Talking Animals

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
In the Season 4 Casting Call thread here https://forums.signumuniversity.org/index.php?threads/season-4-casting-call.3020/page-4#post-23812, there was a short discussion on whether or not we should have talking animals. Should we have talking animals in the project? For example Thorondor has to have some means of communicating with characters like Fingon (when he rescues Maedhros) and Turgon (as Thorondor guards Gondolin for centuries and informs him of Fingolfin’s death) without looking silly. Plus, Huan is prophesied to speak three times in his lifetime; it’s a defining characteristic. I think we should have talking animals and it can be done without looking weird.


Discuss.
 
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Faelivrin

Well-Known Member
I think the key, (and I know I'm repeating myself), is that the 'animal' opens and closes its mouth, but there should be no attempt to give them human lip movements or facial expressions. That clip of Aslan looks well-done to me, you can see his mouth moving and some lip movement and expressions, but not cartoonishly or in an exaggerated way.

For birds I think zero lip movement. That's how ravens and parrots 'talk' in real life (and I would like to have one of the Raven-folk appear in the frame this season, even if just briefly).

It would be a serious problem for the plot if Huan and Thorondor and Glaurung were incapable of talking, and very hard to convey what's going on if we have them produce animal noises that suddenly other people can understand (only 3 times in Huan's case) and then repeat in English for the audience. That always sounds like unnecessary exposition to me. The only reason it works with Chewie and R2D2 in Star Wars is that nobody ever needs to know what those two are actually saying. That won't be the case for Huan or Thorondor or Glaurung.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
I think the key, (and I know I'm repeating myself), is that the 'animal' opens and closes its mouth, but there should be no attempt to give them human lip movements or facial expressions. That clip of Aslan looks well-done to me, you can see his mouth moving and some lip movement and expressions, but not cartoonishly or in an exaggerated way.

For birds I think zero lip movement. That's how ravens and parrots 'talk' in real life (and I would like to have one of the Raven-folk appear in the frame this season, even if just briefly).

It would be a serious problem for the plot if Huan and Thorondor and Glaurung were incapable of talking, and very hard to convey what's going on if we have them produce animal noises that suddenly other people can understand (only 3 times in Huan's case) and then repeat in English for the audience. That always sounds like unnecessary exposition to me. The only reason it works with Chewie and R2D2 in Star Wars is that nobody ever needs to know what those two are actually saying. That won't be the case for Huan or Thorondor or Glaurung.
My thoughts exactly. Plus, miming is seen as kinda silly, to be honest.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
That clip of Aslan looks well-done to me, you can see his mouth moving and some lip movement and expressions, but not cartoonishly or in an exaggerated way.
The work done on Aslan for the Narnia films was indeed ground-breaking, and we will likely see work of equal or superior quality when the new Lion King comes out soonish.

Jungle Book also did an excellent job with this (I think they did better with the big cats than with the wolves, though):
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Celegorm will understand Huan in the way that Han understands Chewie without subtitles or Luke understands R2 when they are in the X-wing. Obviously, Huan will have to 'speak' in Season 5, as Beren and Lúthien don't have Celegorm's skill.

I agree that we want talking Ravens. It would be cool if you could just train an actual raven to say the lines :p But since a raven's voice is practically indistinguishable from a human's voice, I'm sure voiceover would be fine as well :p

I don't really have anything against talking animals in a fantasy environment with sentient creatures. The Elves do call themselves 'Quendi,' though - those who speak. We should be careful not to overdo it with the talking animals.

I might have to go re-read Frodo's encounter with Shelob, but what I recall from that does not involve speech. The eyes are intelligent, and full of hatred, so Frodo knows he's up against a thinking foe, not a beast...but...they don't exactly trade words. On the other hand, Gollum has obviously found a way to communicate with Shelob, so while they might not be talking, they are working together. Sam talks to Shelob, too, so he expects to be understood. This is a contrast with the talking spiders of The Hobbit...but also possibly quite intentional on Tolkien's part to move away from that. Just as the conversations with eagles in The Lord of the Rings are all Gandalf-centric and (mostly) off screen.

So, in other words, just because we clearly have talking ravens, thrushes, eagles, and spiders in The Hobbit does not mean we should be in a hurry to populate Beleriand with talking animals. Maybe rather we should be thinking of populating Beleriand with those who can speak to/understand animals.

On the other hand - presumably Tevildo talks while in cat form, and Thorondor talks while in eagle form. Draugluin has dialogue in the published Silmarillion, as does Ungoliant. We certainly can't *avoid* talking animals!


A separate discussion is the external issue. The Execs are not convinced that talking animals would look anything but silly on film, and so are mostly in favor of minimizing that. If we want a character to have a voice, we should probably advocate specifically for that in the episodes where it would be relevant. I doubt they're going to veto Thorondor or Huan having voice actors, but they were very reluctant to let go of Ungoliant talking while in humanoid form only. She does not transform into spider form until after her recruitment talk with Melkor. Of course, we *did* wind up giving her dialogue for her final fight with Melkor in which the balrogs save him and drive her off.

Peter Jackson managed to get through Lord of the Rings on film without any talking animals. We can't get through the Silmarillion that way, so we have to make different choices. Those other choices could involve telepathic communication without mouths moving, but there will likely be communication that the audience is aware of and understands. (Not just Saruman getting a message from a flock of birds and delivering that news to the audience.) But...we likely won't be quite using Hobbit-levels of talking animals, either.
 

amysrevenge

Well-Known Member
But...we likely won't be quite using Hobbit-levels of talking animals, either.
This is the sort of thing I'm worried about. There's a scene coming up, where a certain black sword has a lovely dialogue as it takes the willing life of a certain... "wronged" individual, that has the potential to play pretty silly, or out of character, or not in the style of the rest of our show. It's no magic purse, but it could look like that.

When written in the style of the Hobbit, you start to wonder why all the animals *don't* talk. "Why do the wolves and eagles talk, but Beorn's ponies don't?" is a very valid question you could ask in the Hobbit story. I don't want to have that in our story, and it sounds like nobody else does either. It's just something to be careful about.

To a certain extent less is more, but taken too far you end up with just the one or two individual events coming out of nowhere. So the problem then is (taking it from the inanimate object perspective, which parallels the animal perspective), as an example: is the Black Sword literally the only inanimate object that speaks aloud in the whole Legendarium? Or is the troll's magic purse just the second time (for the record, in my own headcanon the purse speaks in the "sanitized for children" version of Bilbo's story, but not in the "historical record" version)? Or are there more cases such that it's hardly remarkable? Honestly there are problems with all of these cases. And it's the same thing for talking animals. Either there are a few cases, where they aren't really "animals" but rather something more that takes the form of an animal, or there is just one and only one case (Huan), or there are lots and lots of cases such that it's weird when an animal doesn't talk (why can wolves and ravens talk all they like, but Huan only can 3 times?)
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
This is the sort of thing I'm worried about. There's a scene coming up, where a certain black sword has a lovely dialogue as it takes the willing life of a certain... "wronged" individual, that has the potential to play pretty silly, or out of character, or not in the style of the rest of our show. It's no magic purse, but it could look like that.

When written in the style of the Hobbit, you start to wonder why all the animals *don't* talk. "Why do the wolves and eagles talk, but Beorn's ponies don't?" is a very valid question you could ask in the Hobbit story. I don't want to have that in our story, and it sounds like nobody else does either. It's just something to be careful about.

To a certain extent less is more, but taken too far you end up with just the one or two individual events coming out of nowhere. So the problem then is (taking it from the inanimate object perspective, which parallels the animal perspective), as an example: is the Black Sword literally the only inanimate object that speaks aloud in the whole Legendarium? Or is the troll's magic purse just the second time (for the record, in my own headcanon the purse speaks in the "sanitized for children" version of Bilbo's story, but not in the "historical record" version)? Or are there more cases such that it's hardly remarkable? Honestly there are problems with all of these cases. And it's the same thing for talking animals. Either there are a few cases, where they aren't really "animals" but rather something more that takes the form of an animal, or there is just one and only one case (Huan), or there are lots and lots of cases such that it's weird when an animal doesn't talk (why can wolves and ravens talk all they like, but Huan only can 3 times?)
My explanation for having Thorondor and Huan talk is that they’re from Valinor, making them different from animals in Middle-Earth (not to mention that Thorondor is huge).
 

Faelivrin

Well-Known Member
My thinking is that the Eagles of Manwe are more than mere birds, the way Ents are more than mere trees, and fully incarnate. It isn't weird to me that they can speak. The Gaurhoth, Wargs, Vampires, and Demon-lions are demons and their spawn, that isn't weird to me either. Ungoliante is some sort of demon I guess?, but other than maybe Shelob I don't see evidence of other giant spiders speaking. (Can they even understand Bilbo's Westron? Sometimes I wonder if the Ring translates things for its wearer. He seems to understand Nandorin and Orkish without trouble.)

Huan is a special case even compared to the rest of his kind, apparently. The Thrush can't speak any human language, and I get the feeling those black thrushes are an unusual species (they're a fictional one, as far as I know). The ravens can speak in sentences, but real ravens can mimic words at the least. So, for creatures that really deserve to be called animals, there isn't much speaking. The fact that Elves and some Men can understand the "speech" of birds and beasts, and Beorn can talk to any animal, makes me wonder how intelligent (sapient??) the average Middle-earth animals are, but mostly they behave just like real animals so we don't have to worry about it much, I think. There's no need for talking foxes, is what I mean.

Likewise, when Legolas says he can hear the speech of grass and rocks, I don't think he means that literally ;).

Gurthang is just totally weird and I have no idea what to say. I assume that Bilbo embellished his tale with silly things like talking purses and 11-foot-tall human!Beorn, and it seems Tolkien embellished it further with English anachronisms. But Gurthang is just... I don't know. Did that even really happen, or was it inserted by the Narn author Dirhaval? Who (alive) was on hand, anyway, to hear Turin's last words? Does Mablung have keen enough hearing to hear them from some distance? Not saying we should need to get rid of that, but I don't know how to depict it so it isn't weird. At the least, there is the line by Gwindor saying the sword mourns for Beleg.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
My thinking is that the Eagles of Manwe are more than mere birds, the way Ents are more than mere trees, and fully incarnate. It isn't weird to me that they can speak. The Gaurhoth, Wargs, Vampires, and Demon-lions are demons and their spawn, that isn't weird to me either. Ungoliante is some sort of demon I guess?, but other than maybe Shelob I don't see evidence of other giant spiders speaking. (Can they even understand Bilbo's Westron? Sometimes I wonder if the Ring translates things for its wearer. He seems to understand Nandorin and Orkish without trouble.)

Huan is a special case even compared to the rest of his kind, apparently. The Thrush can't speak any human language, and I get the feeling those black thrushes are an unusual species (they're a fictional one, as far as I know). The ravens can speak in sentences, but real ravens can mimic words at the least. So, for creatures that really deserve to be called animals, there isn't much speaking. The fact that Elves and some Men can understand the "speech" of birds and beasts, and Beorn can talk to any animal, makes me wonder how intelligent (sapient??) the average Middle-earth animals are, but mostly they behave just like real animals so we don't have to worry about it much, I think. There's no need for talking foxes, is what I mean.

Likewise, when Legolas says he can hear the speech of grass and rocks, I don't think he means that literally ;).

Gurthang is just totally weird and I have no idea what to say. I assume that Bilbo embellished his tale with silly things like talking purses and 11-foot-tall human!Beorn, and it seems Tolkien embellished it further with English anachronisms. But Gurthang is just... I don't know. Did that even really happen, or was it inserted by the Narn author Dirhaval? Who (alive) was on hand, anyway, to hear Turin's last words? Does Mablung have keen enough hearing to hear them from some distance? Not saying we should need to get rid of that, but I don't know how to depict it so it isn't weird. At the least, there is the line by Gwindor saying the sword mourns for Beleg.
I don't think there are many who think that it is weird that most of the animals you mentioned talk in the story, but that it may look weird on screen. I think that we have seen ample evidence, though, that CGI artists are able to successfully portray this, without it looking strange, and I'm going to continue to argue that point until we reach the points at which a Decision must be made.
 

Faelivrin

Well-Known Member
Oh, now I remember the spiders do talk in The Hobbit. I had completely forgotten that part. Well, I suppose they'd be speaking their own language instead of Westron, much like the Wood-elves (and Shagrat and Gorbag?), and the Ring makes them understood. I'm going to go with that.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
I don't think there are many who think that it is weird that most of the animals you mentioned talk in the story, but that it may look weird on screen. I think that we have seen ample evidence, though, that CGI artists are able to successfully portray this, without it looking strange, and I'm going to continue to argue that point until we reach the points at which a Decision must be made.
Trying to use something other than talking is going to look weird and silly. Imagine Thorondor trying to mime.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
Trying to use something other than talking is going to look weird and silly. Imagine Thorondor trying to mime.
I'm unsure that this has been seriously suggested by anyone. If anything, there seems to be a desire to have animals speak telepathically to avoid having to have animal mouths move in sync with human speech.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
I'm unsure that this has been seriously suggested by anyone. If anything, there seems to be a desire to have animals speak telepathically to avoid having to have animal mouths move in sync with human speech.
It was a more sarcastic suggestion about an alternate means of communication besides talking. But not every Elf has telepathy; Finrod and Galadriel seem to be the only ones who have telepathy.

But should we have voice actors if they speak telepathically?
 

Faelivrin

Well-Known Member
Well... passively receiving telepathy is easier than sending it out or mind-reading -- effortless really. Galadriel could reach the Fellowship, although none appear to be telepaths themselves. Gandalf called Frodo a fool from several miles away, and was heard (at Amon Hen). If we aren't allowed to have Thorondor, Huan, et al. speak out loud, I'll argue in favor of telepathy so they can still have their lines.

How to portray telepathy on screen (voices with altered audio effects, or words written on the screen) I guess depends on which is easier to understand and looks better. I'm trying to recall if any telepathic conversations have been shown in Babylon 5. The only examples I can think of were shown on screen as the people conversing in an illusionary (mental) space clearly different from their real locations, and one telepathic alien that had closed captions in Crusade. In all cases, the telepath was either identifiable, or presented a visual image (an actor) to look at.
 
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Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
I don't think physical speech has been disallowed at this point. It just seems as if the hosts are disinclined towards it.
They do seem to be. They were a bit mocking about the concept during the most recent casting video, where I had nominated Maisie Williams for Shelob. They were almost amused by the idea of using a famous actress like Williams for Shelob, and I’m still a little peeved, since they said they want to use her for another role, and to be honest, Shelob was the last option. So it was very short-sighted in my opinion.
 
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