Creating a successful CG animated feature like ICE AGE takes more than just cutting edge software it's equally important to find just the right voice for each of the film's animated characters. And director Chris Wedge certainly felt that pressure in accomplishing that monumental task.
"There's some pressure, yeah, I would say so," says Wedge. "[Films] take so long and they cost so much money that there is some pressure to make sure that there are names attached that the movie-going public will know. It doesn't necessarily mean we start with the marketing, but we do look for voices that will bring some awareness to it. It's just a matter of necessity."
Wedge's method for matching an animated character with just the right voice talent does begin with the sound of that person's voice, but doesn't necessarily end there. On the contrary, the director looks to create characters that are a synthesis of many different attributes.
"One of the first things we do when we have the character in mind is to sketch it out on paper, and listen to the voices and look at the pictures. We are trying to create charters that are a synthesis of many different things: design, sound of the voice, dialogue and also animation. Honestly, the voice that comes out of it is just a fraction [of the work]."
The decision to cast comedian Ray Romano as Manny the woolly mammoth was the result of pairing different voices with the sketches of characters. And, yes, there is a method to Wedge's madness.
"When we start thinking about the characters it's the sound of the voice that we go for first and then we try to surround it with other voices that will contrast," says Wedge. "It took a lot to get Ray because we were looking at this big mammoth [that] should have a big voice. Should it be James Earl Jones? Should it be Ving Rhames? When we [played] those voices against those drawings we had early on in the production, they [were] too obvious. They were big, yeah, but it wasn't as interesting as it could be. When we hit on Ray it just sounded very natural. When we took his voice and separated it from his body, it still was Ray and that doesn't happen with everybody's voice. It was just alive."
Casting actor John Leguizamo as the voice of Sid the sloth came about a bit more naturally. In fact, based on the tapes he sent to the studio, Leguizamo could have easily voiced the whole movie.
"We talked about a lot of different sounds for voices for John [Leguizamo]," says Wedge. "He sent a tape one day with about 30 or 40 voices and he was doing every accent you can imagine and he was making every kind of strange vocal variation he could come up with. Ultimately, we wanted to use a more natural version of him. Part of what I tried to do was make the character unique and I think sometimes when you hear a star's voice come out or a familiar voice coming out it's distracting. So we try to blend it together as much as possible and part of that I think is in ICE AGE anyway our characters don't look much like the people that portray them."
While Wedge didn't want the voice talent to interfere with the visual design of the movie's characters, it was inevitable that certain mannerisms of the actors would find their way into the film.
"I think when you get into animation some of the mannerisms start to appear," says Wedge. "Ultimately, the actor's voice is the starting point for the animators they get a voice performance and they take it from there. Move it out through the character's body so there are inevitable mannerisms that come from the voice."
It might seem that Wedge has a very specific method for casting just the right mix of talent and distinct voices to create believable characters, but he really doesn't. And honestly, he prefers it that way.
"There isn't a formula in my head," says Wedge. "You work on every aspect of it until it feels balanced. If you use a rulebook you are not going to be able to invent anything. Casting isn't necessarily something where you fill out a form and you get those people - you have to get those people that are interested and available. Not everybody wants to do animation. It takes a long time. It's a comedy at heart and our three main characters are involved in stand up. We were just very fortunate with our cast."