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I wrapped up my trip to DreamWorks Animation Studios in the best possible way: By attending a fun Slushious Roundtable with the cast and creators of Home Adventures With Tip & Oh! I made my way to a patio decked out with slushie machines to fuel up before a fun Q&A session. It was a very warm California day, so I was soon joined by actress Ana Ortiz by one of the machines – mango, the best flavor! – as we got ourselves a slushious refreshment to cool off in the heat.
I took my slushie and sat down at a table with Ortiz, who voices the character of Lucy, and was soon joined by the voice of Sharzod, Ron Funches, along with series creator Ryan Crego and co-executive producer Todd Garfield. It was a very fun conversation, and soon became evident how well the cast and crew work together. The voice cast all record in the same room as often as possible, which lends a better energy to the final product as they banter back and forth. I asked if they found improvisation to be an important element to the final result.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said Crego. “Ron brings the funniest stuff. He’s funnier than anything on the page. You gotta use everyone up to their best abilities, that’s my job.”
“I mean, that’s the way to work,” agreed Funches. “When you have a good base, and then especially when they’re writing so many stories, when you go in and look at it from a different pair of eyes, you get to go ‘Oh, what if I did this? And what if I did that?’ Something that they just didn’t see, because I only have one focus. I only focus on that character. And so, it’s fun to just take their base, build on it – and then they’ll take some things that I do and they go, ‘What about if you added this?’ And oh, I didn’t even think of that! It just makes it more play than work and just really I think makes the show pop out more.”
For Ortiz, recording with her castmates also helped to alleviate some nerves, as this is one of her first voiceover roles. She was excited for the chance to work on an animated series, and elaborated on some of the differences between acting in a live action role versus voice acting.
“It’s a lot bigger – so, when I’m acting [in] live action, you’re trying to – I mean, ‘Devious Maids’ notwithstanding (chuckle) – you’re trying to be more subtle. And this, you really wanna be BIGGER and you know, how often do I hear at work at ‘Devious Maids’ or ‘Ugly Betty’, ‘How long can you burp?’ Not something I really hear, you know. ‘What’s your vomit noise like?’” she laughed.
“You were gung ho about it, too,” noted Garfield. “You actually burped much better than other people we have asked to do it in the past. Usually we’re just like, you know what, we’ll just do a sound effect, and she did it and we’re like, ‘I think we’re gonna use it’.”
Garfield went on to tell us how quickly Ortiz became a voiceover pro. “I think you’d been doing it just a short time when I came on, to see how quick you got it – because I think that happens a lot when live action actors come into it, they don’t understand how big you can go, and get away with it in animation. You wanna go for true emotion, that’s one thing we really go for at times, but there’s also – if you’re subtle, with the blabbity blabbity [cartoon] mouth, on screen – you gotta go much bigger. Like, don’t worry, you can’t go too big right now. Go nuts.”
“That’s definitely a different thing,” said Ortiz. “Being able to be big, and zany. That’s a muscle that I was just like – I dunno how to do this! But they’ve been great. Or sometimes, if they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a group Boov scene, can you do one Boov line?’ And I’m just like, I have to think of a voice! You just think about reading to your kids. I’m thinking, OK, when I’m reading a book to my kids, what voice would I do for this? I’m never nervous doing that in front of my kids, but I get in the studio and I’m like, (fake cries) I don’t want to do this!”
“Two bearded men staring at you – ‘Make a weird voice!’” laughed Garfield.
For comedian Funches, who has previously lent his voice to projects such as Adventure Time and the upcoming Trolls, I wanted to know what drew him to working on Home. “I love that question, and your hair!” he said, to which I laughed that it was pink just like his character Sharzod!
“For me, typically I like to play characters that are a little bit weird and out there,” Funches continued. “And, for [Sharzod], it was just a chance to be really wild and emotional, and be more feminine – I was interested in playing a lady. That was fun to me. So I get to be real sassy and I can just go off. I grew up in a houseful of women, and it just kind of a sendup to that of my mom and my sisters. In the house I grew up, it was just kinda strong, sassy women who didn’t take crap from anybody, and who were very confident in themselves, and that’s who Sharzod is.”
I joked that his family might look at the caricature and say, “HEY!“, to which he laughed, “Oh yeah, probably! But they’ll probably go, well, he got paid, so we’re OK.”
For Crego, Home Adventures With Tip & Oh was a chance to pursue his creative vision.
“I had been at DreamWorks for almost my whole career. Kinda grew up here, I feel like this is my school and my home and my family,” Crego said. “I had been here for about 10 years or so, went off to direct a show at Nickelodeon for a couple years, I was writing some movies and doing things with a partner, Thurop Van Orman, who I developed the show with. And we got a call one day, and they said, ‘Hey, we want you guys to come in, we’re starting this TV division, it’s very hush hush, it hasn’t been announced, but Netflix is doing this thing and they want do these shows and we want you guys to do a show’. And I immediately knew that it was the right place for me, because I know how DreamWorks treats their talent, and how they embrace storytelling ,and how they allow people to dig into really interesting storylines and multi-layered characters. If I say, I need a writer, and I need this writer, they’ll go, ‘If that’s what you need, we’ll get it.’ They back me, they back me as a showrunner, so that was it. It was like, I’m gonna get to make a show that I wanna make, from the ground up, absolutely. So that was why, and I was lucky that Home had such strong characters to work from and a great book. We had a lot of material to work with to get started.”
It was also important to the creators and cast that Home be a show that would appeal to the whole family. Funches told us that part of the appeal of this series was that the humor speaks to everybody.
“I have a 13 year old son, and I still love cartoons,” he continued. “So I know if they’re good or bad. He loves ’em all either way. But I’m like, I dunno about this. But it’s fun to sit there and go, I love this too! I really liked Zootopia. Because they’re not afraid to give you smart jokes. A lot of places it seems like they just wanna dumb it down. And there’s a lot of explosions and things like that, but there’s not good wordplay, and that’s one of the things I know I like. And my son, he’s a smart kid and he likes wordplay and has always been into that type of stuff. And I like there being a cartoon for him to watch and not feel like it’s just trying to be like ‘Here’s some explosions, boy’ you know? (laughs)”
Crego agreed. “We want it to be a show for boys and for girls, we want it to be a show for parents and kids. I was fortunate enough when I started here to be working on Shrek, which I think was one of the best examples of something that resonated with all ages and comedically, and had a great heart to it, and a story that everybody latched onto – and rightfully so, the characters were fantastic. That’s how I learned to write and how I learned to create animation, so it just feels natural to me to wanna do that. To make stuff that’s flirting with, is it too far? Is it too much? Is it acceptable, unacceptable? We’re always really cautious about what we put out there into the world and that we’re saying the right things, that we’re being fair to all people; I think the show’s about acceptance, so we’re not making negative comedy, but we do want to be funny, and wanna catch people off guard.”
Home is where the heart is – and after meeting the talent behind this series, it’s clear that their hearts are in Home.