When six-year-old Asher Chaim Blinkoff first read his lines for the voice of red-haired Dennis in Sony’s 3D animated feature “Hotel Transylvania 2,” he asked his father if he should take off the velvet kippah embroidered with his Hebrew name, “Asher Chaim.”
“I said, ‘Of course not,'” said Blinkoff, a seasoned Disney animator and director, who wears his own black crocheted yarmulke wherever he goes. An alumnus of the Conservative Movement’s Camp Ramah, he became more Orthodox as an adult.
Being outwardly observant has never been a problem, said Blinkoff, who gives inspirational talks to many Jewish communities around the world about embracing one’s Jewish identity despite one’s professional choices. It didn’t present any issues for his son, either.
“They got kosher food for him and snacks,” said Blinkoff, adding that when the movie’s premiere was scheduled to be screened on Shabbat, the studio arranged a mini premiere the day before for 120 of the Blinkoffs’ friends and family.
“They knew he didn’t work on Shabbos and that was totally fine,” said Blinkoff.
Of course, Asher Blinkoff is far from the only Jew in the movie, which was written by Adam Sandler, who also stars in the film, along with Andy Samberg, Mel Brooks and Fran Drescher.
“It’s very cool to see that lineup and see that they’re all Jews,” said Blinkoff.
Still, it was a first among many new experiences for Asher, who made his debut in the film as the voice of Dennis, the redheaded cherub who appears to lack his family’s vampire abilities, a worrisome concern for his grandfather, Dracula, in the successful animated feature from Sony.
He took it all in stride, said his father.
That may be because animated features, voiceovers and the movie industry are nothing new for Asher’s parents, Saul and Marion Blinkoff.
Saul Blinkoff, 43, works as an animator and director for several Hollywood studios including Disney, MTV and Amazon. His wife, Marion Blinkoff, acted when she was a child and served as an associate producer at Disney for many years, he said.
It was their oldest daughter, Meira, now 11, who first tried her hand at the industry, said Blinkoff. She auditioned for a role as a baby and didn’t get it, but that “put the bug in my wife’s head,” he said.
By the time Meira was four and a half, she had played several roles in major commercials and then did the voice for Melissa, a character in the television show “Phineas and Ferb.” She also was the voice of the small werewolves in the first “Hotel Transylvania” movie and has several different voice roles in “Hotel Transylvania 2.”
“She got a credit and that was exciting for her,” said Blinkoff, who has four children.
The work of children’s voiceovers is very particular, said Blinkoff, requiring a set of skills that he’s become familiar with from his own work in voiceover direction.
“The kid needs to be able to sing,” said Blinkoff, “and have a good ear to be able to hear a subtle inflection. Most kids this age can’t read, so you’re giving them the lines and you want them to repeat as you do it.”
Asher, said his father, sings all the time and likes to harmonize.
“You also need the right voice,” said Blinkoff. “Is it raspy, is it cute, is it heavy? You need it at the right time and it’s about timing and direction. What you really want is for the kids to put their little kid imperfections into the voice.”
Finally, said Blinkoff, even if the kid has a great voice and can imitate the desired inflections, they also need to be professional, with the ability to stand in front of a microphone for 45 minutes without their parents in the room.
“When Asher got his audition, I knew he could do it at home with us,” said Blinkoff. “But he went in there and did a great job; he had the confidence.”
When auditioning, said Blinkoff, he records his children’s voices on an iPhone and then sends them off. At that point, they forget about it unless they get a callback.
With one parent working in animation, the Blinkoff kids were accustomed to rehearsing at home.
“I direct them at home,” said Blinkoff. “I usually know really well what the director’s looking for. When I read the script, I see the gag he’s doing, so that absolutely helps.”
But at the studio, “there’s the point when Daddy’s not in the room and he just has to do it,” he said.
Now that Asher’s job is done, however, he’s moved on, said Blinkoff.
“He’s totally over it,” said Blinkoff. “It’s just another after-school activity. We don’t play it up. It’s unique and special and we want him to be proud of it like anything he does.”