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Image composite: Getty // PBS

21 Famous Actors Who Quietly Voiced Cartoon Characters

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Image composite: Getty // PBS

These well-known faces got behind the mic to provide the voices for your favorite cartoons.

1. Jaleel White as Sonic the Hedgehog

While audiences might be more familiar with Jaleel White as Steve Urkel, the actor also voiced Sonic the Hedgehog for the animated series when he was 16 years old and still starring on Family Matters. He later reprised the role for the animated series Sonic Underground in 1999.

2. Fergie as Sally Brown from Peanuts

Before she was the vocalist for the Black Eyed Peas, Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson was a child star who appeared on the Disney Channel's Kids Incorporated. She was also the voice of Sally Brown, Charlie Brown’s kid sister, on three Peanuts animated TV specials produced in the '80s (It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown; Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown; and The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show).

3. Orson Welles as Unicron from Transformers: The Movie

Legendary filmmaker Orson Welles' last role before his death in 1985 was voice-work for Transformers: The Movie. He played the villain Unicron, a planet-sized Transformer hell-bent on ultimate power.

4. Jessica Walter as Fran Sinclair from Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs premiered on ABC in 1991 and centered on a family of anthropomorphic dinos created using puppetry and animation. Before she played Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development, Jessica Walter voiced matriarch Fran Sinclair. Puppeteer Kevin Clash, who was Elmo on Sesame Street, voiced the scene-stealing Baby Sinclair.

These days, Walter can also be heard as Malory Archer on FX’s animated series Archer.

5. Michael Cera as Brother Bear from The Berenstain Bears

A year before playing George Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, Michael Cera voiced Brother Bear on The Berenstain Bears children’s TV series on PBS Kids. Cera continued to voice the character while starring in Arrested Development through 2005.

6. Phil Hartman as Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace

In the same year he started his career on Saturday Night Live, Phil Hartman did voice work on the syndicated TV series Dennis the Menace. He played both Dennis’ father, Henry Mitchell, and the next-door neighbor Mr. Wilson. Hartman left Dennis the Menace after one season to pursue SNL full-time.

Hartman also did voice work on cartoons such as DuckTales, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and Darkwing Duck. His most notable voice work was with The Simpsons, playing Springfield’s down-and-out lawyer Lionel Hutz (a.k.a. Miguel Sanchez) and washed-up actor Troy McClure.

7. Meg Ryan as Dr. Blight from Captain Planet and the Planeteers

Following the success of When Harry Met Sally, Meg Ryan voiced the Eco-Villain Dr. Blight during the first season of Captain Planet and the Planeteers. After leaving the environmentally-minded animated series, Ryan went on to continue her career as America's Sweetheart.

8. James Avery as The Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

You might know him as Uncle Philip Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but before he took the role on that wildly popular NBC sitcom, James Avery supplied the voice for Shredder on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Avery voiced the villain throughout the show's entire run from 1987 to 1993, while also playing the role on the TMNT made-for-TV movie in 1991.

9. John Ritter as Clifford the Big Red Dog

Before his untimely death in 2003, John Ritter voiced Clifford the Big Red Dog for the animated series of the same name on PBS Kids. Throughout the series run, Ritter was nominated for four straight Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program between 2001 and 2004.

10. Vin Diesel as The Iron Giant

At the start of his career in the '90s, Vin Diesel (whose real name is Mark Sinclair Vincent) took a role as the titular character in Brad Bird’s directorial debut, The Iron Giant. While undoubtedly a lead role, the animated robot only said a handful of words.

Vin Diesel’s voice can also be heard in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, coming out this summer. Diesel once again lends his voice to an unloquacious alien, the tree-like Groot.

11. Earle Hyman as Panthro from ThunderCats

Warner Bros. Television

Actor Earle Hyman is probably best known for playing Russell “Grandpa” Huxtable on The Cosby Show, but a year into his tenure on the family sitcom, Hyman voiced the wise Panthro on ThunderCats.

12. and 13. Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell as "The Ambiguously Gay Duo"

Although the animated short sketches were popularized on Saturday Night Live, "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" made its debut on the short-lived Dana Carvey Show on ABC in 1996. Lending their voices to the crime-fighting duo Ace and Gary were none other than Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, respectively.

In 2011, Colbert and Carell re-teamed to star in a special live-action version of "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" for a short film on SNL. Jon Hamm and Jimmy Fallon played Ace and Gary while Colbert and Carrell played the villains, Dr. Brainio and Bighead.

14. Jeff Goldblum as Verminous Skumm from Captain Planet

After appearing in '80s cult classics The Fly and Earth Girls Are Easy, Jeff Goldblum took a job voicing the Eco-Villain Verminous Skumm on Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Goldblum only appeared on five episodes of Captain Planet before his career started to take off with roles in big blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Independence Day.

15. Flea as Donnie from The Wild Thornberrys

Flea (whose real name is Michael Peter Balzary) is mainly known as the hyperactive bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Throughout the years, he has taken a few supporting roles in movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, My Own Private Idaho, and Back To The Future Parts II and III.

Flea also lent his voice talents to Nickelodeon's The Wild Thornberrys, playing Donnie Thornberry, and voiced the character in the show's film-length efforts The Wild Thornberrys: The Origin of Donnie, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, and Rugrats Go Wild, a cross-over between Nickelodeon’s Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys.

16. LeVar Burton as Kwame from Captain Planet and the Planeteers

LeVar Burton is a television icon after starring in shows like Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but he has also lent his voice to a few cult animated series as well, like Batman: The Animated Series and Disney’s Gargoyles. Burton’s most notable voice work was on Captain Planet and the Planeteers as Kwame, the Planeteer from Ghana with the power of Earth.

17. Arsenio Hall as Winston Zeddemore from The Real Ghostbusters

Two years after the release of Ghostbusters, ABC aired a cartoon version of the hit movie. The Real Ghostbusters featured the same characters from its live-action counterpart, but with different voice actors in the roles. Before he landed his own late night talk show, Arsenio Hall played the role of Ghostbuster Winston Zeddemore during the first three seasons of the animated series.

Actor Ernie Hudson, who played Winston Zeddemore in both of the Ghostbusters movies and its video game, auditioned for the animated TV series but lost out to Arsenio.

18. J.K. Simmons as the Yellow M&M

Actor J.K. Simmons has made a name for himself on the big and small screens with his performances as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man trilogy and as Assistant Chief Will Pope on TNT's The Closer, but he also has done some commercial work as the voice of the Yellow M&M in the candy's popular TV commercials.

Simmons also provides the voice for the AirBender Tenzin on The Legend of Korra animated series on Nickelodeon.

19. Brad Garrett as Hulk Hogan from Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling

Stand-up comedian Brad Garrett is mainly known for playing Robert Barone on the Everybody Loves Raymond, but one of his first big roles was on the Saturday morning cartoon Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling in 1986. Garrett lent his voice to the cartoon’s lead: Wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan.

20. Keith David as Goliath on Disney’s Gargoyles

Keith David is one of Hollywood's go-to character actors. He's most recognizable for his key supporting roles in movies like Armageddon, Requiem For a Dream, and John Carpenter’s The Thing, but the 57-year-old actor has done his fair share of voice work.

David notably played Goliath in Disney’s Gargoyles. While the show only lasted for three seasons, David is still an active participant in fan gatherings and events for the cult animated series. Gargoyles also featured the voices of highly regarded actors including Ed Asner, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, and Jonathan Frakes.

21. Brittany Murphy as Luanne Platter on King of the Hill

Brittany Murphy was a rising star in Hollywood, starring in major motion pictures like Cluelessand 8 Mile. She was also a regular on the animated series King of the Hill. Murphy voiced Luanne Platter, Hank and Peggy Hill’s niece, until her unexpected death in 2009.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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