Awesome Con Recap: Jess Harnell Discusses Disney, ‘Animaniacs,’ and Challenging Co-Stars

Jess Harnell's Voice Still Rings True at Awesome Con. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Jess Harnell’s Voice Still Rings True at Awesome Con. Photo: Pat Cuadros

(Update 6/2/15: Sharper photo from Robbie Hott)

Jess Harnell is an interesting figure to behold. I’m not quite sure what I envisioned regarding the appearance of the voice actor whose resume encompassing roles from the “Animaniacs” and even the recent “Transformers” franchise. I admit I wasn’t expecting someone who describes himself as looking like he “should be in a Def Leppard tribute band.” With his dark shades, long hair, and dark clothes (admittedly with that rocker flair), Harnell fits that description on the mark.

Harnell shows no signs of becoming bored in a career spanning 28 years. In fact, he was elated about lending his voice to the Disney theme park to a number of characters. At this point, he broke out with the voice of Ariel. I should mention that as he answered questions from fans, Harnell kept sliding in and out of different voices: channeling the Cowardly Lion, Ironhide, and even Albert Brooks. He performed part of his memorable song of the U.S. states and their capitals, as done by Wakko on the “Animaniacs.”

Jess Harnell at Awesome Con 2015 - Photo: Robbie Hott

Jess Harnell at Awesome Con 2015 – Photo: Robbie Hott

As you might expect, working in the entertainment industry is exciting but comes with its share of challenges. Harnell recounted a story of a project with Pierce Brosnan. For some reason, Brosnan would not go close enough to the microphone. Rather, the former 007 actor was turned in his chair, facing Harnell. At one point, Brosnan even stood up and walked around the room!

In voice acting and/or post production recording, the microphone is a pretty key instrument. To remedy the situation after multiple takes, the production crew finally moved the chairs closer and placed the microphones opposite one another. A more difficult scenario to remedy concerned the “Transformers” sequel, wherein director Michael Bay insisted that Ironhide does not have an accent (despite the obvious accent in the first film). Thankfully, character continuity was ultimately observed.

Towards the end of the talk, Harnell stressed the importance of finding your talents and developing them, whatever they may be. He’s optimistic about the contributions from young people. Citing the definition of the word “encourage” as “to put courage in,” he sees his work in kid’s shows as a way to motivate them. Wakko’s song didn’t help me pass my U.S. maps quizzes in school (I drew my own map), but I can see how Jess Harnell’s roles would have inspired children to stay positive, embrace their creativity and imagination, and keep moving forward.

Harnell places his fictitious Def Leppard tribute band “in a bowling alley,” but I wager that the Disney theme park is a setting that is far more befitting of the voice actor.

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