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Interview: Corey Burton

Written by Big Bot on July 22, 2003 | Features,Interviews |

Corey BurtonWe were lucky enough to land an interview with voice artist Corey Burton. Corey will be best known to transfans as the one eyed monstrosity Shockwave from the Transformers G1 series and Movie. So without further ado, let’s chat to Corey.

Could you start by introducing yourself and tell us a few of your voice work credits?

I’m a shy kid from The San Fernando Valley (in Los Angeles) who became a professional voice actor at the age of 17, some 30 years ago. Over that span of time, even a brief overview of my credits would be a bit much to get into here (I have a website for that); but knowing that this is for the eyes of Transformers fans, I’m sure they’d like to know that I was the original Spike, Brawn, Shockwave and Sunstreaker in the series and movie. In G.I. Joe, I was Tomax. The majority of my character voice work over the years has been for Disney; in series, storyteller records & CDs, movies, theme parks, and interactive media. In more recent years, I’ve done character voices for quite a few Warner Bros. shows, such as Pinky & the Brain and Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries; as well as playing the recurring role of Brainiac on “Superman”, “Justice League” and “Static Shock”. For many years, I’ve been the Announcer voices for Old Navy, and on radio commercials for Real California Cheese and Expedia.com, to name a few. My work is indeed “all over the place”, and chances are good that you hear me on something at least once a week over some form of media or other.

What character are you most proud of that you have given life to in your career and why?

If I had to pick just one, I’d have to say it’s Gaetan Moliere (Mole) from Disney’s “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”. This was my first major role in an ensemble cast for a first-class feature film. I take pride in knowing that it is an entertaining character entirely of my own creation – not a recreation or simulation of anyone else’s work. I’m also very proud to be a part of such an excellent movie (despite the completely unjustified “bad rap” that has been put on it). I have no doubt that it will one day be appreciated as a truly fine animated feature from the last days of Disney’s second Golden Age of hand-drawn cell animation.

How did you get started in the business and who were your greatest influences?

Regarding my entry into this business, once again, far too involved a subject to get into here. As far as my influences, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I idolize the amazing Ghost Host voice (from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion) and all-around Voice Genius known as Paul Frees (and try to sneak a little tribute to him into many of my characterizations). I’ve also been inspired by Daws Butler (my ‘mentor’), Bill Scott (Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right and many others; also a brilliant writer/director/producer for Jay Ward), Mel Blanc (of course), June Foray (Rocky, Natasha, and countless others; June was the foremost voice actress of the 20th Century), Hans Conried (Snidely Whiplash and Disney’s “Captain Hook” are his best remembered voices), Dick Tufeld (great classic announcer for Disney), Alexander Scourby (National Geographic narrator), Orson Welles, Boris Karloff, and maybe a hundred other great actors and vocal performers.

In the Transformers comics, Shockwave was a major character who lasted right through to final issues. What did you think of Shockwave’s involvement, or lack of it, in the Transformers cartoon.

Somewhat disappointed. It was frustrating to be given such a cool character with so little involvement in the shows. I always felt that they missed a “golden opportunity” to use this interesting and powerful character to its full potential in the series.

In the Transformers series, the voice of Shockwave was on a par in terms of iconic power with that of Frank Welker’s Soundwave. How did you come up with that style for the voice, and what is the process for inventing a new voice for a character?

Thanks for the compliment – I really enjoyed doing it. As far as inventing a ‘new’ voice goes, I must confess that I used the old voice actor’s tradition of “borrowing” the sound from an actor I thought would work well for the role: David Warner. As a cold and mysterious artificial intelligence, I was impressed with Warner’s characterization as the Master Control Program from an otherwise terribly flawed movie, “Tron”. I had already done some sound-alike work as that character, and looking at the design and description of Shockwave, felt it would be a good fit.

The world of film and television is filled with big egos and bad attitudes, is there anyone you’ve worked with that you wish you hadn’t?

Not really. First of all, in the Off-Camera part of the business that I work in, those sorts of egos and attitudes hardly exist at all; you wouldn’t last very long as a voice actor if you exhibited those traits. We come from the traditions of “The Golden Age of Radio”, where mutual respect and gracious ‘camaraderie’ were expected from everyone involved. The most challenging and unpleasant individuals I’ve worked with have mainly been a small number of feature film and animation series directors, who believe they must bully and intimidate actors in order to get a good performance out of them. Otherwise, I can honestly say that it’s been a delight to work with nearly everybody I’ve ever met in a studio. Not to be a complete “goody-good” on the subject, I can say that I did regret being cast alongside Michael Bell to play Tomax, as twin to his Xamot in G.I. Joe: don’t misunderstand – Michael is a fine actor and human being – but our styles and techniques are so entirely different, that tightly synchronizing with him proved to be a daunting ordeal. Rather like sharing a steering wheel with someone who has a resolutely different idea of the best way to get somewhere. I’ve had a few similar experiences with actors whose approach and sensibilities seem to clash with my own, but thankfully it has been a very rare occurrence.

Have you any tips or advice for anyone wanting to become a voice artist?

I’ve gone into detail on the subject in replies to questions posted on my website’s message board (www.coreyburton.com), and am currently writing about it in a foreword to a book of Daws Butler scripts, being edited by Ben Ohmart (due out sometime next year). I can briefly only offer my most basic bit of advice for the purposes of this interview, and that is: If you don’t love it more than anything else in the world, it simply won’t be worth all the time and effort necessary to make even a modest living at it. Like anything else, if you seriously want to be a respected professional, you’ve got to devote your life to it.

Who are the most talented people that you’ve worked with?

As for Actors… beginning with those I idolized growing up: Daws Butler, June Foray, Bill Scott, Hans Conried; along with Radio actors such as Parley Baer, Virginia Gregg, John Dehner, Frank Nelson (“Yyyyeeesss…?”), Marvin Miller, Vic Perrin (voice of original “Outer Limits”); Hal Smith (“Otis”, the drunk from Mayberry), Sorrell Booke (played “Boss Hogg”); and folks such as Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Paul Winchell, April Winchell, Brian Cummings, Linda Gary, Russi Taylor, Pete Renoudet, Scatman Crothers, Maurice LaMarche, Tress McNeille, Michael McKean, Nancy Cartwright, Harry Shearer, Whoopi Goldberg, Roddy MacDowall, Mary Kay Bergman, Dan Castellanetta, Phil Morris, John Sessions, Tim Curry, Jim Cummings, Dan Gilvezan, Kevin Michael
Richardson, Tony Jay, Phil Lamarr, Gary Owens, B.J. Ward, Don Novello (Guido Sarducci), Florence Stanley (Mrs. Fish from Barney Miller)… to name a few. As for Writers and Directors… Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, Joe Dante, Mel Brooks, Billy Wilder, Philip Kaufman, Jymn Magon, Jack Fletcher, Paul VerHoeven, Lamont Johnson, Richard Jefferies, Penelope Spheeris.

Is there anything on your CV that you’d like to forget? (:work history – Is there anything you’ve done that you wish you hadn’t or don’t like to admit?)

I once did an annoying voice on a radio commercial… and woke up one morning swearing at an obnoxious voice on my clock radio, and then – to my horror – realized it was me (and since then, have tried to never do another obnoxious voice on a commercial). …There was also a nightmare session for a promotional film about a certain University in the South, where I was “directed” by an ensemble of at least 5 people who couldn’t agree on anything: except for the fact that they all deeply resented me as an “overpaid voice-clown”, and blamed me for everything wrong with their truly inept script. It was such an insulting, hideous ordeal, that instead of coming back the following day to start all over (having gotten through less than half of it in 8 grueling hours the first day), I feigned illness and “blew it off”. …I was also once mistakenly cast to do the voice of Yoda (for a storyteller cassette), and even though I ‘sucked’, it was recorded and released anyway. …I did a half-assed character in the awful animated feature, “The Trumpet of the Swan”. And there were a few commercials I’ve recorded on a particularly “bad voice day” that ended up on radio or TV constantly for months on end, and everybody I knew happened to hear it. …Awful!

What projects are you working on right now?

The only current series where I’m a semi-regular is Cartoon Network’s “Clone Wars”, in which I play Christopher Lee’s “Count Dooku”, and I’ve done a couple more Justice League episodes as Brainiac along with some supporting characters, and Renegade Cartoons’ “Captain Sturdy” (I played the title role in two pilot episodes so far). Otherwise, more of my regular commercial work (Old Navy, Real California Cheese, Expedia, etc.), announcing for “Comedy Central Presents…”, bits and pieces for various animated series, interactive games, and theme parks in the U.S. and Japan. Nothing particularly earth-shaking to report, but work continues to be plentiful. …By the way, I recently won my first “Annie” award for voice acting, as Ludwig Von Drake on Disney’s “House of Mouse” (from ASIFA).

You’ve done a wide variety of work in your career, from Film to television to Disney park ride voices. What have you enjoyed the most?

What I love most of all is being a Radio Actor, especially when the “Old-Timers” were still around. And going in to work on any Disney Animated Feature has always been an absolute thrill for me. But I really do thoroughly enjoy most of the work I’m hired to do. Personally, (even though there are a few negative aspects) I can’t think of a more wonderful way to make a living.

Is there anyone who you have not yet worked with but would like to?

I’ve worked with the other members of “Spinal Tap”, but never with Christopher Guest (I think he’s a genius)… There are also some fine movie actors I’d love to work with; like Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, Nicole Kidman, Johnny Depp, the new ‘hot’ star Colin Farrell, Gene Wilder, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ian McKellan, Kathy Bates, and several others. I’m sure it would be a real ‘hoot’ to work with Christopher Walken. Working with Garry Shandling would be an interesting and fulfilling experience as well, I think. Just about any really skilled actor (with a great “ear” for voices) from movies and TV would be exciting to do good voice work with.

Thanks for taking time to talk to us Corey, and wish you all the best for the future. You can check out Corey Burton’s website at: http://www.coreyburton.com

Thanks go to Shaun Cox for getting us in touch with Corey Burton.