Akemi's Anime World

Brian Hinnant on Dubbing Interview

Some questions on the dubbing process we though would be interesting to anime fans.

Brian Hinnant voiced Ikuroo (the main character) in the English dub of Baoh, and worked with AnimEigo for a while. These questions relate to the his experiences doing dubbing for AnimEigo, and working with their dubbing team. You might also want to take a look at his introduction below, for some background.


AAW: How are dub actors chosen?

Brian: If you are lucky enough to know someone who can get you an audition, or you have already auditioned before, you will get a call to schedule an audition. You get 30-60 minutes in the studio. The director will pick a scene for each character, and either you will choose (if you are familiar with the movie and the characters), or Scott (the director) will pick someone you will audition for. You get the script from the scene, and he gives you some time to consider changes to the line (according to length, "lip flaps," etc...) and gather yourself. The direct translations can be a little confusing, and a lot of times don't fit the mouth movements. Then, you will get one, or two if you are lucky, chances to perform the line or two for the audition. Then the director will pick the best voice and the best acting for each part. Sometimes if he is torn between 2 actors for a part, he will do callbacks and get them to come back in and do a different scene.

How did you get into voice acting? How were you chosen for the role?

I moved in with a friend of mine from work, Dave, and being an old radio DJ, he knew some of the people that ran the local recording studios. There are a couple in Wilmington, since the movie studio is right there. Dave got a call from the director, whom he knew, for the first anime movie he did. Dave got a medium part in it, and was asked to come back and audition for his second movie, Baoh. This was about the time I moved in with Dave, and knowing how much I loved anime, he got me an audition. To my surprise, I was called for a callback with me and one other guy for the lead... it kinda sucked because Dave and I had just got back into town that day, and I had food poisoning. But, I got the part anyway, because I had the best voice suited of a 17 year old boy.

Are the people who voice dubs generally career actors? Are many of them career voice actors?

I can't imagine that there are many career VOICE actors in Wilmington, but most of the voices hired by Coastal are career actors. I was fairly new to acting when I did my role. Although I know of one or two of the other guys that have done work for Animeigo have done CD ROM game dubs. I would imagine that most of the dubbing studios try to hire career voice actors, for at least the lead roles. Some have even had the budget for major names.

What does anime dub voice acting generally pay?

Well, different companies do it different ways. NC in one of those states that have laws that protect companies from having to pay royalties, so its all work for hire here, and the money you get is for studio time only.

How do you and/or other voice actors get into the role? How do you rehearse?

You definitely have to have an appreciation for the movie or series you are in. You have to just watch it several times to get the feel of the whole movie, rather than just your parts. Usually voices are picked that are natural enough, that all you have to do is talk like yourself, but pretend you are someone else. I actually found something that I had in common with Ikuroo, and I could imagine that I was actually him. Anyone that does a role in an anime movie either already loves it, or grows to love it because it becomes so much a part of you. Sometimes it's even hard to remember who you were before.

What is the actual recording process like? How long does it take?

Rather than having everyone in the same room, the actors are recorded one at the time, so that you and the director can concentrate on your part. The dialogue is recorded directly onto a hard drive. After mixing, it's digitally transferred to the original Japanese D-2 tape. On the computer, the lines can be: adjusted to fit the mouth movements, reverbed, have the levels raised or lowered, and cut and pasted the best pieces of a speech. I believe I heard that recording ideally takes a day per running minute on average. This time includes auditioning/casting, formatting of scripts, checking time codes, tape and script duplications for the actors, studio scheduling and "character development." Which is what made me so surprised to hear that the entire 90 or so episodes of Robotech were done in just 3 months!!!

Speaking as someone who watches both subtitled and dubbed anime, what is it like to give an English voice to a Japanese character?

Well, if you get a movie or series that you can really really get into, its more like becoming a part of the movie than just translating it into English. And if you are really lucky, you get involved in an organization that really knows what they are doing, and it can really be a beautiful thing.

How do the difference in the languages affect the way lines are written and acted (in your case, and in general)? Do you have any particular insights or thoughts on the process of translating spoken Japanese into spoken English?

I hope that you get a chance to meet Shin, our script translator, because he could explain this so much better than I could. With the Japanese language being so much different than the English language, of course words have to be moved around to form a normal English sentence... some words have to be added. "Tree" in Japanese isn't necessarily "Tree" in English. Then there are the changes to make the lines fit the character's mouth movements, and then the jokes and puns and references that sometimes have to be almost totally rewritten to make sense to the American audience. The director makes a big deal out of paying close attention to the looks on the faces of the character in order to try and come as close as possible to the emotions in the lines to match these expressions.

In your experience, how much effort is made to literally translate Japanese dialogue in a dub? If you happen to know, what kind and for what reasons are changes made?

I don't think there is such thing as a literal translation between the two languages, I think that one of Scott's favorite "stock script" lines is "Don't go up there or you will become a history!"

Finally, do you have any personal thoughts or amusing stories about your dubbing experiences? About anime and the industry in general?

Well, there is definitely a lot more drama within the majors in the industry than I thought possible. And it seems like the hardest of the hardcore fans don't really want anyone else to like or even know about Japanese animation... its like they want to keep a secret club and not let anyone else in.

Anything else you'd like to add...

I really love anime! Some people love Star Wars, some people love Zelda and other video games, but anime is more constant. Star Wars will be gone one day... they can only make so many movies in a certain amount of time. The video games keep changing, and getting old, and new systems come out. But good anime is all around... dub or sub, and the only tough decisions to make are what movie to get, and whether to get it on VHS, DVD, or LD.

Background Information

My name is Brian, and I have lived in North Carolina all my life. More than anything in the world, I love Japanese Animation. I was first exposed to anime when I was around 5 years old. Showtime used to show a couple of the classic '70s movies. The movie I remember seeing first was, Spacekateers... "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like space." How did I know it was Japanese? Possibly the credits, but ever since watching that movie, I could always pick out Japanese Animation. I watched all the classics... Voltron, Tranzor Z, G Force (or Battle of the Planets, Gatchaman, whatever), Speed Racer, but the one series that really got me interested in anime, was the series that did it for a lot of fans... Robotech. Ahhh... I remember getting up at 7am every day just to watch it... even during the summer! It would have been the perfect series if it wasn't for that Southern Cross garbage (this was my chance to sleep in). I had all the toys, manga, art books, anything I could find that had to do with Robotech. But it wasn't until I was 19 that I decided to try and find these classics on video tape. The only video retailer in town was at the mall... it was just like a Suncoast, only not as widely known. To my surprise I found the anime section. It had a few volumes of Robotech, Speed Racer, and Starblazers. I didn't care about the limited selection, I just wanted to buy Robotech, even though it was $15 a tape for 2 episodes. I came into this mall store every other day or so to buy a volume, until I got to volume 7, which was missing! By this time I had become friendly with the manager and assistant manager of the store, and they allowed me to rush order any volume I needed for nothing up front and no service charge. But the idea of going a couple of days without something to watch made me uneasy. I came all the way to the mall with cash in hand... I didn't want to leave with nothing. Fortunately for me, the assistant manager informed me that the store had bought a new short series from Pioneer called Tenchi Muyo Ryo-Oki. It looked kinda weird, but I figured I would give my brain a rest from Robotech and try something new. Within the next couple of weeks, I had all 36 episodes of the Macross saga, and Tenchi 1-6. By this time, I had spent quite a wad of cash, but I couldn't help it. Anything that I could get the store to order, I would purchase. Finally, I got tired of ordering tapes all the time, and gave the manager a list of titles to carry from a catalogue I had received in the mail. Next thing you know, the little mall video store had a full section of anime.

As luck would have it... about the time I was really becoming interested in anime (enough to spend money on it anyway) I moved in with a friend of mine from work. Dave informed me that coincidentally a local recording studio had just finished dubbing its first anime movie, and was holding auditions for the next one. Dave happened to be friends with the director, and told me that he could get me an audition. After auditioning, and doing a call-back (because it was a toss up between me and one other guy) the studio called to let me know that I had the lead role in Baoh. I have never had so much fun in my life. Who hasn't dreamed of hearing their voice come out of an animated character on the TV? Not to mention getting paid for it. My voice on the lead role heard by people all over the country, with my name on the credits... I didn't know how to contain myself. The best part was the freedom to change the lines around to make the words fit the mouth movements. Of course, I couldn't change the content of the dialogue, but hearing a line that I had partially written come out made me very proud. I did audition for a few roles after that, but I just didn't seem to have the right voice for them. Oh! My Goddess, Crusher Joe, Spirit of Wonder to name a few. But I never felt bad, because the voices that did get picked were way better than mine. Of course you have to be able to act, but all the acting talent in the world doesn't mean a thing if your voice is wrong for the part. My passion for anime, and the fact that I had a computer landed me the task of script supervision (not as important as it sounds) for the upcoming Animeigo projects. So, since I was cleaning up the scripts to make them easier for the actors to use, I got first hand copies of the subbed anime before it was released, and the scripts. So, by the time the voice actors got a hold of the scripts, I already knew every line by heart. However, by the time the actors were finished with the scripts, all I had was the skeleton of dialogue for the movie or series that was currently being dubbed. The translations were never rough. You could practically see the sweat and tears all over the page from the many hours of tormenting by the translator. Japanese to English translating is not an exact science. One word or sentence doesn't necessarily become the same word or sentence in English, and for that reason, some of the lines were almost unusable, though understandable. Another difficult aspect of dubbing is the little incidentals. The "ahs" and "ohs" that may be different or used differently in the two countries. A "bang" here could be a "bong" there, if you know what I mean.

At this point I have a pretty hefty collection of anime, some posters and figures and such. And an intimate relationship with the movies I hold so dear. Anime is not a mere hobby, but a way of life for many of us. Sometimes I can think of nothing all day or even all week but getting that next volume in a series, or when that eagerly anticipated title is going to be released. The hardest part about being an anime fan such as me, is getting the people around me to love it as much as I do. In fact, it's hard to get many of them to even tolerate it. "More cartoons?" They would say. I have really gotten tired of saying, "they're not cartoons... Bugs Bunny is a cartoon, these are animated movies, just like any other movie." But, you either get it or you don't... I just feel very fortunate that I do.

Check out Brian's web page, BriAnime