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The first actor cast for ‘Ted’, coming to theaters on June 29, was the same one helming the film. Doing quadruple duty on set, director Seth MacFarlane realized the character of Ted through the combination of the vocal and physical performance. This was coordinated by MacFarlane wearing a motion-capture suit and the postproduction work of the visual effects team headed by VFX producer Jenny Fulle of The Creative-Cartel and VFX supervisor Blair Clark.
MacFarlane explains the process: “It was necessary to have the suit there every day and for me to do a lot of the directing work with it on. So it had to be something that was comfortable. [Producer] Jason Clark found this company that had a unique technology called Moven, and there are straps that go over your everyday clothes. There were days when I had to have it on the entire day, so it had to be something that was going to capture the data that we needed but wasn’t going to be constrictive or distracting.”
The filmmakers’ primary focus was to give each scene the feel of two live actors working in the same environment. Often the voices for CG characters have to be done weeks before or weeks after the scene is shot, and the result is that it doesn’t quite connect with the actors who are on screen. “To get spontaneity, Seth was on the set in his suit working directly with the actors so it’s not dubbed over later,” explains producer John Jacobs. “It’s like a live performance between him and the other actors. He was able to trade riffs with Mark [Wahlberg] or Mila [Kunis] or Joel [McHale]. It makes a big difference, especially for comedy and for the improv that occurs during filming.”
“In a perfect world, the performance of Ted is the same as everyone else’s performance,” states MacFarlane. “It’s the same level of reality. ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ is a great film and many of the techniques utilized in that movie are utilized in this one, but we didn’t want to create the scenario in which there are the people and there are the cartoons. We wanted them all to be people, one of whom happens to have the body of a teddy bear. The trick was to treat Ted the same way as we treated everyone else. We avoided anything that would remind you that he’s just not another person, like having anyone have to lift him up to get to a high place.
“The guy I look to as the epitome of doing that right was Jim Henson,” continues the director. “The Muppets were real people; in that world it was normal for Muppets to be walking around. In ‘The Great Muppet Caper’, Kermit and Fozzie work at a newspaper and Jack Warden is their boss. They have the same relationship that newspapermen and their boss have in any movie, they just happen to be puppets. That was what we wanted.”
Producer Scott Stuber agrees with his director. He says: “The movie doesn’t work if you don’t believe that bear is real and has a personality and dimension next to John. That was the big overcome. So once that worked, we knew that movie would work. Seth spent a lot of time on the animation, on the reality of the voice and on the reality of the movements. That helped all of the actors who worked against Ted.”
So what was the inspiration for Ted’s voice? “I’m from New England,” MacFarlane notes, “and a lot of my family is from the Boston area so I grew up with plenty of Bostonians and Rhode Islanders. Ted’s voice is a melting pot of voices, but deliberately more real sounding than, say, Peter’s, Brian’s or Stewie’s in “Family Guy.””
When Ted is a young talking cub, he is played by actor Zane Cowans, who also plays the chief bully that gives young John such a hard time early in the film. What was good for MacFarlane was good for the young actor, and Cowans also performed the dialogue live while strapped into the Moven suit.
Image Courtesy of Ted