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Armageddon 2003 (a well-named con)
Report by Nicola Mody

I'd never been to a con before. This was my first, and not a good introduction despite the excellent overseas guests, who were:

This 'pulp expo', as it was also billed, was held on 12-14 April 2003 at the Aotea Centre in Auckland. It wasn't a real con as such, and given the sort of event it was (majoring in comics, Playstation games, trading cards, models and live wrestling), I have no idea why they invited such excellent guests—they must have wondered what had hit them. However, despite being warned off, I went on Saturday. The doors opened at 10 and I arrived to be appalled at the queue—80% teenaged boys in base-ball caps—stretching for three blocks. Realising I wasn't going to get in by 11am for Robert Picardo's panel session, I gave up in disgust and consoled myself by spending a $70 book voucher I had, then wandering round the market in Aotea Square, buying some delicious Indian food and a very cool Mexican necklace.

Suggestion to the disorganisers: how about scheduling the sessions for grown-ups from noon onwards to give them a chance to get in?

I decided to try again on Sunday. This time the queues only stretched across the square, but there were three of them. Typically, I joined the slowest one and took over an hour to get in. I was in time to catch the last third of a panel session which was billed as Brent Stait's, but also included Anthony Simcoe and an unscheduled appearance by  Mira Furlan. My persistence was rewarded!

My thanks to fellow SF fan Steve who kindly allowed me to use the much better photos he took at the panel sessions.

Steve has also generously let me use his pictures and a brief report about Armageddon 2002 here.


Brent Stait and Anthony Simcoe Panel


A crappy long-shot by me of Anthony Simcoe, Brent Stait, and a con organiser. Not a good picture as I had to use digital zoom which loses a lot of definition.
The other much better ones, of Anthony in the cap and Brent, are by Steve.

I only caught the end of this. The theatre was less than a quarter full, but by the end of Mira's talk, it was filling up well as people managed to get into the venue. This was meant to be just Brent Stait (Rev Bem in Andromeda) but I was delighted to find Anthony Simcoe (Kar D'Argo in Farscape) there too. Perhaps someone realised a lot of people had missed out on Saturday.

When I arrived, Anthony was talking about the puppets used in Farscape. He said that the cast never thought of Rygel as anything but a puppet, but Pilot was regarded as a real character because the people and machinery used to animate him were never visible.

Brent said that one of the hardest things about working on Andromeda was acting to a green screen, as so much is done by CGI these days. Anthony agreed and pointed out that Henson's Creature Shop is now half CGI.

Query: When Rygel farted, were the helium voices done live or dubbed in afterwards?

Anthony said they spoke in high voices during the filming of the scenes but dubbed the dialogue later, either with helium, or by speaking slowly then speeding up the recording, as it was very hard to do a high voice while retaining D'Argo's rasp.

Brent said that when doing loops (dubbing in voice tracks) he always had to put in the Rev Bem teeth to get the voice right. He did every Magog voice in Andromeda—every single screech and howl—and made up the Magog language himself as he went.

Anthony, who does not sound at all like D'Argo, said that there is a technique to speaking 'in slow motion' involving putting the tongue on the roof of the mouth. He used this, plus lowering his register, to create D'Argo's voice.


Mira Furlan Panel


Thanks to Steve for the close-up.

Mira Furlan came out for the last fifteen minutes of the panel, which was an unexpected and delightful surprise, as she had not been billed to speak that day. She sounded just like Delenn.

Query: What was the worst of Delenn's makeup? She said it was the glue around her mouth and nose, but it was not as bad as for the extras playing one alien race whose noses were closed off altogether so they had to breathe through their mouths. She said she forgot the name of the race, but they were the ones who were exterminated (the Markab). In the B5 pilot, the Delenn makeup was unbearable.

Query: What had she done since Babylon 5? She has had a child, a boy called Marko, and is writing screenplays. When they filmed the B5 pilot, Mira had no idea whether there would be a series, let alone five years of work.

Query: Was she now typecast? Mira laughed, and asked if the questioner had any jobs for a Minbari. She said that she had made many films in Yugoslavia and had a very successful established career there before going to the US. For various reasons she did not want to go into, the films are not well-known outside her home country.

Query: Did she miss the B5 cast? She said they got on very well together despite being from very different backgrounds, and very different professionally—Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi) had once been a stockbroker on Wall Street! In her opinion, the primary reason for B5's success was Joe's (J Michael Straczynsk's) writing, then the cast.

Query: Did she like seeing herself on TV. No, if she did see herself, she turned it off.

Query: Was it sad filming the last episode, 'Sleeping in Light'? Yes, it was, as they were all leaving too. Also, two days before, her dear cat Ugi had disappeared—eaten, Mira suspected, by coyotes.


Robert Picardo Panel


Thanks to Steve for the close-up.

Robert came in to music, singing 'La donna e mobile', the lyrics of which changed after one verse to a very funny song about Tuvok's sex-life or lack thereof. Robert explained that he did all the songs the Doctor sang in Voyager except for the last two in the episode Virtuoso, which were sung by a real opera singer.

He asked for questions. The first was from a woman who wanted to kiss his head. "Of course you may," Robert said, and she promptly climbed onto the stage and planted one on top of his head. "Anyone else?" Robert asked hopefully. "Do you realise that a naked head is a sign of spectacular virility?"

Query: Was he disappointed when Seven spurned him for Chakotay? "What do you think? Still, the timeline was changed in that last episode, so Seven is up for grabs again."

Query: What were his favourite episodes? Those directed by members of the cast. What has he done since Voyager? He has done two musicals—A Class Act and Loony Tunes—and a half-hour comedy show called, I think, Police Detective in which he plays a doctor (again) but of psychology this time; he has been very busy.

Query: Did he enjoy working with Kate Mulgrew? She was great to work with, always immaculately prepared every day, she always knew all her lines. They are great friends and see a lot of each other. Kate is currently doing Tea at Five, a stage play about Katherine Hepburn. He is fond of all the cast, and they all still see each other.

Query: Someone asked about the Doctor finally getting a name, Joe. Robert said that as that timeline was changed, as far as he's concerned, the Doctor is still nameless. He then went on to talk about the episode with the two doctors. The other doctor was played by Andy Dick, who promptly asked if Picardo got a lot of jokes about his name being so close to Picard's. "Your name is Dick and you're teasing me about mine?" was Robert's response. He said he was concerned about how the episode might be reported in the TV schedules: Picardo in double act with Dick etc. Speaking of which, he asked, why was his action figure always presented with one or two hands over its crotch?

The cast all hated the artificial smoke used in battle scenes and went home with their nostrils caked in black crud. Cue another song: 'Smoke gets in your eyes'.

Robert then said he'd written a book before he realised that Star Trek books were traditionally ghost-written. He then read us a very funny excerpt from 'The Hologram's Handbook' about how to go about getting anatomical enhancements to one's software.

Query: Did he believe there was other life in the universe? Definitely. He is a Christian—a Catholic—but is able to believe that there is plenty of room in creation for other life-forms who will have their own paths to salvation.

Query: Why do the consoles keep exploding? "Because science fiction has a young male audience who like explosions."

Query: How did he get the role? He originally read for Neelix, whom he decided to play as a drunk, and committed one of the no-noes of auditions—he used a prop. He loaded a handkerchief with talcum powder and pulled it out to give his face a wipe, releasing clouds of powder. This got a laugh, but afterwards he went home to his wife and said he probably hadn't got the part. The studio rang and asked him to go back to audition for the doctor, which he did. At the end of the scene, where the doctor is left alone asking plaintively whether anyone will turn him off, Robert decided to add another line: "I'm a doctor, not a night-light!" This brought the house down. At the time he hadn't seen any Star Trek (his wife, a big fan, rectified that) so he didn't know he'd used a catch-phrase of McCoy's. Despite committing two faux-pas (using a prop and ad-libbing) he got the role.

Ad-libs were not allowed on the show. The cast had to go through channels to change any dialogue; it was not easy.

Query: What did he think of Enterprise? Not much, I think, because he seemed loath to answer, saying at first that he had hardly seen it. He said that they spoke too slowly, and if they picked up the pace a bit in both dialogue and plot, it would help. Many of the Voyager cast, particularly himself and B'Elanna Torres, spoke very fast, and besides, they always had strict and often seemingly impossibly tight time-limits for scenes.

Robert's small daughter was intrigued with the episode in which the Doctor was reduced in size, and afterwards commanded, "Daddy, go small!" She also wondered why he had to drive to the lot when the ship could just come over and beam him up. She had a Doctor action figure, known as Daddy the Doll, who had an enviable life riding shotgun with Barbie in her toy cars. He then told a lot of Doctor action figure jokes: "I can play with myself in public!", "Oh, look, Picardo's beside himself!", "It has a cute butt, just like mine, but unfortunately, no—it hasn't had the anatomical upgrade."

Sorry I didn't take better notes (I couldn't read some of them) but I was too busy laughing. If you ever get a chance to hear Robert Picardo, grab it. He is very funny and incredibly entertaining.


The rest of the con

I wanted to get autographs, so I hung around waiting for the guests to have some lunch and appear. I took about half an hour to both find the right floor and squeeze through a very densely-packed crowd of kids in the Playstation area.

While I was waiting, I leafed through the autographs of people not at the con, and bought one of Paul Goddard as Stark because I like the character, and I felt sorry for him because only season 1 of Farscape had been broadcast here at that time and most people wouldn't know who Stark was. Besides, he looked lonely and in need of a home.


Thanks to Steve for the two pictures on the right which he took. The first one is from the day before, and the second shows his daughter Abbey hugging Robert, who was so enchanted he took a picture of her with his own camera which you can see in his hand.

Robert Picardo was the first to appear, and he signed a lovely large picture for me while I took his photo doing so, then I bought his CDs which he also signed. There are two of songs (described as parodies, travesties and anomalies) called basic bob and extreme bob, and one of him reading The Hologram's Handbook. The book is available from Amazon, but I think you can only get the CDs at conventions or from his own site. I had a chat with him, despite the appalling noise from the games area. mainly from a guy trying to hawk a game called Set. The guy must just kept on saying the same things over and over, and really loudly at that. I asked Robert if it was annoying him, and he said he was considering killing the guy. I offered to help.


The next guest to appear was Tony Amendola (Bra'Tac in SG1), so I sneaked a photo of him.


Mira Furlan then came out, and a friend of mine had his photo taken with her. I was tempted to buy one too, but wasn't willing to wait until 5pm to collect it. I did Mira's autograph on a lovely photo of Delenn though, and had a short chat with her. She seemed to have a slight cold, but said that she was enjoying her stay in New Zealand and was taking the chance to look around while she was here.


I hung around a bit longer, hoping in vain to see Anthony Simcoe and Brent Stait, and enjoyed looking at the high-quality Lord of the Rings statues and memorabilia, and a Dalek hiding in a quiet corner complete with plunger (it took me ages to catch that Dalek without someone in front of it), but after a while the noise, the crowds, and the heat drove me out.


Outside in Queen Street, I took a last photo for Farscape fans—proof that Stark has found his way to Auckland and is happily running a business here.

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