Posts Tagged ‘transformers’

When I think about the best animated series that have filled my childhood, many were produced by Sunbow Entertainment. Another thing that all these show had in common? Wonderful voice actors! I have had the privilege of interviewing a man who has voiced many great characters from the eighties and beyond, Mr. Neil Ross!

Neil Ross headshot 032

David Martel: “You were born in London, England, but I have learned in another interview that you have been living in Montréal when you were young! When was that? In which part of the town did you live?”

Neil Ross: “We lived in Westmount from roughly 1950 to 1957.”

DM: “When you were living in Montréal, what were your parents doing?”

NR: “My father was in sales. My mother was a homemaker.”

DM: “Did your parents work in French or did they only use the English Language?”

NR: “My Mother spoke a little French, mostly because she had spent some time in Paris, and she read books in French from time to time. We lived in the Westmount section of Montreal which was primarily English speaking in those days, so I heard little French spoken on a daily basis.”

DM: “Did you learn any French yourself?”

NR: “We had French classes in school, one hour a day as I recall. We left Canada when I was in the seventh grade and I heard no French in Southern California – just Spanish. So, after a few years, the little bit of French I had sadly slipped away.”

DM: “Have you ever visited other areas of the province of Québec?”

NR: “We vacationed at a lake a couple of times but I can’t recall the name. I was just a kid in the back seat. Nobody told me anything.”

DM: “Do you sometimes come back to Montréal? Did you ever visit your old neighbourhood?”

NR: “I’ve never been back.”

DM: “What kind of career were you pursuing prior to becoming a voice actor? What were your dreams?”

NR: “I started out in radio. That was my first dream. I was a radio DJ and production guy (producing pre-recorded commercials and promos). I did that work for 22 years.”

DM: “What got you interested into voice acting? Also, how and where did you get your first gig?”

NR: “As a result of my radio production work I began to become aware of the people I heard voicing the big national television and radio commercials and narrating the documentaries. I had always had a knack for doing character voices and accents so I began to wonder about the folks who voiced animation. I assumed that they were on-camera actors who were picking up a few extra bucks. Eventually I found out that there was a type of performer who just did voice work and that the trade was called Voice-over. It was only happening in New York and Los Angeles in those days. When I finally landed a radio job in L.A. I immediately started going to voice-over classes and looking for an agent. The first VO job I booked through an agent in L.A. was to narrate some kind of sales presentation. The first animation job was at Hanna-Barbera for an episode of Richie Rich . I played a pushy salesman who gets his tie caught in the door.”

DM: “Is there any character or kind of character that you voiced for which you were not entirely comfortable with?”

NR: “I do recall being cast as an effeminate pig in a show called Kissyfur. I didn’t exactly drive to those sessions whistling Zipadee Do Dah. Some roles are a bit more of a ‘stretch’ than others, but work’s work. You do what you have to.”

DM: “On the other hand, is there any particular character or type of character that you would qualify as your favourite?”

NR: “I like any character that is complex, multi faceted and conflicted. Gives one a lot to work with.”

DM: “Among the numerous characters that you have voiced, which ones were good examples? Personally, I’ve always liked G.I.Joe’s Shipwreck who was a very complex character. It was also Script editor Buzz Dixon‘s favourite, so I guess he got a little more time and efforts than other characters.”

NR: “Shipwreck is a prime example of that kind of character. Most of the G. I. Joe characters are all good or all evil. Shipwreck is basically a good guy but he’s not really a team player. He likes to do things his way and it gets him into trouble sometimes. He marches to the beat of his own drum and so he’s a lot of fun to play. Norman Osborn/Green Goblin was pretty conflicted (more like two different characters really).”

DM: “Is there any character that you miss voicing or any show that you miss working on?”

NR: “I miss them all to a greater or lesser degree (maybe not Duane the pig in Kissyfur).  Other than Shipwreck I guess I miss Springer in Transformers and Leoric in Visionaries (I wish that show had lasted longer); also miss Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in Spiderman. On the comedy side I loved the bombastic newsman Whitley White in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I never got tired of voicing him. Great fun.”

DM: “In the eighties, you have voiced the iconic John Rambo character in the animated series. How was it to voice the principal hero of a whole show?”

NR: “As John Gielgud is alleged to have said: “there are no small parts – only small actors.” Still it feels mighty good to play the lead in a 65 episode series fairly early on in my Voice-over career. I kind of felt like I’d ‘arrived.’”

DM: “Are there any shows that you would have liked to work on, but didn’t get the chance to?”

NR: “Of course, but I was so fortunate to get to do what I did do that I’d be a piker if I complained.”

DM: “You have worked in both television and videogames as a voice actor. What did you prefer? Are there any notable differences?”

NR: “I don’t really have a preference. The biggest difference between animation and games is that games aren’t linear. You don’t work with other actors and you frequently have to do lines that aren’t supported by any specific scene or structure. You’re kind of flying blind. It’s probably the audio equivalent of an on-camera actor working in front of a green screen. They tell him there’s going to be a monster behind him, but he can’t see it.”

DM: “What are you up to these days? Anything that you would like to discuss?”

NR: “A little of this, a little of that. I have a recurring character in the TV version of Kung Fu Panda., I’ve done a number of guest shots on the TV version of Garfield and for the last three years I’ve been the announcer for the AFI Life Achievement Award telecast.”

DM: “What do you do when you don’t work?”

NR: “The only thing I have that might qualify as a hobby is mixed martial arts. I’ve trained in Krav Maga, Kickboxing, Kali and recently something called Warrior Yoga. I’m not a very promising student but I keep showing up. I spend a fair amount of time reading – books, newspapers and the internet. I’d like to do some traveling but I never seem to get around to it.”

DM: “Any projects or objectives for 2013?”

NR: “I’m just working on staying healthy. I’m reaching the age where things start to happen and a number of friends are experiencing serious health issues and you begin to appreciate having good health in a way you never did before. So I watch my weight, watch what I eat and drink, take a lot of vitamins, minerals and other supplements and get a lot of exercise.”

DM: “Thanks a lot again Mr. Ross again for this privilege! Your voice is already well known, but I’m sure that we’ll hear you again for many years.


The current pictures belong to Neil Ross and is used with his permission.


David Martel: “What are your plans for 2011? Do you have any projects going on that you can talk about?”

Flint Dille: “I can tease a couple of things. Working on an epic game.  Doing a comic book with some characters that have already been mentioned in this interview.  Agent 13 is coming back as books, a radio show, reprints of the graphic novels, a re-sploof on the RPG and we’re finishing the Agent 13 novels, too.”


DM: “Let’s talk about Agent 13. Are you behind the whole idea for this franchise, the game and its stories?”

FD: “Dave Marconi and I in equal parts.”

DM: “How did you get involved into the first series of book from the eighties? Was it because of your TV experience? It’s about the same time that you were working for Sunbow.”

FD: “I’d just gotten done writing the Sagard books with Gary Gygax and kind of liked writing books. Talked Gary into doing a series with TSR that would bridge (this was the idea at the time) Top Secret and their roaring twenties Gangbusters game line. Dave Marconi had read a bunch of pulps and watched some serials and wanted to do the genre. We simultaneously put the idea together as a movie pitch. In short, it was coming from a lot of directions.

In movie terms, we thought of it as James Bond meets Indiana Jones. Oddly enough, Agent 13 is kind of hovering in the Background of the ARG we’re doing in my class at UCLA in secret society form.”

DM: “Will the Agent 13 radio show be like listening to a novel? Or will it have interactive parts?”

FD: “Its a dramatic presentation.”

DM: “Regarding the books, is there a number already planned or you will wait for the success to determine if you write another each time?”

FD: “We’re actually just kind of making this up as we go along. We’ll see what people like and don’t like and tune the story based on it. That’s the cool thing about digital media and modern franchises. We’ve probably got 10 ideas. Fans might have ideas. We might find that somebody writes the books better than we do, and they can take off with them.”

DM: “Agent 13 being back after such a long time, was there a popular demand for this?”

FD: “No. We just dreamed it up and did it. It was funny. First thing that happened was that a major producer, Sean Daniels, read it and wanted to make it as a movie. He did the mummy films. Once that happened, we started looking at the stuff and saying, ‘this is kind of cool.’ Then, it was just in the air.”

DM: “Why did you establish it in the 30’s? Was it based on the fact that wanted to make James Bond meet Indiana Jones?”

FD: “The thirties, right on the eve of WWII are a great era. They are the era of classic pulp. Maybe there’s something about the recession and that era. Not sure.”

DM: “Thanks a lot Flint for taking this time with me. This is much appreciated.”

FD: “No problem. It’s flattering and fun to get stuff out.”

DM: “Happy 2011!”

FD: “Yeah! Happy 2011. Or the year of Zoll. Looks like it’s going to be a really interesting year.”

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 1)

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 2)

I do not own the rights to the current pictures


David Martel: “Over the last few years, you have worked on many videogames such as Ghostbusters, Terminator, Riddick and many others. What do you find the most interesting about writing for video games?”

Flint Dille: “It’s a whole new medium. There are no rules. Or at least as soon as there is one, it changes. It’s fun to be sitting out on the creative edge. I’m judging the WGA awards and the DICE awards right now. People are doing some real breakthrough work. I’m thrilled to be there.”

DM: “How is it to write game scripts based on a popular film or series franchise? What were the biggest challenges for you?”

FD: “Well… A game lasts 8 or 10 hours and a movie is 2. Also, games are about challenges and the physical universe and its harder to do character (which is where the challenge comes from). This question lies at the heart of Transformedia. The idea is that you want to bring something to the franchise that wasn’t there before. It was a lot of fun to invent a Batman villain. With Riddick, we didn’t have a script, just a vague reference to ‘Butcher Bay’ in Pitch Black. We built a whole world out of one sentence. The world seemed to fit with the rest of the Riddick metafiction, so that was kind of cool. Ghostbusters was fun because we approached it like we were writing the 2nd movie. The trick with that was working a player into the ensemble and balancing the horror and humor.”

DM: “Speaking of horror, when you wrote the game script for F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, where did you take your inspiration? Are you a fan of horror movies?”

FD: “I have a funny relationship with Horror. I’ve created two horror projects. One was an audio disc that grew up to be a CD-ROM interactive movie, called Terror TRAX (you can find it on the web). I wrote it, directed it (as both audio and video) and then Renny Harlan did it as a TV pilot for Fox.

Then, John Zuur Platten and I created a game design document called BACKWATER, which got turned into a movie called VENOM. It got made and we got screenwriting credit for it after a Writer’s Guild arbitration. So horror has been good to me.

F.E.A.R. was an interesting project. Very Japanese horror superimposed over apocalyptic ‘techno thriller’. The big thing was figuring out the little girl and all of the other craziness. You have to kind of let go and ride with the Japanese aspects of it. Liked that project. Great guys.”

DM: “Let’s talk about your ARG class at UCLA.”

FD: “Well, an ARG is an Alternate Reality Game. That means that it’s a game, usually played in the real world and in cyberspace that is intended to feel, to some degree, ‘real’.

Alternate Reality Games are sometimes confused with Augmented Reality Games (also ARG). Those are games where a mobile computing device (smart phone) is used to ‘see’ things in cyberspace that are ‘mixed in’ with the real world. It’s also called, ‘mixed reality’. And to make things more confusing, Alternate Reality Games sometimes use Augmented Reality Technology.”

DM: “That makes it confusing, indeed. Alternate reality gaming using a real world reference, how do you deal with real world’s actual limits and rules? I suppose that it is a subject that is discussed in your class. Is there an ethical concern about it? I.e. Murder or theft that you can choose to commit if you’d like in games like Grand Theft Auto, for an example. No consequences until you get caught. How much freedom should you get in an ARG universe?”

FD: “Good questions. The first issue is that you have to define the boundaries for your game. Some are intensely local, others are global. That’s the ultimate expression of any internet game. The reach of the web. You have to define your game in terms of time, space, etc. We stumble into the ethical issues, but you just kind of do what you feel is right. The general rule is that you want to be ‘invisible’ to the rest of the world. Nobody knows who you are or that you’re playing the game. Of course, that’s just one kind of ARG.”

DM: “Is it the first class that you teach?”

FD: “No. I taught a class about Game Writing a few years ago when I wanted to get off dead center with the Ultimate Guide.”

DM: “That is a good way to prepare a book about the subject. It gets you right in the middle of it.”

FD: “Yeah. You’re forced to see the issues right at you.”

For those of you who’d like to know more about video game writing and learn from its masters, get your hands on The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design , written by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten.

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 1)

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 3)

I do not own the rights to the current pictures

At the beginning of 2011, I decided to put up a blog where I would interview professional from the television and film industries, but most of all people that had an impact on my life. One of the first persons that immediately came to my mind was American writer Flint Dille, whose work in the eighties had a great influence on my writing career. Since we had been in contact before, Flint agreed fast to be the first interviewee. Not only was he available, but his generosity did transform the interview in something much bigger than what I had expected. It is with great pleasure that I present to you this very first interview.


David Martel: “Some people my age will remember Flint Dille (Which is pronounced “Dill-ee”) as a staff writer and story editor who worked at Sunbow Productions in the eighties. Since then, you have been involved with numerous animated televisions shows, hit videogames, online worlds, comic books and feature films, as a writer, consultant, designer and producer. You own and run the company GZP (Ground Zero Productions) and the Bureau of Film and Games (, with John Zuur Platten, which provides intellectual property creation and management for the film and game industries”.

Flint Dille: “Yeah. It’s been an interesting ride. It all more or less adds up to what I’m doing now, which is Transmedia, or what I like to refer to as Transformedia, because the idea is that each different medium should add something to the property or franchise that the other mediums don’t bring. And yeah, now I’m working on movies, games, comics and a non-fiction book. The most recent incarnation is professor at UCLA, teaching a class in Alternate Reality Games”.

DM: “Back in the eighties, you have worked on great shows such as G.I.Joe, The Transformers, Inhumanoid and Visionaries. Did you have any favourite franchise?”

FD: “I liked them all for different reasons, but to be honest I looked at them as kind of a shared universe. Kind of like the moves are now, the “NEST”team in Transformers could almost be the Joe Team. We had characters that wandered between them. “Joe” was the easiest. Transformers was the most complex. Inhumanoids was the wildest. I re-watched it. Crazy stuff. Visionaries was probably the best animated and executed of all the shows, simply because it was near the end of that run and we really had our game down.”


DM: “Is there one (or more) episode in particular that you are really proud of or that you were thrilled to write?”

FD: “All of them had their wonderful qualities. The Inhumanoids mini-series was written while I was quitting smoking and mostly in nicotine withdrawls and has a spacy, angry, frenetic quality that I like. “The Gamesmaster” was a G.I.Joe episode that I wrote in 24 hours up at the Dungeons & Dragons mansion. A lot of the middle episodes of Visionaries were written in this magical haze where characters really did kind of come to life on their own while I was writing. Then there’s the lost draft of the Transformers movie, “The Secret of Cybertron” that I’d love to read again.”

DM: “You mentioned that Transformers was the most complex to write. How was that so?”

FD: “Well, there were so many of them. And at first I used to worry about scale — how can a cassette talk to a constructicon. I stopped worrying about that pretty fast. How do you buff the mythology (all the cybertron stuff)? Can we have a resource other than energon? Machines can’t die, so what are we worried about? What is the essence of the characters, then? Of course, I finally parked all of those concerns and just started hammering them out. No time to contemplate. We had to get a show out every week. It worked out. Oh yeah, and where do the humans fit in? And what about other types of aliens. Loved having them meet other aliens? You get the idea.”

DM: “I didn’t think of Transformers that way… To me it was a great action series with good guy and villains… They just happened to be trucks, cars and aircrafts, which was already fantastic! I didn’t think about the other concerns.”

FD: “Yeah. Once I started thinking that way, it got a lot easier for me, too.”


DM: “Rumor has it that the looks and the name of the G.I.Joe character codenamed “Flint” were based on yourself. Is this true? How did that happen?”

FD: “I don’t know if he really was or not. When they hired me, they said, ‘hey, we named a character after you, you’ve got to take the job.’ I think he was there before I was, though they were well aware of me. Its one of those ‘print the legend’ kinds of things. One thing that is for sure that once I was on the show, his role in the “Joeteam was dramatically upgraded.”

DM: “From what you can remember of the show, what do you think would be the biggest difference or resemblance between this character’s personality and yours? Apart form the fact that you are real and he’s not, of course!”

FD: “Flint is who we would all want to be. He’s a Spec Ops commando. I always thought of him as British, though we didn’t voice him that way. He’s an idealized version of me. Very, very idealized.”

DM: “Not much is known about Flint Dille, the man. So, firstly, could you please talk a bit about your personal background? Did you have any role model growing up as a child? How did you happen to choose writing as a career path?”

FD: “Interesting question. No, I didn’t really have a role model growing up. I mean, my dad was great, ran a newspaper syndicate, but I remember him telling me that he didn’t think that business would be around in 20 years, so I knew I wasn’t going to be doing that. The weird thing is that most of my role models were fictional characters. TV characters. In a strange way, being a writer is a lot like being a TV private eye.”

DM: “Could you give examples of fictional characters that you took as role models?”

FD: “Yeah. For some reason, Jack Kelly and James Garner in Maverick gave me a sense of what I wanted being grown up to feel like. Who didn’t want to be Sean Connery in Bond? I always figured I’d have a job like Dick Van Dyke in his show. Kind of do. Always liked the way private eyes functioned. There’s a reason screenwriters write them so well. It is kind of a similar life. You get a call. You go to an office. Somebody sends you out on a case. You go. The case never leads where you think it will. And I got all my political ideas from John Wayne in the Alamo.”

DM: “Personally, I didn’t really grow up with James Bond movies, but I liked the character. Being an 80’s child, the “Joes” and the “Autobots” were part of my childhood models. I was a big fan of these series… Since they are often idealized, I think it’s normal to see cartoon characters have an influence on kids.”

FD: “Well, it all comes full circle on Bond and G.I.Joe. Steve Gerber and I (and I think Buzz Dixon) always thought of G.I. Joe as a Bond movie with a whole lot of characters. The action and extreme sports were all very Bond. The gadgets. You never stray far from your childhood when you’re writing fantasy. At least that’s my theory.”

DM: “How did you happen to choose writing as a career path?”

FD: “I got out of Berkeley with a degree in Ancient History and Classical Rhetoric and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Had a lost year, well, a couple of lost years after college, and went to film school. However, did write my first novel in that period. It was a Fraternity House murder mystery. Never got published, but it was a lot of fun doing it, so I decided I’d pursue that path for a while.”

“After grad school I was hired by Joe Ruby (one of the creators of Scoobie Doo) to write animation. Discovered that I had a knack for it. Around that time, I met Gary Gygax (Creator of Dungeons & Dragons) and started working on games so the path was pretty well set.”

DM: “What did you do prior to writing for television and how did you land at Sunbow Productions?”

FD: “Had a disastrous experience working at Lucasfilm, working on a show called Droids. Got done with that and Steve Gerber called and asked me if I wanted to edit some G.I. Joes. Sure. “Joe” was easy. Second nature. That lead to becoming a producer at Sunbow.”

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 2)

Read: An interview with successful writer Flint Dille (Part 3)

I do not own the rights to the current pictures