#47. A Conversation with Eric Bauza

Jason Anders: So let's start with your first credited voice work on The Ripping Friends, which was produced by John Kricfalusi; how did you get involved with Spumco, and what work did you do before this series?

Eric Bauza: I first started at Spumco as an intern for my third year of college back in 1999/2000. At the time I was in the Radio, Television, and Film Program at The Bell Center for Creative Communications (Centennial College) in Toronto, Canada. Although I studied film and television production, working in animation was something that I always wanted to do. I started out as a production assistant working on one of the earliest flash animated web-series Weekend Pussy Hunt. During that time, I was also lucky enough to get on board for John K.’s first cartoon series since The Ren & Stimpy Show. Spumco made a deal to produce thirteen episodes of The Ripping Friends which aired on Fox Kids.

To save on production costs, The Ripping Friends was an American/Canadian co-production. Spumco handled the story writing, model sheets, and some of the storyboards, while the layouts we done in Canada, and the animation was produced over seas in Korea. They also decided to use an all-Canadian voice cast. This was exciting because one of my main goals for the internship was to somehow be in a position to get a voice on a show… and here it was sitting right in front of me. Because I had already been working on the show, and dropped a million hints that I wanted to do voices, John was kind enough to give me a shot at voicing a few side characters in a couple of episodes for Ripping Friends.

My first real gig as a professional voice actor came as the role of “Future Cat” – a cat from the future that could take telepathic dumps from across the room. For the voice, John thought it would be funny to base it off of a former Spumco colleague, and one of Cartoon Brew’s co-founders, Amid Amidi. Amid has a very distinct voice. I can’t explain what it sounds like without Amid killing me. You just have to hear him talk in person – it’s like magic. I thought it was a weird choice, but for some odd reason the voice worked.

JA: At what point in life did you realize you wanted to be a professional voice actor, and who are some of your favorite voice talents in animation?
EB: I guess I’ve just always just been a performer. Growing up, I loved making people laugh. I was that smart ass in school. I’d get into trouble for doing impressions of my teachers, and I would do impressions of cartoon voices, but would never consider them to be anything more than a way to make my friends laugh. I took drama class for one semester, but never took it seriously. I was more of a tech geek in the audio-visual department – playing with cameras and making funny films for school assemblies. I was the class clown, and somehow I managed to turn it into a career for myself.

I haven’t quite reached the top yet, but I’ve worked with people who I really admire and look up to, and are at the very top of the voiceover business – people like Grey Delisle, Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Jeff Benett, Candi Milo, David Kaye, Jessica DiCicco, John DiMaggio, Richard Horvitz, Darrin Norris, Charlie Adler, Steve Blum, and I’ve even had the honor to share some booth time with the legendary Gary Owens. All actors aside, I’ve also been blessed with the opportunity to work with some of the top voice directors in the industry as well – people like Andrea Romano, Collette Sunderman, Michael Donovan, David Fries, Ginny McSwain, Kris Zimmerman, and Stu Rosen. Now I’m just name dropping, but I can honestly say that working with all these talented people has made me a better voice actor – and for that I am very thankful.

JA: When John Kricfalusi revived Ren and Stimpy with Adult Party Cartoon on Spike TV, you provided the voice for Stimpy; how did you work on getting the character down, did you focus more on what Billy West had done in the original series, or did you focus more on John's idea to have him sound like Larry Fine?

EB: John always wanted me to focus more on Larry Fine’s voice, but it was kind of a mixture of both. The voice that West created for Stimpy came from his spot-on impression of Larry Fine from The Three Stooges. So, when preparing for the part John wanted me to concentrate on watching a bunch of Stooges films to get everything that made the voice of Larry so unique – the acting, pitch, and rhythms. But being such a huge fan of the original Ren & Stimpy series also helped. I studied the first season of R&S, when the show was at it’s best. When approaching the role, I tapped into all the memories of why I loved the show, and tried to pour that into my work. There’s a lot going against you when you have the task of recreating such an iconic character that everyone is so familiar with. You can come close, but it’s never going to be exactly like the original, so you have to make it your own. There was a lot of drama that went down, after John was taken off of R&S during its original run, which almost made me not want to do the job, but I couldn’t let that bother me. It was a war that happened way before I was involved with the show.

Although I considered Stimpy to be a big role, at the end of the day a gig ‘s a gig – a paycheck’s a paycheck. If it wasn’t me, it was going be somebody else. The funny thing is, I wasn’t even the first person they had hired to do the part. I came in after another voice actor wasn’t working out. When accepting the role, I knew I was going to face a lot of criticism from die hard fans (including myself), but looking back I’m glad I did it. I knew it was a great opportunity that would only come by once in a lifetime.

JA: You were also a layout artist for the series; tell me what it's like to work for the brilliant team at Spumco, and also, what are your favorite memories from working on Ren and Stimpy?

EB: Working on Ren & Stimpy could be compared to being at an artist boot camp. Sure, you get your battle scars, but you also walk out of the experience with the fundamentals that could make you a great artist. I only did layouts for a limited time, and contributed story gags here and there, but later found that my main strength was editing animatics. Editing the animatics on R&S was a very educational and involved process. My favorite part of the job was picking out the music for a scene. The show was famous for using a wide variety of 50’s film and television production music, from the APM Music Library. Having such a wide variety of music to choose from really helped convey the very extreme, and sometimes subtle moods, of a sequence.

Another fun thing was using the Warner Bros. and Hanna Barbera Sound Effects Library to help give the show a classic cartoony feel. Having access to all those old school sound effects and real orchestrated music cues was just so convenient. You wouldn’t have to worry about what the show was going to sound like down the line, because as an editor you were in charge of the final soundtrack. It was a lot of hard work, but when a scene worked it was very rewarding. There are so many scenes to choose from, but one of my favorite scenes I had a hand in editing was from the episode “Stimpy’s Pregnant.” I was like a kid in a candy store trying to figure out what "Stimpy giving birth to a baby turd" was going to be sound like! Other highlights from working on R&S were getting to meet Ralph Bakshi and Mike Pataki (the voice of George Liquor), as well as having the chance to work along side R&S veterans Jim Smith, Eddie Fitzgerald, Vincent Waller, Mike Fontaneli and Bob Jaques. At Spumco, I managed to make some pretty good friends over the years, many of which are among the top artists and directors working in animation today. People like Ray Morelli, Gabe Swarr, Eric Pringle, Matt Danner, Tony Mora, Jerry DeJesus, Katie Rice, Derrick Wyatt, Fred Osmond, Mike Kerr, Jessica Borutski, Graham Lunam, Jose Pou, Kristy Gordon, and Nick Cross – the list could go on forever. Spumco has always been a place that brings together so many talented people.

JA: Tell me about how you got involved in the Emmy nominated series Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island!, and also what it was like to go from Spumco to Warner Bros. Animation.

EB: As soon as production on R&S wrapped, I wanted to keep my voiceover career going. I decided to leave Toronto and make the move to Los Angeles and spend my time trying to establish myself as a voice actor in the United States. This seemed almost impossible because at the time I wasn’t a part of SAG or AFTRA, nor did I have gigs that would require me getting a work visa. I had a lot going against me, but I knew I had to be in Los Angeles. My decision was influenced from a call I got from my good pal Matt Danner, who suggested that I audition for a pilot he was directing for Warner Bros. Animation. Along with the support of producer Aaron Simpson, I was able to impress head writer Ray DeLaurentis, and producer Marge Dean, who really helped me get on the series Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island.

I guess I have a thing for playing morons, because I ended up being cast as the two hillbilly banana brothers, Slip and Slide D’Peel. Working on CF was an amazing experience. The show was recorded in Vancouver, BC and I had the great pleasure of working with some of Canada’s top voice talents, casting agents, and directors, some of which included David Kaye, Brian Drummond, Michael Donovan, Neera Garg, and Tanya Taylor. The show lasted for 13 half hours, and I flew up for every single record, including the all the ADR sessions. I couldn’t tell you the amount of flyer miles I accumulated during the series run. Sometimes I’d fly on a Tuesday evening, for a Wednesday morning record, and be back in time for lunch. It was a very tiring year to say the least, but it was well worth having the honor of being in the Warner Bros. Animation family.

JA: You would next join the cast of the Emmy Award-winning El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, under the brilliant direction of Jorge Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua; tell me about your character, Rodolfo Rivera, and also what it was like to work on this series.

EB: I really have to credit Gabe Swarr for introducing me to Sandra Equihua and Jorge Gutierrez. Swarr thought it would be a good idea for me to meet with Jorge and Sandra, who had a pilot in development at Nickelodeon, and see if I was talented enough to audition for it. I handed Jorge my demo reel, and after giving it a listen, he and Sandra seemed genuinely interested in auditioning me for their pilot. It was almost a year until I’d hear from them next, but I finally got a call to come into Nickelodeon to read for the role of Rodolfo Rivera, aka “White Pantera.” For the role, Jorge wanted a very stoic fatherly voice who could also scream at the top of his lungs on the turn of a dime. You could say that the voice of Rodolfo was loosely based off of my father, fused with Jorge’s suggestion of using inspiration of famed actor Ricardo Montalbon (Fantasy Island). It was a great choice because you could get really down and deep with the voice for those really heart felt father/son moments between Rodolfo and Manny, but at the same time you could sound really heroic and over the top for those intense crime-fighting action scenes. After a few callbacks I got word that I got the part – and Nickelodeon graciously agreed to cover all of my work visa expenses!

At the time, landing the part on the pilot was the most important thing that could ever happened to my career as a voice actor. Tigre will always be the show that helped pave the way of me finally becoming an American voice actor. I’m extremely thankful to Sandra and Jorge for allowing me to be a part of their vision, and allowed me to do what I love most. El Tigre was ground breaking for many reasons. It was the first animated series in America to be created by Hispanic co-creators, and it was Nickelodeon’s first Flash animated series that was completely paperless. It won a Daytime Emmy Award, two Annie awards, and has been nominated for many others. Of all the accomplishments I’ve been able to achieve through the success of El Tigre, the one that sticks out the most is that White Pantera got his own McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy. You know you’ve made it when you’ve been woven into the fabrics of the American Fast-Food Industry!
JA: You also lent your talents to Avatar: The Last Airbender; what was it like to work on this series that was unlike any recent production you had been involved in?

EB: Avatar was definitely a step into an area of acting pools that I don’t usually swim in. I’m more at home doing shows that are more comedy driven than action. I give full kudos to actors that make shows like Avatar sound effort less. Although I was only on the show for a very limited time, I have to say thanks to Sarah Noonan and Maryanne Dacey over at Nickelodeon for always looking out for me.

JA: Tell me about upcoming projects that you're involved in that we should be on the lookout for.

EB: There are a few different things coming out in 2009 I’m proud to have worked on. One of which is the highly anticipated “G.I. Joe: Resolute”. I had the amazing opportunity to provide voices for three of Hasbro’s classic Joe characters. The show looks unlike anything you’ve ever seen from a Joe cartoon. The 60 min micro-series is being directed by Joaquim DeSantos (Avatar: The Last Air Bender), Titmouse Studios is producing the animation, and it's being executive produced by Sam Register. I am super excited about that one. I also guest starred on a few new episodes for Fairly Odd Parents that I cannot wait to see. Working with Butch Hartman was amazing, and I hope to come back for more episodes! This year I was also the official voice for NASCAR’s mascot on Fox Sports, and more recently I landed the lead role in Butch Hartman’s third series for Nickelodeon called “T.U.F.F. Puppy.” Also www.ericbauza.com will be up this week!
JA: Do you have a favorite cartoon of all time?

EB: There are a few. Too many to mention, and many that I shouldn’t mention. But I’d have to say Ren & Stimpy tops the list.

JA: What is your favorite thing about your career?

EB: The thing I like most about my career is that I have the ability to jump from project to project doing so many different things. One day I’m doing voices, another day I’m drawing, the next day I might be editing animatics.