Finding Oswald's Voice

How Junction Point Studios gave a voice to one of Walt Disney's earliest creations.
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Brian Freyermuth is nervous.

He's sitting in a conference room at Junction Point Studios. Next to him is legendary game designer Warren Spector. There's a telephone on the table; on the other end is Disney. But none of this, really, is why he's nervous.

Freyermuth is nervous because the next few minutes will make or break what he, Spector and co-writer Marv Wolfman have spent months trying to achieve. These men from Junction Point, sitting in their conference room in Austin, Texas, huddled around a telephone, are trying to do what Walt Disney never could: They're giving Oswald the Lucky Rabbit a voice.

The wire terminating at the telephone on the table stretches all the way from Austin to Los Angeles, stopping somewhere along the way to plug in to the internet, through Skype, then to a mixing board at a recording studio where, in a sound-proofed booth with a bug in his ear, stands Frank Welker. Also known as one of the most successful voice talents in the business. Also known, from this day forward, as the voice of Oswald.

Welker stands ready. He's read over the script (written by Freyermuth and Wolfman), pored over the voice direction (supplied by Spector) and studied the scant few character notes provided by the Disney Archives. This moment has been decades in the making. Welker is ready. Disney is ready. But Freyermuth is nervous as hell.

The telephone line crackles. Freyermuth, Spector and Junction Point Audio Director Frank Favre can hear everything that Welker and voice director Rick Dempsey say, and (in theory) Welker can hear everything said in the conference room in Austin. No one knows, though, if the technology will actually work. What if Welker can't hear him? What if he can't hear Welker? What if … what if Welker blows it?

Adding to the stress is the presence of Renee Johnson. Johnson works for Disney Character Voice, the mysterious and omnipotent caretakers of every character in the Disney repertoire. On occasions like this one, DCV will send someone like Johnson to stand in the room to make sure that Goofy sounds like Goofy or that Mickey doesn't say anything that Mickey wouldn't say. If DCV doesn't like it, it doesn't make the game. They have total authority. They can literally stop the show.

But this is virgin territory — for DCV, for Junction Point … for everyone. Oswald has never spoken. Ever. What would he say? What would he sound like? What wouldn't he sound like? DCV doesn't know. Disney doesn't know. The only people in the world who have any idea are sitting in a conference room in Texas, connected via telephone wire to the man who is about to make history.

Politics, animals and football

You may have thought you knew the story of Walt Disney. You've been to the parks. You've seen the films. You own the Mickey wristwatch. But you probably don't know the story of Oswald, unless maybe you played Epic Mickey. Even then, if you've heard the story, you probably think it can't possibly be true.

The good news is that the story is true. It's a real life fantasy tale about an abandoned creation and a world gone dark. About a man forced to abandon his progeny. About loss, redemption. About magic. The bad news is that the story is even stranger than fiction.

The one thing Oswald didn't do was talk.

The story of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit begins before the beginning of the story you thought you knew. Oswald was one of the first cartoon characters Walt Disney ever created. Before Goofy, before Donald, before Mickey-the-freaking-Mouse. Oswald predates them all.

Oswald was created by Walt Disney and animator Ub Iwerks for Universal Studios in 1927 — a time when cartoons ran before every movie in the theater and sound was a luxury. The character was almost instantly a hit with audiences, who appreciated his vim and vigor and compared him favorably to the famous comedic actors of the time, like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Oswald lived and loved and got into scrapes. But the one thing he didn't do was talk.

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A year after his premiere, in spite of Oswald's success, Disney's bosses at Universal asked him to take a pay cut. Oh, and he was also informed that the rights to Oswald weren't actually his. This was the Golden Age of Hollywood, when every trope we know about the greed of Hollywood producers was born. The Universal higher-ups thought they could leverage Disney's character against him and that even if he didn't agree to the new, altered deal, it didn't matter. Walt Disney was one man. Universal was a studio. They'd just replace him, and where would he be?

Walt Disney did the unthinkable: He told Universal to stuff it and moved on with Iwerks to found his own studio and create a new character. Disney created a mouse — The Mouse — and that mouse piloted a steamboat into history. Who cared if this mouse looked suspiciously like a rabbit? The mouse was Disney's, and would soon be the world's, and no one would ever be able to take him away. The rest of that story you already know.

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Here's what you don't know: Oswald carried on. Stewarded (at first) by the brother-in-law of Disney's Universal boss, and later by the man who created Woody Woodpecker, Walter Lantz, Oswald had a long, if not entirely illustrious career. Under Lantz and his team of legendary animators, Oswald's cartoon adventures would continue to delight audiences (almost as much as Mickey's) until he was eventually retired in 1943, supplanted by the much more popular woodpecker. (Hehehehehehe.) Soon after, Oswald faded into obscurity and would remain little more than a footnote for more than 50 years.

Fast forward to the year 2005. The company that Disney built is now one of the largest and most powerful corporations in the world, rivaling even Universal Studios. Among the Disney company's disparate holdings is ABC, one of the "big three" television broadcast networks. And one of the ABC network's biggest shows is a sports program called Monday Night Football, co-hosted by Al Michaels. And Al Michaels wants out.

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Michaels had hosted Monday Night Football for 26 years, alongside a succession of famous former players and other celebrities (including, for a brief two-year stint, comedian and occasional political commentator Dennis Miller). In 2002, Michaels was paired with legendary former NFL player and coach John Madden. Yes, that Madden. Madden and Michaels were a perfect fit: wise, vociferous career football observers with a passion for the sport and an uncanny ability to pinpoint what made it interesting to the viewing audience. They each found bliss in each other.

Behind the scenes, Al Michaels was scrambling.

Meanwhile, Disney was making a change. The company wanted to shift Monday Night Football from ABC to its 24/7 sports-oriented cable network ESPN. Starting with the 2006 NFL season, Monday Night would be cable-only.

The change spooked broadcast veteran Madden, who packed his bus and made a hail mary to Universal-owned NBC. Michaels, it was announced, would remain with the program at its new home, ESPN. That was the public story, at least. Behind the scenes, he was scrambling.

By the time Monday Night premiered on ESPN, Michaels would be long gone, having joined partner-in-crime Madden at the upstart Sunday Night Football on NBC. Disney, graciously, allowed Michaels out of his contract and gave its blessing for him to join the Universal family. All it wanted in return was 26 old cartoons and the rights to a rabbit.

After almost 80 years, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was home. Four years later, he would make his dramatic reappearance, in a video game, of all places, as the co-star of Disney Epic Mickey. Two years after that, thanks to Epic Mickey creator Warren Spector, he would get what Mickey, Donald and even that damned woodpecker had enjoyed for decades: his own, identifiable voice.

Resurrecting the rabbit

At the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California, there's a building few people get to see. Part of its own, smaller empire overseeing seven warehouses and three separate offices, this building is the headquarters of the Walt Disney Archives.

Founded in the 1970s, the Archives is home to everything that has anything to do with anything ever made by Disney or its various subsidiaries. In other words: everything.

This is where you will find the 20-foot-long shooting model of the Black Pearl pirate ship from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, as well as the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Here you will find Herbie the Love Bug, as well as over 15,000 movie and television props and over 2,000 costumes. Here you will also find every Blu-ray disc, DVD, compact disc, cassette tape, VHS, Betamax, 8-track and record album of everything ever produced by Disney. This includes all of the games and every console and computer system they were designed for.

But the products are only part of the story. In addition to the ephemera of almost a century of entertainment production, the Archives store all of the paperwork that production has ever generated, including all of the scripts, designs, sketches and cocktail napkins that eventually combined to create the magic of Disney.

The Disney Archives is home to everything that has anything to do with anything ever made by Disney.

"We're historians … we collect and preserve the history of the company," says Becky Cline, speaking of the team she oversees. Cline is the director of the Archives. She is only the second person to have ever held that title.

Cline speaks with a breathless enthusiasm about her task, admitting that she probably has the coolest job on the planet. At the moment she is busy "getting to know" the holdings of Disney's newest acquisition: Lucasfilm and the archives of Star Wars.

"What's really exciting is when you find little documents or pieces that tie those stories together and give a bigger picture of the whole story," she says. "That happens all the time in an archive."

Cline tells the story of how she was looking through the personal correspondence of Walt Disney, on the search for a letter the Disney founder had received from some famous person or another. In the process, she discovered a letter dated 1935 from the founder of Universal, Carl Laemmle. This was a letter she had never seen.

"It was saying, 'Dear Walt, here's a blank piece of paper. As you know, in my old age, I'm getting sentimental. Would you please sign this paper for me so I can put it in my scrapbook?'"

For Cline, this was more than a letter — it was a revelation. She had worked with Warren Spector to resurrect Oswald for Epic Mickey. She'd given him access to the Archives and shared with him everything she knew then and every cherished scrap of information the Archives held about the character. One of these treasures was a drawing on a simple piece of paper. Mickey is in motion, entering from left, smiling and waving. Oswald, at right, looks annoyed. Hands on hips, ears back, brow furrowed. The paper was inscribed: "To Carl Laemmle — In memory of the days when I produced Oswald for Universal — best wishes always. Sincerely, Walt Disney." The date: October 1, 1935.

"All of a sudden I realized that that was the connection," says Cline.

The founder of Universal Pictures had, in his waning years, reached out to his former employee for an autograph. Disney had responded with a gentle barb and a not-unkind reminder of the success the two could have shared. It was a classic Walt Disney gesture, never mentioned to anyone and hidden in plain sight in the Disney Archives.

"Carl Laemmle had sent that blank piece of paper to Walt, and instead of Walt just signing it and sending it back, he had that picture of Mickey and Oswald drawn … that's where that came from. It was for that scrap page. Nobody knew what that drawing was done for, but suddenly, because I found that memo, I could tie it all together."

Oswald_550x600Letter from Walt Disney to Universal founder Carl Laemmle
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In 2006, after Disney CEO Bob Iger negotiated the Michaels-Oswald trade, Cline and then-director and Archives founder Dave Smith were given the task of sifting through the Disney detritus for traces of the Lucky Rabbit to pass along to Junction Point's Warren Spector. The material had been buried for decades. There wasn't much. It could all basically fit into one box. Disney hadn't had the rights to the character so they hadn't used anything, and rarely showed what they had to anyone. Now, all that had changed. Oswald was back.

Smith and Cline shared what they had: Some scraps of paper. A watercolor concept poster. The official Oswald the Lucky Rabbit stencil set, created in 1928. Spector had seen some of these items before and already had some of his own. He was a collector of Oswald memorabilia. Spector's excitement for the character inspired Smith and Cline to dig deeper and find more. Cline produced rare drawings, delighting her guest. The three were like kids sharing stories of their favorite superheroes. Comparing collector cards. Dreaming.

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Cline admits Oswald is one of her favorites precisely because he is so obscure. As an archivist, the characters that no one else gets to see are more precious, because they are — in effect — hers.

"You see Mickey everywhere," she says. "We're excited about that. We're thrilled to see Mickey any time. But it's really kind of exciting for us to see the old characters from the '30s, character[s] that maybe only appeared in one cartoon … to find tidbits of real history that we can share, things that will enlighten people and build on other stories that they already know, but also to find things that they've never seen before.

"And so these characters that we get to see as historians, but we can't share with the public for whatever reason … to be able to finally share a character like that that we already love, and that we know they're going to love as well … now we have the opportunity to do it."

"We're thrilled to see Mickey any time. But it's really kind of exciting for us to see the old characters from the '30s."

For Spector, it was more than just an exciting day of shared nostalgia; he was there to take his first steps as caretaker of the Disney legend. A lifelong innovator and co-creator of seminal video game classics like System Shock, Thief and Deus Ex, Spector had already earned a reputation as an innovator of big game ideas ("That," he says, "other people then exploit to greater advantage than I do."). Now he was onto new ground: Reinventing one of Walt Disney's earliest creations.

"I think everybody on the team felt a sense of responsibility — that is the right word," Spector says. "With regard to Oswald … he's such an important part of Disney's history. We felt a responsibility, and the more we worked with him, the more we all sort of fell in love with him. He is a great character. He's funny. He's lovable. He's naïve. And yet he's more adult than Mickey is or has ever been in some ways.

"If you look at the early cartoons, he's almost a prototype for other cartoon rabbits who will remain nameless. … Lots of what we think of as classic American animation: Walt got there first [with Oswald]. The fact that people don't remember that … yeah, absolutely, we felt a sense of responsibility."

Mickey's nemesis

The first meeting went badly.

Warren Spector spent a good chunk of 2006 working with a team at Junction Point to dream up a storyline for Epic Mickey. He wanted a way to re-introduce the character of Oswald that would be meaningful and tell an interesting story. Their idea: Oswald is a bad guy who Mickey turns good.

"He was going to be a villain who Mickey redeemed," Spector says. "I thought that was a great character arc. The story really worked out. I thought it was working out really well."

Spector went to Disney to pitch his story to the Big Cheese, John Lasseter, the former Pixar head who now heads up Disney Imagineering and serves as chief creative officer for Disney Animation. Lasseter wanted to know what Junction Point had planned for Disney's newest oldest character.

"'It's a great story for Mickey,'" Spector told Lasseter. "'Mickey is so powerfully heroic, he redeems his villainous brother!'"

Lasseter let the air out.

"'Disney has spent so long getting Oswald back, and the first time anybody sees him, he's a villain?'" he asked, incredulous.

"‘Disney has spent so long getting Oswald back, and the first time anybody sees him, he's a villain?’"

Spector was crushed. The meeting — a failure. Frustrated, Spector stewed on the conflict for weeks. He "couldn't stop thinking about" Oswald, the returning hero he would have portrayed as a villain. Eventually he conceded Lasseter had a point. Oswald would not be the villain of Epic Mickey. His twist: the villain would actually be Mickey.

In the game, Mickey stumbles upon "The Creator"'s studio and makes a mess of things, spilling magical paint and thinner all over Creation. An evil is awakened, through Mickey's carelessness, and Mickey must enlist the help of long-lost Oswald to help stop it. In this new version, Oswald wouldn't be a villain; he'd just be forgotten, neglected and supplanted. Bitter? Yes. Guilty? No. Viewed from a certain perspective, the true villain is the audience who left him behind … and who will now be redeemed.

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"If you look at the early cartoons, he's almost a prototype for other cartoon rabbits who will remain nameless."

"We still wanted to keep the sort of envy that's such an important part, or was an important part, of Oswald's initial character," Spector says. "But we wanted to bring him back right. … We felt a sense of responsibility to remind people how great a little guy he is. If we did that … that's the big win."

"The storyline that they came up with for the first Epic Mickey kind of defined his personality," says Brian Freyermuth, whose first game writing gig was for the 1997 RPG Fallout. "There's something poignant about the older brother that's pushed aside for the famous younger brother."

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Epic Mickey moved forward, hitting stores in 2011, just after Thanksgiving, and selling over one million copies before year's end. It was the fifth best-selling console game for that holiday season, earning over $64 million. Disney admitted that it could have done better, hitting Black Friday, for one, or perhaps making the game available to consoles other than the Nintendo Wii, which had started to decline in popularity. But in all, the House of Mouse was pleased with the culmination of the six-year project to re-launch its 80-year-old rabbit, via a video game.

Time now for a sequel. Enter: Marv Wolfman.

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Wolfman, a lifelong creator and writer for comic books and animated features (he co-created the character of Blade, the half-vampire hunter portrayed by Wesley Snipes in the self-titled films), was no stranger to Disney. Wolfman had connected with Disney Comics in the 1990s, writing a series of Scrooge McDuck and Mickey Mouse comics as founder of Disney Adventures magazine.

Junction Point flew Wolfman to Austin to begin planning for Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two. It had a rough idea of the story it wanted to tell. It also knew that for Epic Mickey 2, Oswald was going to have to speak. Which meant that he would need a voice — and something to say.

In spite of having "lived" for 80 years, Oswald had very little in the way of backstory. Bits and pieces here and there. Most of it dating back from the 26 short films Walt Disney had produced. But in the years between 1928 and when Oswald was retired in 1943, the character underwent a series of dramatic reinterpretations, gradually succumbing to the trends of the various times and becoming something of a mishmash. Near the end, he had hardly any personality at all.

Wolfman and Freyermuth pressed the Disney Archives and DCV for more details, but there just weren't any. Oswald, for all intents and purposes, was a blank slate. The writers would have to go back to the beginning.

"[DCV] has different sheets that basically tell you [the characters'] personalities," says Freyermuth. "But most of it was just us watching the old cartoons … from the '20s and '30s and '40s and '50s. Just trying to get their cadence of how they talk."

The path that emerged took them back to what worked for Epic Mickey: the duality of Mickey and Oswald's relationship.

"That's the big point: how you make him different from Mickey," says Freyermuth. "In our eyes, him and Mickey are equals."

"Mickey is self-effacing," says Wolfman. "Mickey is going to do whatever he needs to do because it's the right thing to do, and he doesn't see himself as the center of the action. To him, it's not about him.

"In the case of Oswald … you have this bravado, where he's just going to show everyone how good he is, but then you bring him back and you make him a real character by realizing that he has doubts at the same time. … He knows exactly what he's going to do, and it's about him knowing that. Whereas with Mickey, Mickey wouldn't say, 'Well, I know how to do this.' He'd say, 'C'mon, guys, let's do this!' He'd bring everybody else in on it."

The going was slow. In the first game, none of the characters spoke by design. Spector didn't want words to get in the way. But for the sequel, dialogue was a must, which added a whole new dimension to the characters. And dimension was exactly what Oswald didn't have.

"Disney is always about the characters," Wolfman says. "Disney is about Mickey and all these people. It's not just what they do; it's how they do it. The trick was, 'how do you take a straightforward video game story' … video games weren't always subtle in their characterization, because of course the technology didn't exist to be able to do that. Now, 'how do you take that and make it character-centric?'"

Wolfman and Freyermuth wrote an introductory scene and presented it to Spector. Spector was brutally honest. He said it didn't "really sound like Oswald."

"He had an image in his mind of who Oswald was," says Freyermuth. "He wanted more of a Bronx accent, a street-smart comparison to Mickey. Mickey is very light and very happy. Very innocent. He wanted more of a streetwise, Bronx-y feel to Oswald."

"Mickey is very light and very happy. Very innocent. He wanted more of a streetwise, Bronx-y feel to Oswald."

Spector asked Wolfman if Wolfman could handle an "Outer Boroughs" character.

"I said, 'Well, I was born in Brooklyn. I lived there until I was a teenager,'" Wolfman recounts. "I lived in New York until I was like 40. So I totally understood the Brooklyn point of view. Once Warren came up with the idea that it was that type of a voice, everything else fell into place."

Wolfman describes the "Brooklyn point of view" as a double-edged sword. Oswald is in-your-face, but also insecure. He wants to put himself out in front, taking charge, but doesn't know how to let people see who he really is on the inside. He has bravado and doubts in equal measure.

This was something Wolfman knew he could write (he'd lived it) and knew that, through the writing, would make Oswald more relatable — more human.

"He didn't have that kind of cadence to his speech before that happened," says Freyermuth. "He was a little bit blander. A little more average. It was that that really gave him the spark to his personality that lasted through the rest of the game."

The rabbit's voice

"The clue to making Oswald work was actually Warren," says Marv Wolfman. "When he was doing the voice to his own people, as we all do."

For the first Epic Mickey, Warren Spector decided that none of the characters would speak. Instead, the game employs what he calls "bark text." The character makes a noise (a "bark") and then words show up on the screen.

"That's a standard gaming convention that works, apparently, in every context except Disney games, where people expect to hear the characters talk," Spector says. "Even in the context of that bark, we had to have a voice to represent that character. I had a voice in my head that I thought of as Oswald. The team got tired of me using that. I'm not a professional voice actor, so you probably don't want me doing a voice in a game.

"It's borderline psychotic, I guess, but I heard him talking to me all the time. [laughs]"

Spector recreates the "Oswald voice" over the phone. It sounds ... not like Mickey. Very much New YAWKer: Brash, bold and squeaky. It's a voice that goes with the characterization, which, until you realize is a thing, you don't realize is a thing.

For Marv Wolfman, the search for Oswald's voice was deeply personal. He watched the Oswald cartoons as a kid. He knew the character. But in his day cartoons didn't speak, so he didn't know what Oswald would sound like. He just knew what Oswald should sound like.

"[Spector] nailed the whole attitude," Wolfman says. "That's what cartoons are about: getting that attitude. Once Warren came up with the idea that it was that type of a voice, everything else fell into place."

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"It's borderline psychotic, I guess, but I heard him talking to me all the time."

The next step was to find a professional who could capture the Brooklyn spirit of the lucky rabbit and turn Spector's voice work into something magical, worthy of Disney. Spector called up DCV, performed his Oswald voice for them and they came back with a single name: Frank Welker.

"Frank Welker is basically a god among voice actors," Spector says.

Welker's first voice role was in a cat food commercial. His next would start a career: In 1969 he was hired to voice the character of Fred for a new cartoon called Scooby Doo, Where are You!. Welker still plays Fred to this day, although now he also voices Scooby.

"I think there’s an unwritten rule in Hollywood that [Welker] has to do a voice in anything that gets made," says Wolfman. "He's everywhere."

Wolfman's only exaggerating a little. Welker's talented and malleable voice has made him so successful he is considered one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. He's the voice of Megatron in Transformers, the voice of George from Curious George, Garfield the cat and more. For the Walt Disney company, he's worked on Duck Tales, Mickey Mouse ClubHouse, Aladdin (he was the Cave of Wonders, among others), Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast.

"I was ... concerned about giving the studio what they wanted," says Welker, of the Oswald role. "I always believe in giving a 100 percent ... and feel bad if I can't grasp what someone wants. It is fun work trying to get there, but can be complicated if you have a lot of different opinions on where the voice should go.

"In this situation, we all were so excited ... and just needed to be true to the history of Oswald and yet not too restrictive, since there is a future planned for him."

Oswald speaks

Script2_400x478Script pages from Disney Epic Mickey 2

In February of last year, Brian Freyermuth had what he calls "the trippiest" experience. He's in the VO studio in Los Angeles, just walking down a hallway, minding his own business, when he hears voices coming out of a nearby room. He stops. He listens. His mind is blown.

"In a lot of aspects, Oswald's voice is Frank Welker's voice," Freyermuth says. "He just puts more of an attitude on it, more of an accent on it. Unlike a lot of the stuff that he does, Oswald in a lot of ways is Frank.

"[Welker] was talking to the woman who does Minnie Mouse, who is not in the game, but they were just chatting in there. Her voice is also like Minnie Mouse. I'm walking down the hallway and I'm hearing a conversation between Minnie and Oswald and they're talking about plumbers. [laughs] That was the weirdest moment in my entire experience."

The selection of Welker as the voice of Oswald means more than just a paycheck; from now on, Welker literally is Oswald. Unless something goes terribly wrong, he will voice the character in whatever form he takes for the foreseeable future, and future generations of voice actors will be drawing on his work, mimicking his performance.

Freyermuth says it took a while for the implications of Junction Point's meddling in history to sink in.

"There were points in conversations with other companies ... referring to Junction Point on how Oswald talks," Freyermuth says. "They would ask us. 'Would Oswald say this?' That just blew me away. This character has been around since the '20s. This was the original. To give him a voice that now Disney ... Frank Welker is going to be Oswald from here on out. That was pretty amazing."

Welker, for his part, is taking it all in stride.

"Forever is a long time," Welker says. "And the business doesn't really work that way. If for any reason the character was not working for them or the fans hated it, I would be playing ping pong in Belize and not on the studio lot. It is the studio's right to recast at any time and actors understand that ... however, I am thrilled they have chosen me and hope Oswald and I will be around for a long time and I will be given a parking spot with my name on it and spelled correctly."

Welker prepared for his role by digging into the art and history with vocal director Rick Dempsey.

"[Dempsey] has such a good ear and knows the Disney characters better than anyone," Welker says. "He wanted to try getting in the range of Mickey but not sound the same. We did a lot of versions but felt they were all too close to Mickey. We wanted him to have his very own unique sound without upstaging or being grating on the ears, so we later changed his voice to a more natural sound, youthful and with enthusiasm to make up for the pinched sound."

Welker's first performance as Oswald didn't involve any words. He was brought in to record the miscellaneous noises and grunts the character makes as players jockey him through the game. The so-called "barks." Spector was so moved, he recorded the performance to his laptop and carries Welker's Oswald barks around with him, wherever he goes.

"I ... listen to them every once in a while," Spector says, "because it's amazing how much emotion guys like that can get out of just silly little sounds. If you can get that much emotion out of barks and beeps and boops and groans, imagine what you can do with real words. I'll never forget it. We booked him for four hours in this early session, and he ripped through it in like 30 minutes."

The next time would be for real. The studio would need an early scene recorded in a rush for one of the game's trailers. This would be the first time Welker would be reading words written by Wolfman and Freyermuth. The first time anyone in history would be performing dialogue written specifically for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

It is November of 2011. Welker, Dempsey and Johnson are in the VO booth in Los Angeles. Freyermuth, Favre and Spector sit, anxiously, around the telephone in Austin.

Welker likes to look at the characters he's voicing, as he speaks. He says he prefers this to just having them described. It makes it easier for him to get his "wheels spinning." He has a picture of Oswald in the booth with him. He steps up to the microphone, and when he opens his mouth, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit speaks.

There is silence on the line. The men from Junction Point are stunned. Frank Welker has done it.

"Warren loves to tell people that he's a real big stickler for detail," says Freyermuth. "He likes to call himself a pain in the ass, trying to make sure things are good and according to how he likes it. But every single [take] was on the money."

Spector was "tripping out."

"It was mind-blowing," Spector says. "He would do a line read and everybody would sort of sit and go, 'What do you think?' And I'd say, 'Uh … yeah.' Then he'd do the next line and I'd say, 'Well ... yeah.' He'd say, 'No, no, no. I can do it better.' He'd do a second read and it would be better. The guy's such a pro. It's crazy. Yeah. It's remarkable."

Spector was "tripping out."

Spector says "choose your words" when asked to describe how it feels to have played such an instrumental role in resurrecting Oswald.

As for Oswald, no one can say for sure what the future will hold. Sales of Epic Mickey 2 weren't as high as anyone at Disney would have liked, and the game's Metacritic average settled at around 60, which is not great. Yet with Disney making inroads into mobile and social games, it's not hard to imagine Oswald might be finding his way back into gamers' hands some time soon. He even has his own gas station at Disney California Adventure.

Spector believes that whatever happens in the future, the fact that it took a video game to bring Oswald back to life proves how far the medium has come.

"Think about what it says about where video games are now," he says. "Disney, the biggest media company in the world, says, 'Hey, we have this character we want to re-introduce to the world. Where are we going to do it? TV? Nah. Movies? Nah. Theme parks? Nah. Games? Yeah!' I guarantee you that 20 years ago, that would not have happened.

"And then the first time that character speaks — the first time anybody on planet Earth ever hears that character’s voice — is in a video game. That character given voice by Frank Welker, the voice determined by a character description, psychological profiles, scripts from a video game. It's like another box we can tick off in the quest for cultural credibility. It says everything you need to know. We made it."

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Image credits: The Walt Disney Company, Shutterstock
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