Notes from the coffee mill...
And now for something a little different...
Rather than take this space to spout off in a fluff piece that many of you don't really care about, I've rounded up something a little more interesting. Mr. Jonathan Klein, vice-president of New Generation Pictures, has graciously agreed to do an on-line interview about the North American anime industry. His company has recently produced the North American version of Nazca for Pioneer Entertainment (USA) L.P., and will soon release 3 x 3 Eyes and a new OAV series, Nanako for them as well. The Café is most grateful to the folks at New Generation Pictures for being so supportive and approachable!
Animé Café: I understand that your company has been involved with English anime production for about two years. New Generation Pictures was primarily a translation and subtitling company, and Nazca was your first foray into the English dubbing scene. How many other anime titles has your company worked on?
Jonathan Klein: Actually, we are a film & video production company first and foremost. We did a lot of commercials and industrial videos for companies in Japan. But when the Japanese economy went bad, business slowed down, so we started focusing on companies here in America who might want to sell themselves over in Japan, we produced Japanese language videos or commercials, but sometimes they just asked us to translate dub or subtitle their existing promotional video. That's how we really started getting into translation/subtitling & dubbing. Doing those kinds of projects lead to our company translating U.S. English TV programs into Japanese for Japanese satellite TV. Many in our staff, including myself, were big anime fans and we all thought that we could easily tool our services to the U.S. Anime market.
To answer the second part of your question we've probably worked on about 50 titles in the last 2 years.
AC: What is involved with landing an anime project? Was there some kind of qualification process before you were awarded the contract for Nazca?
JK: Well, when we first approached Anime distributors here in America, some companies quickly jumped on with us for subtitling. I think they liked that a majority of our staff is bilingual, and could make sure the titles were accurate both in timing and content. Pioneer first hired us to work on the subtitles and closed captioning of the Tenchi DVD box set, but after our staff read through the original scripts, we felt the subtitles could be a little more accurate. We asked Pioneer if we could make some changes to the script to better reflect what was being said in Japanese. They agreed, and after the success of the Tenchi DVD, they asked us if we could dubbing as well for their new project, Nazca. We had done dubbing from English to Japanese before, so essentially we were just reversing the language process.
AC: New Generation Pictures has its own in-house staff of translators. What about voice actors? Are they signed on through an agency, or do you hold open calls? What is the audition process like? How much does the original sound of the Japanese actor influence the casting process?
JK: No, we don't have any in house voice-actors. But being in Los Angeles has it's advantages. There's a plethora of talent here and you can usually find good voice talent if you look hard enough. There are some voice actors we've worked with before and think they're great and if we can find the right part for them, we'd use them again. But one of the things we're trying to avoid is using the same voice cast again and again in different projects.
When we do casting, the original Japanese voice talent does have some influence. We don't try to perfectly match voices, because the end result is then just a pale imitation of the Japanese actors. Sometimes it can work well to go in a completely opposite direction from the Japanese voice. We really haven't done that yet in our dubs, but I always cite my favorite example which was Desslar/Desslok from Yamato/Star Blazers. The Japanese Desslar was very deep and strong, but the effeminate Desslok version on Star Blazers of worked so well, because it gave him such a creepy evil persona.
AC: Many visitors to the Animé Café have expressed an interest in getting an opportunity to try voice acting in anime. Do you have any suggestions for them? How much can a person expect to earn as an English language anime actor?
JK: Tough questions. The good news is that a lot of anime dubbing projects are non-union, so many potential voice actors don't necessarily need an agent to get work. But if you really want to get steady work in voice-acting it's better to have an agent because getting work on just anime projects is far from steady. Dubbing companies are scattered all over the U.S. and Canada, so it's not easy to just travel from one part of the country to another for work (and I don't think the dubbing companies will usually pay for your travel expenses unless they "must have you" for the part).
Probably the best way to get noticed by an anime dubbing company is to put together a demo tape of your voice work. I really suggest doing this on the best high quality audio recording equipment you can find. Now this doesn't mean you have to book time at a recording studio (unless you can afford it). Many people these days have their own computer based audio and video editing equipment, all they need is a good microphone to record into the computer, clean up the signal, and then just output it too tape. If you are really feeling creative, record your voice and then try using a computer based video editor to lip sync your voice to the anime characters you think you can do best. This is important because half the skill in anime voice-acting is not just having the right voice, but being able to lip sync your voice to the lip flap (the technical term for this process is called "ADR" or "looping").
The one thing I do not recommend is just recording your voice straight into a tape recorder (unless you really have no choice). Straight tape recordings give such a poor representation of your voice talent and ability. And when we hear lots of strange noises in the background, it's only disturbing.
When you have a final product, you should send your tape to a dubbing production company like ours, not to the Anime distributors like Pioneer. The Anime distributors do not usually make the decisions on casting. They may have final approval on casting, but the dubbing companies are the ones who make the initial choices on voice talent. A final note before the flood of demo tapes come in to our office. No matter how talented you may be, New Generation Pictures can't afford to fly actors in for recording sessions, so unless you're in Southern California (or are planning to move here), please hold your submissions or try sending to a dubbing studio closer to where you live.
AC: During the recording process, are individual roles recorded separately and post-mixed, or do you have multiple actors in the studio recording at the same time? How much does lip syncing influence timing and translation of a feature? Do you use dialog editors such as Ocean Studio's "WordFit" system?
JK: We record actors separately, except for group background noise (which is called "walla"). Many recording studios use different types of audio/dialogue recording editors. Pro-Tools seems to be the most popular. The studio I work with uses a different system called Fairlight, it's a more expensive piece of equipment, but it makes the process go a lot faster.
AC: What sort of directional cues, visual aids and instructions might be given to help the actors for a recording session? How much research is done into the production of an English-language script?
JK: The are two common aids for looping. One is called the beep track, which is a set of 3 short beeps spaced 1 second apart that the voice actor hears before he/she starts speaking. It sets up the rhythm for the actor. So it would be like 3 "beep", 2 "beep", 1 "beep", O (actor speaks his/her line).
The other aid is visual time code. It's a on screen time counter that the actor sees on the anime tape while they are recording, the actor can use this get a good idea of the length of the dialogue and if they're moving too fast or slow.
The rest is up to the director. While it may sound simple, it's anything but. He/She should be able to bring out the performance that we're looking for out of the actor. They maintain the continuity of the characters performances and if necessary work to make changes in the script that may be needed to help the dialogue.
When you say research, if you are talking about keeping the continuity of dialogue used in the Japanese script, when we make the English dub script, the answer is a lot. Although I wouldn't deny that sometimes we do have to take some liberties with dialogue, because a straight Japanese translation would sound too stiff, when spoken.
AC: How much lead time does an actor have with a script before a recording session is scheduled? How many rehearsals are done? How long does a typical session for a 25 minute feature take? How many takes are involved?
JK: It all depends on the part, I like to give my main actors at least 1 week with the script, but I've had actors pick up scripts on the day of recording. It all depends upon their ability.
AC: How long does an editing session take? How much material do you typically record for a 25 minute episode?
JK: It doesn't depend on the length of the episode, but rather the amount of dialogue spoken in the episode. I've dealt with episodes that hardly have anybody speaking at all and I've had episodes where nobody shuts up. It also depends on the skill of the actor in doing the ADR session. I can say that we work about a 4 hour session with each main actor per day until we finish this episode. If you make the actors go beyond 4 hours, usually the performances start to suffer.
AC: There are some instances where you'll run into a word, phrase or concept that doesn't have a North American analogue, such as the use of phrases like itadakimasu, or even topic-specific concepts such as the use of the kendo raking term, -dan. How do you handle these 'foreign' concepts?
JK: The ideal situation is to keep the Japanese word and maybe add a line to help explain what it means. Sometimes we aren't afforded that luxury, so we must come up with an English equivalent. The Kendo ranking of "Dan" was one such instance, so we used the term "rank" as the English equivalent.
AC: The Japanese language doesn't have quite the stigma over curse words as does the English language. How do you decide whether to translate words into a harsh curse, or possibly soften the wording? How much does the potential age rating influence the translation?
JK: There are only a few colorful words that seemed to be used in Japanese anime. Whether it is harsh or soft more depends on how the person says it in Japanese because it could be easily interpreted to be used in a joking or less offensive manner or it could be interpreted to be the worst thing that the person has ever said. In Nazca, the bad guy, Shiogami is always pissed off and so when he says some colorful language he is saying it in the worst way possible. Kyoji, on the other hand, sometimes said the same things, but it seems he only intended it as real harsh cursing when he was in a fit of anger, otherwise I played it soft with him.
Whenever we decided to use harsh language we always consult with Pioneer before doing it. They seemed to be OK with it on Nazca because they felt it gave the show a grittier realistic edge to the characters.
AC: There's quite a large underground 'fan-sub' and 'fan-dub' market in North America, and their existence has fuelled quite an argument over ethics, and of their role in promoting anime here. How do you think these amateurs affect the market, and should they be allowed to exist?
JK: We'll this is the third time my opinion of fansubs will be posted on the net so I'll make it short and concise. I believe there is nothing wrong with fansubs provided they follow 3 rules. 1) Fansubs should be only a non-profit venture, no money should trade hands. The only 2 things people should be sending a fansub distributor are a blank tape and a prepaid postage return envelope. 2) Although many people will probably disagree with this, those who get fansubs should have bought the original Japanese video, otherwise you are just a video pirate. 3) The last condition that fansubbers should follow is that once a U.S. distributor has announced they have acquired an Anime title, then they should pull the fansub from the distribution availability list. I've seen fansub sites that still are offering titles we've worked on and that companies have already released.
AC: Some large studios have made quite a splash on the internet by pressuring fan sites to shut down (for example, Fox and various X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer sites). Many fan sites scan or capture images, or even record audio and video clips, which usually go well beyond the 'fair use' clause in copyright. Do you think that anime fan sites hurt the industry, or do you think that the industry should work jointly with these people to help bring anime into the mainstream entertainment industry? How far should these sites be regulated?
JK: Well the major difference between fan sites for Buffy, X-Files and Star Trek (all of which networks attempted to shut down at some time) and anime fan sites is that the TV shows you listed are on free television and the networks make their money through commercial sponsors, unlike anime which makes money mostly from video sales. I feel fan sites are good because they are there to promote the show (TV or Anime) and act as place for fans of these programs to get together and discuss the show. I don't think it's wrong for a fan site to put images and short video clips on their site. I do think it's wrong for any kind of fan site to put up entire episodes of programs, that's just plain piracy.
AC: Anime is still, for the most part, a niche market. Princess Mononoke had only a limited theatrical release; Pokémon, did very well, but it was by and large not much different than your typical Saturday-morning special. Do you think that anime will eventually break into the mainstream, and what will it take?
JK: Yes, it will, but to quote a movie I really hated, Contact, "Small steps...small steps". I think having clips of Nazca appear opening to Malcolm in The Middle is just one of those small steps. There is a great amount of anime influence in Hollywood. The Wachowski Brothers (the directors of The Matrix) admitted that anime had a lot of influence on their movie. Anime will trickle into the mainstream eventually. It will take a combination of a serious Hollywood commitment (to more than just Pokémon) and the breakdown of the stigma in the U.S. that animation is mainly a children's format. I know there are a lot of closet anime fans here in the film industry who don't want to admit it because someone might think they're weird. As anime appears more in the mainstream, I think there will be a boom in popularity, that will take anime out of the niche market label and turn it into a legitimate genre.
The Animé Café wishes to express our sincerest gratitude to Jonathan Klein and New Generation Pictures for taking the time out to conduct this interview. We most certainly hope that, like Mr. Klein suggests, that anime will eventually become a mainstream form of entertainment here in North America!
Akio Nagatomi, 2000.02.29
p.s. - I rather enjoyed Contact...
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