you want to be doing it with people you like and trust. And because so many of these people are capable of doing limitless voices. John DiMaggio can do anything, Phil LaMarr, all of them, Grey DeLisle, these are ridiculously talented people. You just suggest anything to them and off they go. So you see why they are sought after and ultimately everyone and their uncle doesn't need to be doing it in order for shows to get made or movies to get made. So it is definitely like the toughest private club you could hope to break into.

AC: So how did you get to join that club?

SW: I was lucky, gosh, maybe it goes back about 10 years now, I did a thing for Disney, a straight-to-DVD movie called Lady and the Tramp II, and so that was my first animated show, my first time voicing an animated character. And , who is one of our voice directors on Kaijudo, was a director on that. That was a great experience, but I moved back to New York and got back into theater and moved away from that. I hadn't realized how lucky I had been at that moment to be invited into that club. It cam back around and I was like, 'Oh, yeah, that club again.' Like any job, you're hoping to be the person you're looking for, and in this case I had never done a series, to have an ongoing thing where it's not just a couple of weeks and you're done with that character. Hopefully this will be ongoing for a while, and I lucked in to as good a group of fellow actors as I could hope to. Every day I learn something, and laugh a lot. I hope I'm now in the door, and it's a little trial by fire, but I'm hoping. I think the reason so many people want in the club is because it's really fun work, and it is creatively rewarding. The thing I miss in my work life is that you lose a little bit of freedom when the job requires a certain thing, and you know what that certain thing is, and we're all here to get it in that ballpark, and you lose a certain sense of play some times. And if you can find that in every day of your work life, then you're doing OK. Every day in that studio, you can just fly into it, and it invites you to be as free as you can, especially because no-one's ever going to see your body. I talk with my hands a bunch, and my big thing was, 'Don't whack the microphone.' That was my biggest challenge – say your lines and stay under the microphone. But there is something very playful about it that is really fun and kind of the whole point to why any of us did this in the first place. Plus, no-one messes with your hair.

Scott Wolf on life in the recording booth: "I talk with my hands a bunch, and my big thing was, 'Don't whack the microphone.' That was my biggest challenge – say your lines and stay under the microphone." (Image courtesy of The Hub)

AC: So as the newcomer, what did you learn from working with those veterans?

SW: It's hard to say specifically. First of all, just witnessing, just being in the studio with everyone. Because we record this together, which is kind of rare. It happens, but sometimes with schedules and on a production level, it's easier to get one actor, bang out all their lines, and on to the next. So the fact that they did these group recording sessions was incredibly valuable and made it way more fun for us. And I think it translates. You're getting the story out, moment to moment, with people, instead of doing one line five times and moving to the next. I think you can feel that when you're watching the show. Most of the time, the focus was just about playing out these scenes, but that was what I picked up on first – that they all have this ability to engage and interact and play, but their commitment to a certain character. A lot of them were playing two or three different characters with vastly different voices. Sometimes you'd watch Phil do a scene with himself, and he'd be playing Gabe and one of his brothers, and their voices are similar but different. The facility he has to move between one and the next, and to move his vocal chords and his mouth to create two different people is just remarkable. I aspire to be able to have more range and facility myself, but the way they're able to use their instrument and breathe fun and emotion and life into it, while staying completely consistent to a sound and a character, is rare. It's music. It's these tones and sounds and rhythms, and when you're working with people like that, I just don't want to be the one person singing out of tune.

'Kiajudo: Rise of the Dual Masters' star Scott Wolf at the ATX Television Festival: 'If this can serve as a great thrilling ride for a kid, and at the same time they can turn around and go to school, and this will help them through a difficult situation, then that's fantastic.' (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

AC: You've had a very successful and consistent career on stage and TV, so what was it about this particular show that made you want to jump in?

SW: Reading the bit of it that I was given to read, it was clearly just full of imagination. My big thing was that it was work that I wanted to be doing. Throughout the process I was only getting little bits and pieces of the script, but you could already tell that it was incredibly well written and there was an incredible world that was being created here. But only after I got it and really learned about the show was I really pleased. Voicing characters and stepping into that world was something that was important to me as a performer, but really on my way to the first session, because I have a son, a three year old, and I have another baby coming, so it occurs to me, what are the kind of roles I'm doing. Especially if it's aimed at kids. What are the messages. So it's always a balancing act of telling good stories and things that are of interest to me as an actor, and this bigger idea of what does it mean in the world. Not everything can be out through the same filter, but for me specifically it, a cartoon that is aimed directly at little kids, it matters to me what it's saying. So in our first session sitting around, [writers Henry Gilroy and Andrew Robinson] talked us through what the big idea under the show was. We're telling these fantastical stories, but when they talked about these anti-bullying messages, and having it be a tool for kids who have challenges before them and have things to overcome. Specifically, that bullying is rampant and confusing and scary. So if this can serve as a great thrilling ride for a kid, and at the same time they can turn around and go to school, and this will help them through a difficult situation, then that's fantastic.

AC: In an animated show, having the script is only half the battle: The other half is knowing what the visual style is. At what point in the production did you start seeing the designs?

SW: Thankfully they showed us one day one mock-ups of our characters, so we could see who were playing. But the animation ends up being informed by the actor and the voice, and vice versa, so there is a little bit of a relation there, but the general outline for what we as characters looked like was shown to us, and that helped a lot. Not too long into the process we started to see some of the realms that we inhabit. What would happen more often than not is that Henry and Andrew would talk us all through it. They'd say, 'This is what this realm looks like,' and the lights are low in the studio and we're getting ready to record, and it would put you in a place without actually showing it to you. So much of the animation was being done in Korea, so it wasn't like we could go down the block and see what they were drawing. But they gave us as much as they could to make us feel like we were understanding that space. So when I got sent these screeners, that was really the first I had seen of it. It was pretty thrilling.

Ray, Scott Wolf's character in 'Kaijudo' (Image courtesy of The Hub)

We would talk a little bit to the art director about their idea for things, but the amount of thought that goes into the shape of a certain character as opposed to another. Like my character, Ray, is sort of triangular, and that there's always this forward movement to him. He's like an arrow, where Gabe is round and a little more passive. So the cool thing is that it's not just 'Let's draw a fun-looking kid.' It's 'Who is that kid?,' and then all of the shapes or him and her end up being based on these organic ideas. The amount of work that goes in is pretty mind-boggling. We have the easy part. We just go in and say the stuff, and they have to make this whole magical world.

AC: Now you've had a chance to see completed episodes, does that change how you'll approach the character in future episodes, or how you would have done some of your performance so far?

SW: A little bit, and I think there'll always be some of that, because it's not happening in real time. We do our bits, and then it's animated around that, so there're going to be moments where it feels weird to me. But one thing I've learned, and I've relearned this over and over again, is that our performance as actors of what we do is so skewed. I had this experience when I was young on this show Party of Five that I used to do. I went to the editing room at one point, and my brother was visiting, and I just wanted to show him around. My brother is an editor, and I said, 'Hey, let's go by the edit bay.' I'd been working on this scene that I felt very strongly about. It was a very emotional scene for my character, and right when I got in there the editor popped the monitor off. He was like, 'Nothing to see here, keep moving.' I asked, 'Are you working on that bedroom scene,' and he said, 'We're not talking about this.' Long story short, he shows me this scene, and he's used takes of the coverage on me that I didn't think were nearly as good as other takes. So he was a really good guy, and he humored me and said, 'OK, here's what I'm going to do.' He hits some buttons, slap slap slap, and has two different versions of it. There's about six who haven't been paying attention to my conversation, so he shows them both of them, and they all, everyone in the room, liked the version that I didn't like. So it was a really good lesson in just letting go. Once you've performed it, then it's not yours any more. It's every other creative person that has some say into it, and then it's for the audience. And ultimately, just because something felt right or great to me, means nothing about what its ultimate place or value is for the play or the show or the audience.

The new animated Kaijudo – Rise of the Dual Masters screens Saturdays at 8pm Eastern (7pm Central) and 8pm Pacific on The Hub.

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Animation, Kaijudo: Rise of the Dual Masters, Hasbro, The Hub, Wizards of the Coast, Scott Wolf, Grey Delisle, Phil Lamarr, John Dimaggio, ATX TV Fest 2012

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