Batman has enjoyed his share of adventures across numerous DC Comics titles, animation and live-action films. But perhaps the wildest of all is the new direct-to-Blu-ray animated feature, “Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts,” which finds Batman and his allies trying to protect Gotham city from the Penguin’s Animilitia, a team of foes comprised of Killer Croc, Man-Bat, Cheetah and Silverback.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment premiered their latest animated version of the Dark Knight during WonderCon 2015 and actors Roger Craig Smith and Yuri Lowenthal, the voices of Batman and Red Robin, spoke with CBR News and members of the press about Batman’s latest animated adventure, one that fits nicely into the all-ages “Batman Unlimited” wheelhouse. The actors discussed working on a lighter Batman story, rejecting the notion that superheroes need to fight each other at the beginning of every team-up, as well as the joy and heartbreak of action figures.
Is there a difference between voicing “Arkham Origins” Batman and the lighter-toned “Batman Unlimited” version?
Roger Craig Smith: You know, there’s really no difference in the character — Batman’s Batman. It’s just that I think, in terms of the way that we are presenting this sort of universe, it’s just making it a lot more accessible to families in their entirety. So it’s not just for the adults, not just for maybe the teenagers, its not to exclude them, but we’re we are getting an opportunity to sort of play around with the universe and introduce a younger audience to Batman. Kudos to the writers and the producers for doing these things because I think we can sometimes take for granted that there is a version that we all fall in love with, and then we forget that it’s at some point we have to be introduced to it. And it’s got to be accessible for everybody and that’s what “Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts” is. It’s just a very family-friendly, G-rated film so that everybody can kind of watch it, which is awesome because I don’t want these characters to not be refreshed. I mean, it’s got to become new and fresh for a newer audience.
What was your process in finding your particular Batman voice?
Smith: I spent a lot of time in caves. I’m very familiar with how the olfactory senses can be affected by bat guano. No, you know what? I don’t necessarily have a process. I don’t necessarily try to approach things from a “this is what I’m going to do for this character” [way]. I tend to always just sort of show up and ask the director. What does the director want to do? Because the director usually has had the ear of or been working directly with producers and writers and other directors of the project to sort of capture that collective vision of what they want the character to be.
And really, that’s my job. It’s a massively collaborative effort. There are a lot of people who get [a] say — everything from the animation style, as to what this character is going to be like, and then sound like. And it’s my job to understand what their creative vision or their creative desires are and try to do the best that I can to kind of help them capture that. It’s not really up to me, I don’t get to walk in and go like, “This is what I think Batman will sound like.” I work with the entire team. There are a lot more talented people that bring these things to life other than just somebody who gets to be the voice.
Was there a previous Batman voice that influenced you?
Smith: You know what? Having grown up and listened to Kevin Conroy be the voice of the animated series, I’m coming home from high school and seeing these episodes — there’s just no way that that’s not an influence. And having “Arkham Origins” been such a huge part of how we shaped that Batman based upon what Kevin had basically established for so long and kind of exploring it from, like, an earlier time, I would have to say that Kevin Conroy has been a huge influence on this character. It’s what we’ve all kind of come to know in terms of animated forms. Not that there haven’t been other actors. I mean, we’ve got Will Friedle [the voice of Nightwing] who is here today as well.
But, yeah, I would have to say that, I’ll call it the classic Kevin Conroy sort of version of Batman and trying to do something similar to that. I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever come close to doing what Kevin Conroy could do with this character, but auditioning for it and getting a chance to do the character again, I want to take the feedback from the creatives and find out what it is that they want me to do with this. And the whole time I think I am still am kind of hearing Kevin Conroy in that version.
You also did Captain America on several projects, so you are probably in a good spot to answer the age-old question, who wins, Batman or Captain America?
Smith: Everybody loses. I will tell you that much. We all lose. That would be an unspeakable evil in the universe. I feel like a space-time continuum hole would open up and we’d all get sucked into it and the universe would cease to exist. No, I would never answer that. I would never answer that. I don’t even have an opinion on it because it’s so silly. Although that would probably be one of the better match-ups, I would have to say. Because some of these superheroes have strange powers and whatnot, and obviously you’ve got Super Soldier Serum and you’ve got all the gadgetry of what Batman has, but these are two sort of fallible human beings that haven’t been bestowed with magical powers of some sort, like Thor and his hammer. Whatever. Magic Hammer.
Do you think Batman could to pick up Mjolnir?
Smith: Of course. I think it’s all an act. I don’t think that thing is that heavy. You know what I love about that, too? Is that really it speaks volumes of just how fortunate we are to live in a time where we have access to so many different mediums and so many different forms of entertainment, and we can all celebrate superheroes. I don’t get why people have weird issues with one character versus another. It’s awesome, like they’re all superheroes, and they are all written by very exceptionally passionate, intelligent people. Everybody loses.
What if someone told you, “We are doing ‘Captain America vs. Batman,’ and we want you to voice both of them,” what would you say?
Smith: Oh my gosh, I don’t think I could do it. I would love to do it, but, again, a space-time continuum hole would open up. I don’t even know what a space-time continuum hole is. I’m just trying to sound sci-fi-ish — go with the flow on that one.
What was the recording process like because you all got to be in the same room, which is a little bit rarer than most would think?
Smith: In terms of animation, not necessarily. Definitely for video games, with video games we rarely get the chance, unless you’re doing Mo-Cap. I don’t do any Mo-Cap. At least I haven’t had the opportunity to do it yet. But I know sometimes they’ll do Mo-Cap, which is a little bit more of an ensemble cast. With this it’s actually, thankfully, most of the time it’s the norm with animation because it’s like a giant radio play. And the benefit, I think, is that we get to feed off of one another’s energies while in the room at the same time. And we can match performances better because we can understand where one person’s projection level is at, that kind of thing.
But it makes the job so much more enjoyable, because you get a chance to kind of cut loose in between sessions, and we actually do need to feed off. You’ll hear a lot of finger-snapping and toe-tapping, like, we’re always trying to keep the energy up in these sessions. And we’ve got everybody in the room trying to crack each other up. I think there is a weird, inherent, sort of intangible kind of energy that comes from the performances that you see, actually, when it’s animated because we are all able to feed off of one another. It’s like the way you are with a phone conversation versus when you are face to face with somebody, you might be a little more animated. Well when we’re all in the same room together, we just have way too much fun. It’s amazing we don’t get fired.
Is there a family member that you are particularly excited who gets to see this version of Batman that you’re doing?
Smith: I would love to say nieces and nephews, but they are all getting to an age where they are so much older now that they would all kind of be like, “I don’t know. I’m just going to go watch ‘Breaking Bad.'” You’re like, “What? You’re way too young for that.” You know what? It doesn’t matter. The nice thing about getting to do what I’m doing is that my family, they still celebrate these miracles as much as I do. I still can’t believe I get to do these characters. So they are just thrilled to see Uncle Podge or their son or whatever just getting to do and act out his dream of being cartoon characters and comic book characters.
So no, there’s not any particular family member that I’m really excited to see this. What’s funny now is that they’re getting to a point where they just are almost kind of bored. They just kind of go, “Yeah, you’re doing another one? Cool. Good for ya. That’s good. Have fun doing your other one. What are you working on now? Oh, really that thing? You’re going to be Batman again? Cool, good for you.”
I’m like, “But I’m Batman. Come on! That’s not right!”
Do you have any of the action figures?
Smith: I collect all sorts of stuff. I try to get as much of the stuff as I can. I know that there is going to be a toy line associated with this. I don’t know that I’ve seen it out yet, though. I think I have previous iterations of the “Unlimited” characters, but I haven’t seen anything. But, yeah, I have a closet full of action figures and things, and I collect all of that stuff because I’m just as much a geek as everybody else. And when you get to be it, of course you want the action figure. I’ve pre-ordered cowls and things and all sorts of things. I sign it for myself. I sign it, and then I take selfies of me with it. Frame ’em.
After speaking with Smith, CBR News and other members of the press sat down with Yuri Lowenthal.
You’re playing Red Robin — is it Tim Drake under there?
Yuri Lowenthal: It’s debatable. Let’s say it’s debatable — I lost track of all the Robins a long time ago so when I went in, I had to ask a lot of questions. “So which one is it? Are we talking Jason or are we talking Tim Drake? Because Nightwing’s also part of of this one,” and they were like, “Don’t worry about.” [Laughs] OK, good enough for me. I think it’ll [be] fairly clear when everyone sees it.
How did you approach the voice?
Lowenthal: I always trust that I got cast for a reason — I don’t have to worry about what I have to do to make it work other than show up and be truthful with the writing. Luckily we had really good writing this time and Wes Gleason is a great director; so if you count on good writing and a director to push you in the right direction, you just come bringing whatever it is your brand of acting is and hopefully they’ll do the rest. Plus getting in the room with these guys — it was me, Charlie Schlatter and Will Friedle and Roger [Craig Smith] — many of us know each other, have worked together, and you get us in the room together and the energy sort of starts to create the vibe of the show. That was a lot of fun. I love those guys.
Does the tone of the work affect the recording session?
Lowenthal: It’s funny because even when we do the darker version, because this is slightly more family-oriented — although there’s plenty of stuff in there for people who’ve been with the franchise forever — we still goof off in the room. It doesn’t matter if it’s super dark or super light. We goof off in the room and then we turn it on when we hit the mic. It’s always a good time regardless.
Is there an explanation as to why there have been multiple Robins?
Lowenthal: Based on what I can tell, I don’t think it’ll be a good explanation to people. I think if you’re just coming into it as a kid and you don’t know all the twisted history of the many Robins, I don’t think there’s a lot of explanation there. But I don’t think it’ll hinder the enjoyment of the film. I’m sure we’ll get some nerd rage over continuity — or maybe not, maybe [writer Heath Corson]’s done such a great job [it won’t be an issue]. Like I said, I’ve gotten lost on the Robins over the years. But there isn’t any outward explanation to, “Here’s who Nightwing is. And here’s who Red Robin is, he’s Red Robin because,” I don’t think it’s really addressed but I don’t think it really matters.
On making the Robins and their relationships with Batman distinct:
Lowenthal: In this, there is definitely a dynamic at play. I mean, it’s not as strong as in [“Son of Batman”] — there’s really strong delineations between the different Robins, particularly with Nightwing. With this, we all play our part. I play sort of the classic Robin in the sense that I’m there to needle Batman a little bit and to give him a little grief so he’s not as dark as he always is. Nightwing’s sort of the grownup version of that and he’s grown into his own thing. So I think there are different dynamics at play but they’re not really labored in the script.
On the characters he’s most recognized for:
Lowenthal: Top three would probably be Sasuke on “Naruto”, “Ben-10’s” Ben Tennyson, and then it’s a toss-up because there’s so many different fandoms out there. The Prince from “Prince of Persia” comes up a lot. Any of the various Anime stuff — that’s a huge thing. La’gaan, Lagoon Boy from “Young Justice” is always big. I always wish Superman would come up more but [“Legion of Super Heroes”] came out so long ago and — they didn’t air all of it so they ended up not finishing it — or at least they never released it to video. I don’t think enough people know about that but it’s still one of my proudest moments. It’s got to be a no-brainer for them to release that — it would just be a license to print money. When I talk to people about it, they’re like, “We would absolutely buy that!” Plus I never got my action figure. They canceled it before we got action figures.
Are you a comic reader?
Lowenthal: I was a big follower up until a certain point. And it was coincidentally right about the death of Robin [Jason Todd], right around then that I wasn’t following the comics as closely. My big period sort of ended right around “The Dark Knight Returns” — I’d been tracking it for a long time and then I just had so many different other comics I was interested in, it was tough to stay with one. And I take [crap] a lot from a lot of people for not knowing that stuff — both the DC and the Marvel universe — but that’s OK. I don’t care. [Laughs]
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