DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #21: Why I’m Upset…no, I mean why I’m upset that the art of dubbing isn’t as well-known as I think it should be. What did you think I meant?

Okay, be honest…when you hear the word “dub,” it’s either this or those old kung-fu movies that you think about, right?

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Ask any voice actor what inspired them to become a voice actor, and the stories are usually pretty similar. They were told they had a great voice, they began in radio, they listened to cartoons…stuff like that. I consider myself a tad different in that regard. Technically cartoons and video games inspired me to get in, which is why I’m not enormously different. What makes me a tad different is that the cartoon and video game performances that inspired me the most…were not the original performances of the source material. They were dubs.

Shows like “Dragon Ball Z,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” and “Pokemon” may not have quite the same name power as “Looney Tunes,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” or “Rugrats,” but quite frankly, they influenced me way more than any North American cartoon ever did. Even when I grew up, bought the DVDs, and was able to switch over to the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles, the original Japanese casts didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as the performances of the English actors who dubbed them. To me, the English dub casts will always be the casts that matter. Which is a pity, really, because while their appreciation has grown tremendously over the years, dub actors, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, “Don’t get no respect”…comparatively speaking, anyway.

In discussing last week’s audioblog entry, it became apparent to me that there is only so much “mainstream” respect and awareness for what we do. Voice actors are relatively obscure in the grand scheme of things. However, even within our industry, there are obscure parts, such as dubbing. The reason I’m using Godzilla as my featured image is because, in all likelihood, that’s what many people think of when they hear the word “dub.” They imagine the original Japanese actors talking for extended periods of time, only for atrociously lip-synced dialogue to ruin whatever mood was originally set up.

Well, in this entry, I’m gonna show some lovin’ for the dubbin.’ I don’t think it’s nearly respected as it should be. That’s partially because, up until (relatively) recently, the English dub actors were not allowed to be credited to specific roles, and instead the credits would simply say “Featuring the English Voices of…” and then list all of the actors in a seemingly random order. However, there’s also a lack of awareness of the process and art behind dubbing. It has come a long way since it originally started! Some of the stuff here will be “old news” to voice actors who have done ADR or dubbing before, but like I said, in the interest of spreading awareness of the job of the voice actors who inspired me most, I’m gonna talk about the three “Methods” of dubbing (and the third one, I bet, will surprise even the veterans).

METHOD 1: The “Three Beeps” Method

This is, hands-down, the most common method. This is used not only in anime, but also in dubbing for foreign films and ADR. First, the actor is played a preview of what they will be dubbing. Following this, the engineer will set up three beeps at a set rhythm to be played to the actor through their headphones. Based on the rhythm of these three beeps, the actor tries to imagine in their head where the fourth beep should be, and is supposed to start saying their line on this imaginary fourth beep, taking care to match the lip movements of whatever it is they’re trying to dub. This used to be a pretty long process in the days of laying everything to film, when so many analog machines had to be timed to be in sync with everything, but ever since things went digital, this process is much faster. Here’s an example of the talented Johnny Yong Bosch dubbing the main character of an anime called “Eureka Seven”:

METHOD 2: The “Rhythmo-Band” Method

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While the Three Beeps Method has gotten faster, it’s still not nearly as fast as the Rhythmo-Band Method. This is a rare method of dubbing. In fact, it’s almost exclusive to France and Quebec. And…that sucks, quite frankly, because this method is so much more effective and useful for the actor. Rather than cue the actor with beeps, the engineer takes a blank strip of film and writes out the revised dialogue by hand onto the film strip. This film strip, the “rhythmo-band,” is then projected onto a separate TV screen beneath the main TV screen that shows the visuals that the dubbing actor will dub. Towards the left end of the rhythmo-band screen, a static red line is projected. As the visuals of the main screen move along, so does the rhythmo-band. Because the engineer took the time to precisely calculate how long everything should be pronounced, and adjusted the size and length of their handwriting accordingly, the rhythmo-band’s text scrolls from right to left in sync with the picture, and the dubbing actor simply reads the rhythmo-band’s moving text as it intersects with the static red line.

In doing so, the rhythmo-band displays to the actor the exact speed and timing at which they’re supposed to say their lines. An example of this is shown below, using behind-the-scenes footage of the French dub of “Pokemon” (fast-forward to the 3:29 mark):

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Okay, actually, before I move on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I will thank all of my older readers and listens–and Herman Cain–to STOP mispronouncing the damn show’s name! It’s “POE-kay-MON,” not “POE-kee-MON.” It annoyed me when I was 11, and it annoys me now! Do you people not have ears? It’s in the theme song! Listen!

“POE-kay-MON!”

See, I’m not making this stuff up! So please, STOP it!

…Anyways. The reason the Rythmo-Band Method is awesome is because the guess work present in the “Three Beeps Method” is eliminated for the actor…

…But not for the engineer. The reason this method didn’t take off much beyond France or Quebec, is because it takes an exhausting amount of time to prepare for the engineer. Especially in the old days when they had to watch the film over, and over, and over, and over again so that they could calculate the proper length and size of their handwriting so that it would be in sync with the picture. Thankfully, they no longer write out the revised dialogue by hand, and have since developed software programs designed to mimic the rhythmo-band’s function and work in sync with audio editing programs like Pro Tools (one of which can be found here). I’ve heard rumors on the internets that a select few studios in LA use this method now. I’m all for this method replacing the Three Beeps Method, if only because I’m an actor and it makes the actor’s life much easier.

Well, that is, until we get to the third method…

METHOD 3: Revise The On-Screen Visuals

Since dubbing began, the idea has been that, since the on-screen visuals can’t be revised, dubbing actors had to do the best they could to sync their words to the mouth movements of the characters they were dubbing. Dubbing studios couldn’t go back to animation studios and ask them to draw alternative drawings to match the lip movements of the English actors, or ask film companies to shoot alternative scenes in which the actors on screen matched the lip movements of the dubbing actor. That would be absurd and impractical…

…And it…still is. But we’ve gotten a step closer to making it doable. Unfortunately, I can’t embed this video in my blog, but click this blue text to watch this video–fair warning, this is one of the creepiest things you will ever see.

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What you just saw (assuming you clicked the link–you DID, right?) is the result of a computer program developed by New York University called “Video Rewrite,” that uses CGI to rework the mouth formations of people on screen to match the mouth formations of the words spoken by the dubbing actor. They used Video Rewrite to dub an old video of JFK, making President Kennedy’s mouth look like he was speaking the words of the dubbing actor. The idea behind this is that, when mass-produced, needing to match lip movements in dubs will be a thing of the past, and the dubbing actors will finally be able to deliver their lines however they please, without regard for how the original actor did. This technology, though, is a long way off.

So for now, it’s mostly the Three Beeps Method and the Rhythmo-Band Method. Take some time to watch a foreign movie dubbed, or an anime dubbed (anything by Hayao Miyazaki will be good since Disney is in charge of dubbing his movies). For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the technology and artistic acting ability of dubs have evolved over the years, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

PS: From now on, I’m going to be doing something with my audioblog entries that I haven’t been doing before. Very often when I post my audioblog entries in social media forums, some GREAT discussions will come out of them. That’s good, for the most part…problem is, often some great material will come out after the fact. For example, in last week’s audioblog entry, I talked about how VO has zero presence in colleges except for Yale. Turns out…I was a tad misinformed. A few colleges do indeed offer it. They’re still few and far between, and I maintain that it needs to have a stronger presence, but more colleges were brought to my attention, and more elements of the issue were discussed. So, from now on, when I see a great discussion arise, I’ll post links to those discussion threads. Entry #20 has already been retrofitted that way, and I’m workin’ on the others. By all means, join in on the discussion! It’s not like you’re…actually, hold on a second…

*three beeps*

It’s not like you have to wait for your time to speak!

DAVE’S AUDIOBLOG ENTRY #11: Why I Grew Tired…no, I mean why I grew tired of all of the rates-related discussions that I see in VO social media forums. What did you think I meant?

Pretty much how I’ve felt lately.

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Do you want to see chaos easily unfold? Then here’s a fun little experiment you can do in your very own home. Go into a VO forum, and ask if a rate for a certain project is fair. In five minutes, you’ll get a response saying that it is. In ten minutes, you’ll get a response saying that it isn’t. In fifteen minutes, the person who first replied will defend their stance. In twenty minutes, the person who replied second will defend their counter-attack from the first person. In thirty minutes, a posse of people who believe in the stance of the first person will come to his aid. In forty-five minutes, a posse of people who believe in the stance of the second person will come to their aid. In three days, a holy war, fought only with words, of unprecedented proportions will have erupted. Many deaths.

Okay, I’m exaggerating…but only ever-so-slightly. From what I’ve seen, the most sensitive issue to ever arise in discussions about VO is the issue of rates. Friggin’ nobody can agree on what’s a fair rate anymore. A lot of this has to do with an issue that, to be fair, is very real. Forces are certainly at work to de-value the services of VO talent, either intentionally or unintentionally, and many VO talent–newbies and veterans, dudes and chicks, young and old, union and non-union–have rightfully taken offense to this. So it’s only logical that an issue like this would lead to very heated discussions and even debates.

And ya know what? I’m sorry–kinda–but I’ve had enough!

Seriously, it has gotten to a point where they’re unbelievably annoying for me. I’ve hit the “unfollow” button on so many rates-related discussions this week that I lost count of them. They’ve become annoying because of the chastising. They’ve become annoying because of the verbiage that people have used in their arguments.They’ve become annoying because of the opinions that people think should be universal. They’ve become annoying because of the complaining. They’ve become annoying because they’re…well, depressing, quite frankly.

So no one will mistake my intentions, I’m not suggesting that the rate discussions stop (which is convenient, ’cause they won’t). I think rates are a perfectly relevant and important thing to talk about. Yeah, I’ve turned down work with abysmally low rates. Yeah, rates are under pressure to go down, and…yeah, that kinda sucks! I simply think that if we embed ourselves in those discussions too deeply, rates become the center of our attention. They become all that we think about. I too have been guilty of this for a while now…

…Until recently.

About two weeks ago, I received an email that really made me reflect on my attitude about VO now in comparison to the attitude I had when I first started out. The email came from a 16-year-old kid, who was referred to me by a friend. This kid said that he really wanted to learn about VO, and asked if I could just give him a general overview….

Here’s the thing, though…I rarely write short responses. Almost never. I consider myself a humble person, but if you ever see me brag about one thing, it’s my kung-fu typing speed. Put any court reporter before me in a typing contest, and I will destroy them without mercy. So my kung-fu typing speed, combined with my eagerness to talk, almost always results in responses that are perhaps unnecessarily long. My response back to this kid was no exception. I wrote a very, very lengthy email, but it covered  pretty basic stuff. Stuff like…

-It’s a tough business no matter what people try to tell you otherwise.

-Your ability to act is the most important thing.

-Get your first demo produced by a coach and don’t try to make your own.

-Learn your strengths and weaknesses early so you can develop a brand.

Basic stuff. Things like that. What really struck me, though, was his response to me. He wrote a thank-you email back, but ended it with, “Thanks so much, this was such a wonderful experience!”

That really took me by surprise. Really? A wonderful experience? All I did was write him an email. Nothing special. Nothing out of the ordinary. I was wondering if maybe he was exaggerating, but a few minutes later I got an email from the friend who referred that kid to me to begin with, who wrote back, “Thanks man, he’s overly happy right now!”

Then it hit me. In an instant, I was brought back to a mindset I had long ago. My mind went back in time, to when I was 12 years old, when it dawned on me that the voices that I heard in cartoons and video games came from actual people who did that for a job. My eyes lit up, and I wanted to absorb all the info I could about voice acting. Me and my friends began acting out the voices for video game characters with text-based dialogue, and we Googled everything we could. We wanted it, we were fascinated by the idea of voice acting.

Then I remembered the cartoon that truly awakened my voice acting ambitions: an anime by the name of “Dragon Ball Z.” I was enthralled by the performances in the English dub, and came to idolize the performances of those actors. Sure, I did the research and found out that their efforts were a non-union job that didn’t pay a ton in the grand scheme of things, but I didn’t care. I was amazed at how they were able to draw me into the story, and I was determined to hone my craft as an actor so I could one day give TV viewers the great experience that the performances of those actors had given me.

Then I remembered my first gig. I won’t point you to it because it’s a tad embarrassing, but it was a pretty cheap gig. I didn’t care. I was friggin’ elated when I got it, I emailed everyone in my family, and my friends and I went celebrating later that night. Was that naive of me? Yeah, sure it was. With naivete comes passion, though, and it’s a passion that I really miss sometimes. One that diminished by focusing too much on the money, and one that this kid’s response partially returned to me.

Here’s something that’s kind of embarrassing for me to admit. I’m a Motley Crue fan. I love ‘em (and 80′s metal in general). In their latest album, they have a song called “Down At The Whisky,” which talks about their earliest gigs, including playing cheapo gigs at the Los Angeles nightclub, the Whisky-A-Go-Go. My favorite lyric in the whole song? That would be this one:

“We never made a dime, but God we had a good time!”

So please understand…I’m not saying that money ain’t important. It is, for so many different and obvious reasons. Furthermore, unlike many of my peers, I don’t have a family that I need to support (at least not yet), so my struggles will never be completely identical with the struggles of someone else. As such, I’m not one to issue “calls to action.” I’m only saying, for the sake of public reflection, that I think if we focus on rates so much, we’re never gonna be happy, and we’re never gonna find satisfaction in our work. So if you want a call to action–and I know you didn’t ask for one–here it is: take a moment to remember why you got into VO. ‘Cause I don’t know about you, but I ain’t in it for the money.

Why did you get into it? Are you still having fun with it? Were you ever having fun with it?

Just some thoughts from a guy who recently remembered why he got into VO to begin with: because it’s a blast. Nothing more, nothing less.