The Hollow Tree

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Sep 1st, 2011
Mel
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In the past, I have written about my being a “packaging whore”, and that the colorful glow of a new product will usually cause me to open my tiny wallet, and buy it. Bright red metallic bags of coffee, clear bottles of artisan water, and bright pink packages of Vitamin C powder. Yes, it is true. Years of being around the advertising business damaged me, and placed its indelible ink on my tattooed soul.
You must understand my plight. A few years back, I was one third of a fairly sizable music production company in Chicago, Illinois. We specialized in music for advertising, but also had an independent record label, and produced some pretty sweet music videos along the way.

While we were known for our work with McDonald’s, Seven Up, Kraft, Subway, and other well known companies, we seemed to attract animated creatures. Tony The TIger, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and more importantly, The Keebler Elves.

Now, you may be wondering why the elves from Keebler were important, so, I’ll explain. Our client, let’s call him Tom, believed that the elves were real. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Tom talked about Ernie and his pals as if they were dear, tiny friends, who just happened to operate magic ovens in a nearby hollow tree. There were even discussions as to what the elves talked about, and what was appropriate to say around them.

Now. Tom was actually a very cool guy, who appeared a tad nerdy, but was actually a kick-ass downhill skier, and quite an intelligent fellow. He could ski the Black Diamonds at Taos, so in my book, he was completely acceptable. In fact, I envied him for his experiences in Taos, Aspen, and most of all, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Only true cowboys skied there, and I reveled in his poignant tales of the outback and skiing in the bowls.

For those of you who have done bowl skiing, you will note that is is not for the faint of heart, and you have to be one strong athlete to play in that sandbox. So, you can imagine my surprise, when I discovered that my hero believed in the Keebler Elves. Yes, they existed, and yes, they baked cookies and other assorted baked goods in one tiny oven in a magical tree. Sure they do, Tom. Whatever you say. (Did the check clear?)

Ernie Keebler in his Glory Days

So, we all humored dear Tom, and sent him on his merry way, complete with custom elf music. On a lucky day, we would record vocals singing about the elves, and be assured of adequate “Blue Mondays.” (Anyone who has ever worked extensively in the commercial industry can appreciate those good old days of heavy residuals.) Singing about elves was a very good thing.

Now, you may be thinking that I am being too critical of Tom, and that I am poking fun at him. I am not. I am writing this to admit that I have have become an “animaniac,” and believe that the creatures in animated movies are in fact, real. They have personalities, and will hold perfectly logical conversations with you –  if you take the time to listen. In fact, they will often visit you in the middle of the night, when you should be sleeping, but just can’t seem to do so. And so, they are there, keeping you company, when there’s nobody else willing to oblige.

Writing and recording a vocal dub for a new 3-D animated movie, I had the pleasure of meeting 17 such creatures. Some little, and some big, but, all very important to the plot line, and all unique individuals. Each one needed just the right voice, and more often than not, the actor ended up resembling their animated counterpart. It was uncanny.

I also had the pleasure (and pain) of screening over 1000 voices for the parts, and giving the co-directors only the “creme de la creme” of the lot. It took several weeks, but we managed to select our cast. We were ready to begin our 2-week recording mission, taking our daily commute from New Jersey to the Flat Iron District of NYC, with savvy aplomb.

There I was, sitting with the co-directors, listening to characters and counting lip flaps. It was insane. With each new actor, it would take about 30 minutes for them to settle into the part. Once established, the character would slip away every now and then, and the engineer would go back and play them a refresher take, to get them back on track.

“Wait, that was a great read, but you don’t sound like your character.”

“Oh no, we lost the character again.”

“Wait, that’s not what he would say. Rewrite the part.”

“That was really funny, but we can’t say that.”

“Can you say that with a bit more air and less volume?”

“Great job. One more as a safety, OK?”

I could go on and on. It grew into an obsession. Each animated character became a living, breathing person, capable of emotion, attitude, personality, and more than willing to haunt your dreams. Arguments ensued over subtle voice inflections, and it took 3 different actors before we managed to get the perfect elf.

Elric The Elf Guide Reads Ronal's Aura

Elf? Yes, elf. Now, this elf did not bake cookies in a magic oven, but he was very special, and critical to the success of the movie’s plot line. Our elf needed to transcend sexuality and be everything to everyone. An “elf for all seasons”, if you will. The actor had to “feel the elf”, and “be the elf”.

“Just relax and channel the elf. He’s like a big rubber band, and speaks with poetic lyricism. See how he springs like a grasshopper? He sincerely believes he is actually helping out.”

In the end, we found the perfect elf, and he became the best elf he could possibly be. The older, odd man out, given the task of guiding three teenagers on a quest for freedom and justice. The worst guide in Elven history, and 100% ours.

The movie, “Ronal The Barbarian” premieres in Danish on 9/29/11, in Copenhagen, Denmark, while the US/International dub will roll out in December 2011. Be on the lookout for Ronal, Alibert, Zandra, Elric, and the other fascinating characters that I  now regard as some of my closest friends. I hope you fall in love with them all, and that they leave a happy mark in your heart.

Now that, is magic!

Ronal The Barbarian Magaposter

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