X-Men Show

UTILITY PLAYERS

Animated TV series have “lead character” actors just like any TV series.  But what they also have are what sports teams would call “utility players” — like a baseball player that can play any of the positions on the field.  Teams learn to depend on them.  Some of the voice actors in animated series end up playing a bunch of very different characters.  Cal Dodd was our Wolverine.  Alison Sealy-Smith was Storm.  But we had performers that played five or six different roles, each with its own voice and character.  Lawrence Bayne was one (see picture below).  He was best known for voicing CABLE, who made appearances in every season and who had the challenge of sounding larger and tougher (?) than Wolverine.  Lawrence told me that he did that by underplaying his brutish character — which played nicely against Cal Dodd’s fiercer interpretation of Wolverine.  But then Lawrence also played the regretful father of Scott Summers, a man who has to explain to his adult son why he had abandoned him.  He was Captain America, an iconic hero in no way like Cable.  He even played a sly villain (Fabian Cortez) who had the guts to betray Magneto.  So what do we tell X-MEN:TAS fans when they ask: who was Lawrence Bayne?  He was Cable, but he was more.  He was one of our utility players.  We came to depend on him.

cable

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IMAGES & WORDS: EQUALLY ESSENTIAL, STRONGER TOGETHER

There have forever been questions about art, how it affects us, which elements are most important.  Is it the images or the words?  Movies and TV and live theater and comics share the advantage of having both — with sound effects and music included in what we do in animation.  The philosophical positions (writer: “I thought it up!”; artist: “I made it real!”; actor: “I gave it life!”; composer: “I gave it context!”; etc.) have been argued since before Aristotle made his points millennia ago.  To me, the disputes seem not only wrong-headed but futile.  No one can ever prove that the words of a poem or the style of a painting or the lilt of a melody or the dynamism of an actor’s reading provoked the most profound artistic experience.  To pretend otherwise may make for fun arguments, but it is sheer indefensible arrogance.  Creative people tend to get so caught up in their craft that it “feels” like a creation is theirs alone.  But in a collaborative art like animation, all contribute.  Look at the moment below from Episode Two (“Night of the Sentinels – II”), where Jean has sensed Morph’s pain at his death.  When Charles Xavier reaches out with his mind to locate his friend, the deftly-written and sensitively-voiced line is simple: “I don’t sense anything…  At all.”  The scene is precisely sketched and directed by Larry Houston in the storyboard.  The audience can feel the sense of loss in actor Cedric Smith’s quiet reading.   The sound track and music were thankfully restrained.  Editor Sharon Janis paced the cuts just right.  Change any of these elements, and the power of the moment vanishes.  Above all: collaboration.Jean senses MorphXavier senses Morph

 

 

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CHARLES & MAGNUS

There is no more intense relationship in the X-Men universe that than between Professor Charles Xavier and his longtime friend and adversary, Magneto (or “Magnus” or “Eric Lehnsherr” — he had many names over 50 years).  In the books, which began in 1963, they had met as young men right after World War II, a time when teenaged Lehnsherr had lost his parents in Hitler’s Holocaust.  Each was was idealistic and driven; they bonded over hopes for a better world and the fact that each was discovering the astounding mutant powers growing within him.  When their ideals grew apart, Charles and Magnus became adversaries, never enemies (at least in our interpretation).  We chose to stress this relationship in X-MEN:TAS more than it had been in the books since each man represented a philosophical choice for the many mutants we would meet over 76 episodes: to cooperate with humans, or to separate from them.  This was not the traditional hero/villain set-up.  We wanted Magneto to be at times as sympathetic as Charles.  We wanted to show the deep affection each had for the other.  We even threw them together in The Savageland for short bits of eleven episodes in Season Two.  To showcase this relationship, the many X-MEN movies have chosen four of the finest dramatic actors in the world: Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy to play Professor X at various ages, and Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender to play Magneto.  Every X-Men fan knows their names and faces.  The actors that you may not know as well are the two men who so beautifully established the characters eight years earlier in our X-MEN:TAS show.  Cedric Smith (pictured on the right) was commanding and compassionate as Charles Xavier, and David Hemblen (on the left) was his equal as Magnus.  It was no accident that, in the series finale, when the X-Men team had to bid a final farewell to their beloved leader, Magneto was there as well to say goodbye.

 

 

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

WHY WOLVERINE?

Every lead X-MEN:TAS character was important to the storytelling.  Different fans have different favorites.  We couldn’t have crafted the 59 stories we did without all of them.  But if push came to shove (not something you would be encouraged to do around this guy), one character emerged as the heart and soul of the team: Wolverine.  Logan was such a compelling character (thanks, Len Wein) that we had to fight the urge to overuse him.  People forget that he was nearly 100 years old when we told our stories, that he had lived through two world wars and “seen it all.”  He either cared too damn much, or he’d find himself, like Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show, “just tired of putting up” with things.  He was world-weary and a hopeful romantic at the same time.  He must have had a dozen doomed loves over the years, probably sure in each case that “this was the one!”  He just felt things so deeply that watching him we had to feel it as well.  With all that said, I think that our team was the perfect set-up for his character to flourish.  He wasn’t the team founder — that was Xavier.  He wasn’t the field leader — that was Scott.  Despite his anger and frustration, he respected their authority and his place in the team.  But if he needed to bust loose and leave for a week, he could.  That’s something Charles Xavier or Scott or Jean would never do.  It’s like making him a sergeant in the army instead of a general.  That’s where he belongs.  I think that may be why it has been tough to make him “the lead” in follow-up movies and TV series.  It’s not a natural place for Logan to be Logan.  He’s at his greatest when he overcomes personal demons for the X-Men, or a lover or a friend, not alone.  We all know he can always “Go where I wanna go!” as he famously proclaimed as he stormed off in an early story.  The fact that he stays, for the X-Men, is what makes him great.  Below is a recent sketch by X-MEN:TAS designer Will Meugniot which conveys for me some of the pain and regret felt by this memorable hero.

wolverine_cardboard_02_hlf_tone

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

CASTING X-MEN:TAS

Once we got the stories started, casting began in Toronto.  That’s right, the entire incredible cast was chosen and recorded in Canada.  Fox Kids had had good luck recording there (Beetlejuice, other series), so we all had great hopes.  The first recordings came back VERY wrong.  What none of us counted on was that no one had done a series like X-Men:TAS before, so the voices came back young and cartoony. You couldn’t blame the voice-over professionals — it was what they were used to.  Sidney Iwanter and Larry Houston went up to Toronto and gradually got across that these recordings needed to be different.  Serious.  Realistic.  Movie-like.  Luckily, Toronto is a major theater town.  Some classically trained actors started auditioning and, after many stabs at the “Night of the Sentinels” scripts, a new tone was established.  The performances had the heart and soul that we had imagined as we wrote.  As you can see by my note to producer Winston Richard, the sound I had in my head was that of dramatic, adult actors in tough roles in serious films.  Thanks to casting director Karen Goora and voice director Dan Hennessey, we succeeded beyond my expectations.  Enjoy:

x-men cast voice notes.png

X-Men Show

OUR UNSURPASSED CAST

Most of our voice-over artists say that they had never done a series quite like X-MEN: TAS. Here is a group of them with the actors’ pictures beside their drawn characters (taken from a clever post by @jane_lane_fanboy). We hope to have all of the cast’s photos and images posted soon, along with some of their memories of being heroes and villains in the X-Men universe.

X-Cast