• Panel Writeup: From Page to Personality

    I really gotta apologize for getting these writeups out to y'all after the weekend's done and overwith. When you're in Las Vegas, though, you kind of have to explore the city a little bit! Anyway, I know you guys are moderately intrigued for some more panel coverage. To get this out of the way, Equestria Daily wasn't able to cover the first VA panel with Andrea, Tabitha, Cathy, and Lee, so let's go ahead and bring you the highlights of the second writers' panel of the convention. We've got M.A. Larson moderating; Amy Keating Rogers alongside Garry Chalk (Fido) and Brenda Crichlow (Zecora); Meghan McCarthy with Andrew Francis (Shining Armor); and Cindy Morrow with Michael Daingerfield (Braeburn) and Maryke Hendrikse (Gilda) joining to reminisce how writing and voice acting come together in the show -- after the break.

    M.A. opened up by asking the VAs how often they go off-script, ad-lib, that kind of thing. Garry comes right out of the gate on this one, claiming with basso rumble and many a winking nod that he ad-libs all the time. The writers try really hard. They really do. But sometimes, he said, taking his time, it takes a genius to take a script out of the mire... and raise it into the stratosphere. Does anybody remember ReBoot? All of Hack and Slash's dialogue was simply Garry and Scott McNeil riffing off of each other the whole time.

    In comes Brenda with the righteous shutdown, giving all kudos to the writers for producing some top-notch scripts for them to play around with. The atmosphere in the recording room, according to her, is a kind of equilibrium (my words) between silly ad-libs off the record to complete seriousness when the red light flickers on. Maryke sticks to the scripts when she reads, also citing how the writing tells her how to deliver her lines.

    ... I should just give you guys the bullets, huh?

    • My notes say "TV influences?", but I'mma ignore them to tell you how everyone on the panel got to where they are today.
      • Brenda grew up singing, dancing, and acting, going to theater school when she was 8. She managed to get into Studio 58 and had roles in 21 Jump Street and MacGyver.
      • Garry acted until he was 8, stopped for a while, and then got back into the acting scene in high school when he realized it could actually pay. His first animation gig was The Legend of Hiwatha from 1983, and went on to voice He-Man, Optimus Prime, Doctor Robotnik, and Luca Brasi from the Godfathe video game.
      • Meghan was always interested in writing -- why be an astronaut or a lawyer when she could do both? She spent a year in fellowship with Disney, and got to meet Lauren while her husband was working on Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.
      • Michael's father was an actor, director, and role model. His mother made him model as a baby -- and he would exit the industry at ten years old. He got into standup at the University of Kentucky and came back to Canada in time to voice Ace Ventura from the eponymous cartoon. He also rattled off Wheeljack, Quickmix, Inferno, and a bit part in the final season of Smallville.
      • Maryke indulged in the dramatic since she was four, singing "Maybe" from Annie at the window every time her mother went to the grocery store. Her father was an unfortunate opposite from Michael's, though -- and it got to the point at which she refused his demands to take physics saying "Dad, it's my life!" and slamming the table. In the company of her family. Her Auntie Mavis was the first to clap.
      • Cindy dabbled in everything and finally decided to attend CalArts even if it was $6,000 more than UCLA. Worth it: she met Craig McCracken, Genndy Tartakovsky, and Rob Renzetti there, with Lauren coming along a year later. Amy was there, too. Hearing the agents of my childhood coming together like that stirred no small amount of intense jealousy deep inside my broken heart. Anyway, her husband worked on Dexter's Lab with Craig and Genndy, while she worked The Powerpuff Girls with Amy and Mitch with My Gym Partner's a Monkey. Some time later, Lauren asked her to write for Friendship is Magic.

    Here, M.A. went down the line of VAs, asking them how they developed each of their characters.

    When Cindy first got the premise of "Griffon the Brush Off," Gilda was a bully who wanted to keep Rainbow Dash all to herself. Cindy knew right away that the character would end the episode unredeemed, and Maryke drew inspiration from Gilda's unapologetic behavior to inform her reading.

    On Braeburn, Michael auditioned for the character from home. He imagined Applejack's cousin as someone friendly, hyper, and super sweet from Kentucky (hey!). Seemed to work!

    For Shining Armor, Andrew Francis knew he wanted to portray a genuinely cool, yet humble older brother. Meghan said much the same thing: he was that big brother you look up to who likes you back and is sweet to you. The "surfer" edge in Shining's character kind of snuck in and gives him some depth beyond his very regimental Captain of the Guard persona.

    Garry came around with a nifty little speech on his job as a voice actor: that it was their job to bring the characters off the page in a way that the viewers could identify with them, because within that world of theirs, they're real. A good VA makes people say, "I know that guy! I like her! I want to be part of that world!" (Oh, Garry. If only you could see how many human-in-Equestria fics there are in circulation out there) For developing Fido, he imagined the character as a big bad dog who kidnapped little children, and imagined what his brother's hulking mastiff would sound like if he could speak.

    Then the mike came around to Brenda and Amy to discuss Zecora. Amy told everyone Fido and the Diamond Dogs were originally concepted as '30's-'40's-era gangsters, and Zecora was originally in the pilot episode as written by Lauren. As known by some of you, Zecora was called "Shaman" in the preliminary script, and she didn't actually rhyme at first!

    That was when Amy busted out beta scripts of "A Dog and Pony Show" and "Bridle Gossip" for Gary and Brenda to read. Goodness. Gracious.

    (Yes, I realize my camera work is extremely poor. Yes, I recorded in 480p. Please go easy on me and just enjoy the readings.)

    Brenda went on to explain that she concepted Zecora as a grounded, calm character who was larger than Brenda herself, and that as time went on, her voice became lower... and lower. She had to search a little bit to find Zecora's accent, though -- she couldn't affect the French overtones of the Cajun people, and a straight West Indian accent didn't do it for her, either. Not until she infused it with an equal part of African (... stay cool, guys), and it clicked.

    Floor opened for questions.
    • Brenda's pseudo-Swahili at her cauldron came about through iteration -- one version would be too broad, another would be too narrow. She knew she needed to be loud and proud no matter what, though, and to have no apologies for finding Zecora's voice. Brenda recalled a conversation she had with another fan of the series: "remember to dance. Take it, and go with it."
    • What was the deal with Twilight's cutie mark in Magical Mystery Cure? (As you'll recall, the mark on her flank had five peripheral stars, but her banners and other places had six.) ... we gave Meghan way too many "Oh, crap" moments at this convention. The script passed onto the storyboarders didn't address this, which points to an animation issue more than anything else.
    • What does Twilight rule over now that she's a princess? We'll have to wait and find out.
    • Did M.A. Larson expect the "liquid pride" line to take off? The line was debated before the hand-off, but Andrew didn't remember giving it any special attention during recording.
    • How closely do the writers work with the VAs? Well, Meghan and Amy live in LA, and the VAs live in Canada. Meghan would totally do table reads with the talent were she closer, though.
    • Continuity has always been an important issue as writing for the seasons went on. It helps that Jayson Thiessen has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything that's happened in the show. That Daring Do book Rainbow was reading in "It's About Time?" Amy had no idea "Read It and Weep" was out there; Jayson put that reference in there himself.
    • M.A. Larson had a hard time making Zecora rhyme in "Luna Eclipsed." He thinks Amy's better at it.
    • The process of discovering a character's voice involves starting broadly and getting it narrower and narrower with successive passes. Michael does this until he feels like he could live anywhere as the character in question. Andrew found locking onto traits he recognizes in Shining Armor to help him with his voice.
    • In response to employing accents in voicework, Meghan stressed the importance of knowing the range of any given character, since it takes a long time to go from script to screen. Gary found accents to help expand his repertoire (but it wouldn't help him do kid voices, ever). He also noted how characters naturally evolve over their lives. Compare Homer Simpson from Season 1 to his latest incarnations, for instance.
    • DHX's voice director assigns background pony roles to whoever shows up and would be suited for the part in question, since writers very rarely go beyond "BACKGROUND PONY #1" in the script.
    Since you guys were so patient in reading through this writeup (they're getting longer, I swear)... have some videos of the VAs just horsing around on stage.

    And, of course, how could I dare to leave out the inimitable Amy and her renowned ukelele playing? Watch this one, if nothing else. I think you guys'll agree that nothing went wrong.