You know Peter Cullen even if you don’t know him. He’s been the voice of Optimus Prime, the hero of the Transformers, since the 1980s. Along with Transformers, Cullen is also: Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh,he first voice of KARR in Knight Rider, and the original vocalization resource for the Predator. How do you get a front-row seat to all of that sci-fi history? As you’ll see in the video below, it comes down to finding the humanity in the strangest of circumstances. The origin story of Optimus Prime’s voice is both interesting, and insightful. For Sci-Friday #116, learn how Peter Cullen made Optimus Prime’s voice for the original series and later for the Michael Bay franchise:
Cullen had no idea of Prime’s popularity until the character’s controversial death in the 1986 animated film. Wikipedia notes: ‘the studio had never given him fan letters from children addressed to Optimus. The public backlash over Optimus’s death surprised producers greatly. Children were leaving the theaters distraught because of the character’s death.’
Outside of Transformers, Cullen has enjoyed a steady career as a voice actor, but the biggest takeaway I got from Cullen’s story is this: the emotional cores of any scifi character should come from real places. The kids in Mesh, for example, are based on people I know: good, bad, or ugly. No one would be able to recognize themselves in Mesh, just like I think Captain H.L. Cullen would be hard put to recognize himself in Optimus Prime. Nonetheless, you don’t have to look too far for inspiration. Usually it’s right in front of you.
I hope you enjoyed learning how Peter Cullen made Optimus Prime’s voice and, guess what? I’ve got more fun scifi stuff to share! Dive down the rabbit hole of every other Sci-Friday I’ve published in the past couple years. Happy Friday and enjoy your weekend!