Voice Director, English Audio


With "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"), we distribute the film all over the world via disc media and Internet streaming at the same time as in Japan. For these purposes, our Blu-ray disc includes subtitles in Japanese, English, French, Korean, traditional Chinese characters (for Taiwan and Hong Kong), and simplified Chinese characters, along with Japanese and English audio tracks. So that it can be enjoyed simultaneously throughout the world, we create English audio—the only language in which we dub besides Japanese—almost at the same time as we produce the film in Japan. Ms. Stephanie Sheh plays the role of voice director for the English-dubbed version. As a seasoned actor, she also plays many anime voices while she works as director, and is very knowledgeable about Japanese anime. We asked her to talk about the differences in the methods of post-recording between Japan and the United States, and her thoughts about the Gundam series via her experiences with "THE ORIGIN."
- Please tell us what kind of work "sound directors" have to do when you localize a Japanese anime program into English.
STEPHANIE: Sound directors, or I guess we call it voice directing. What the job is, when we localize anime into English, we record the English voices to the picture. So we get the animation, we watch the scene. We get a script. A lot of voice directors also write scripts. I write the script for "ORIGIN." It's good preparation because it means I watch the episode many many times, so that when I direct the performances for actors, I can explain what's going on every single moment. I can even explain specifically why each line is written that way, because I can read all the translator's notes too. So it's a good way to do research. We basically direct the voice actors in English to match the Japanese to some extent (laughs). It's more for an American audience. So we try to be faithful to the Japanese original, while still making it enjoyable and understandable to the American audience. So we tell people what to do (laughs).
- Which anime titles did you work on as voice director in the past?
STEPHANIE: Among the Gundam titles are "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM UC" and "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THUNDERBOLT." I worked on such theatrical anime as "YOUR NAME," "A SILENT VOICE," and "NAPPING PRINCESS" among others.
- In Japan, all voice actors gather together at a studio and record towards the picture as a group for a day or two. I heard you record voices in a different manner from that for the English version. Could you explain?
STEPHANIE: Yes, I actually went to Japan and saw some Gundam recording. And it's done really differently in America. You guys get all of the cast together, and they record in a group and they have multiple microphones. They get up and say their line, and they have the video already. For here, all of the actors record separately. Even the big "walla" (background crowd noise) scenes, even the group chanting and stuff. We have to record one actor at a time. A big group's going, like, "Hey, get outta here," "I don't like you," (walla, walla) "Sieg Zeon," "Sieg Zeon." And then when you record, each person comes in by themselves. And we do this for many reasons. One, because there are so many actors and it's really hard to coordinate schedules. And two, because by the time we get it, the video SHOULD be completed animation, so we're matching the video. American voice actors are not trained as well to match the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) without going line by line. So what happens is we have timecode on the video, and we have timecode on the script. So the actors can read the timecode and watch the timecode. For each line, they preview, they play in Japanese first to watch it and then after that, they record it. And we use the beep system, there are 3 beeps. We use the third higher beep, so it goes, "beep, beep, BEEP!" and then on the fourth imaginary beep, the actor gets to talk. And then, as they're acting, they're acting to the picture to match the mouth flap. Sometimes we go again, and with Pro Tools, we can kind of edit it a little bit to make it fit a little better. But, yeah, it's very very different. Each actor comes in. And depending on how many lines, I think we probably record something like 25 to 30 lines an hour. So some actors who come in only have, like, less than 2 hours of work. So we always call them in for at least 2 hours and make them do walla. I guess you guys call it "gaya" (laughs).
- Have you seen "THE ORIGIN" in Japanese? When you cast the English actors, do you consider the voice quality and atmosphere of the characters played by Japanese actors?
STEPHANIE: Yes, because I also handle casting and script-writing. I always watch "ORIGIN" in Japanese before I work on it. I think you have to, or else how do you know what you're directing? Yes, we definitely try to consider the voice quality and the tone of the Japanese actor. It's most important, I think. Two things; we consider the physical appearance of the character, and also the original Japanese quality and tone. Sometimes to American audiences, the type of voice is a little bit different. Sometimes, like, it can be very very high-pitched in Japanese, American audiences are not as good with high-pitched-sounding voices. So the American voice might be high pitched, but maybe not as high as the Japanese seiyu. Something like that. So there's a little bit of difference every once in a while. But we do definitely consider the voice quality. Although, in casting, I think for me acting is more important. Especially if it's a very difficult role. So I think, if it's in between two people, and one person is, like, a perfect match for the Japanese voice actor, and the other person is not exactly a perfect match but better acting, usually we try to go with the better acting.
- You, Ms. Stephanie, are involved in "THE ORIGIN" as a voice director, but I heard you also actively work as a voice actor (you play the role of Haro in "THE ORIGIN", too). How would your own acting career and experiences help you when you direct or communicate with your actors?
STEPHANIE: I think that being a voice actor has been a really good asset to being a voice director. Just because I know what it feels like to be in the booth. If you know what actors are going through, it's a little bit easier. You can be considerate of them. Actors can be very sensitive and get their feelings hurt. Actors can be very insecure. I think that, in order for actors to have a good performance, they have to feel comfortable. So I think being an actor really really helps. Also, I know some techniques. So if the actor is newer and having trouble doing a line or doing a reaction, I can give them some technical advice as to how to do it. Instead of just directing saying what the performance should be, I can also help teach them how to produce that sound.
I've been voice acting for a very long time, since, like, 1999. It's been really a long time. It makes me feel so old. But I'm currently the new voice of Sailor Moon, in both the re-dub of the classic series and also in "SAILOR MOON CRYSTAL." And I voiced Mineva Zabi in "GUNDAM UC," which is why Episode 5 is so exciting because I get to see myself as a baby, and it's also fun to direct my father. I voiced Haro in "UNICORN" and also in "ORIGIN" because it's the same Haro. Haro never ages (laughs).
- What do you particularly try to focus on when you work on "THE ORIGIN" series?
STEPHANIE: I think for "ORIGIN" my main concern always is the established Gundam lore. Because there's so much history. So luckily we have so many supervisors on the show to give comments about translations, pronunciations and stuff, and we do so many drafts of the translations and so many drafts of the ADR scripts. And then also while we're recording in the booth also looking at lines, I am very aware this is not like a normal anime series because it has so much history. So a lot of times, it's about honoring the history of the show. And it's really interesting too because part of that too is that, when it comes to casting, maybe a character comes and has a cameo. But since this is a prequel, we know "Oh, this character is gonna play a bigger part later." So we will sometimes have some scenes from the manga for them to audition with, because you want to make sure they can perform in that kind of scene even though maybe they have two lines in the episode. So we still cast them, and maybe they only come in to do two lines. But we're also casting them for a bigger part, in case they have a bigger part. So, yeah, my main focus is being faithful to the original property and history of the property.
- In episode 5, there are more battle sequences involving mecha than any previous episodes. Is there anything you felt different from or harder to work out than in the previous ones (episodes 1 to 4)?
STEPHANIE: Yeah, there were a lot of battle sequences in episode 5. There was narration, though, to help with some of the battle sequences, which I think is good. It helps explain what's going on. Because sometimes I don't know the history of the mecha stuff as well. So then, you watch and go "Oh, it's just battles", you know. But then narration helped explain what's going on in between. Although I almost wish Episode 5 was divided into multiple episodes because I would like to have seen some of those battles that just went past as a montage. I would like to have seen the drama of, like, when Tianem comes across Island Iffish and has to make the decision whether or not to blow it up. Things like that would have been cool to see, but I get it. It's too much story. Episode 5 is long enough as it is.
- Are there any other things you felt harder than usual because it's "THE ORIGIN"? Any such anecdotes?
STEPHANIE: Episode 5 is probably one of the hardest "ORIGIN" episodes we had to work on for several reasons. The main reason is because a lot of the animation was not complete. So when I was writing the script, I didn't have the completed animation. When you adapt a script for ADR, you watch the video and you talk out loud to make sure the words are going to match the timing of the animation. But it wasn't animated. So I had to write to match the audio, but sometimes after the animation is completed, the way the animators animate the mouth based on the Japanese audio is not what I think it would be. Like it's longer or shorter, or I hear a break, a pause in the audio, but there's no pause in animation. So it gets really hard. If it's a short sentence, it's not as bad. But there are a lot of long speeches that are not animated. And so, we kept getting updated videos, which meant that I had to do more work because each time I got an updated video, I had to rewrite the script. And another updated video, when you rewrite more of the script, you end up spending more time doing more versions of the script for each video that gets updated. And by the time we've started recording, we still don't have the finished animation (laughs). What we ended up doing is we had to record different versions of the lines. So, I say to the actor, "Okay, that's good. Can you say a little faster. Okay, now can you say a little bit longer. Okay, we're going to change a few of the words in case this will fit better." Things like that. So the poor actors, I think particularly Dozle and Garma who had to do a lot of yelling, had to do a lot more yelling because they had to record more versions of the lines. I think the other reason that this episode was the hardest is because I got sick. I had a fever on the first day, and I was sick the whole week. So I was very tired. And the last reason was because the episode was longer. It was longer, so it took longer and there's more lines. And there's so much walla. As I said before, in America, we record every person individually for the walla. So that was a lot of work.
- How many days would it take to do a simultaneous dub? How long would you work each day?
STEPHANIE: Generally for a simultaneous dub release, we get about 5 to 7 days to record the English audio. So in the past, "ORIGIN" episodes have been a little bit shorter, and we had 5 to 7 days. And this one was maybe over 10 minutes longer, and we still have the same time. We don't have more time because it's longer. So because of that, there were some long days. Actually one day, I worked from, like, 7AM to 9PM, another day I worked from 8AM to 9PM. So it's very very long hours, and sometimes, I was working with a very short lunch break or checking materials on my lunch break. It was very hard. Everyone worked very hard.
- In comparison, how many days would a 30 minute episode take?
STEPHANIE: A regular 30 minute episode that's completed animation, I think you should be able to finish it in about 2 days. Two to 3 days, depending on how long the episode is. Also how much talking. So, like, for a "slice of life" anime, the scripts are longer. Action anime, the scripts are shorter. Action is the best. But, like, for high school drama, oh my gosh, so much talking.
- English soundtracks are included in the Blu-ray discs sold in Japan. Please give a message to fans in Japan.
STEPHANIE: Thank you for supporting Gundam. Because when we started this project, Sunrise said, "Okay, maybe we do, like, 4 episodes." It was supposed to be much shorter. The series was supposed to be a lot shorter. But then all of a sudden, we're now on Episode 5, and we're going to do Episode 6. And I think the only reason that's happening is because fans are watching it and fans like it. So thank you very much for supporting it, so that we can twice a year come together and make more Gundam. Also, I was familiar with Gundam, but I was not so familiar with Gundam. So working on this project has really given me exposure to the UC Gundam storyline and lore. The more you get into Gundam, the more you appreciate it, because it's a really complicated story, and there are a lot of complicated characters. I think people who don't really know it, it's just like, "Oh, it's just giant robots with kids. You can, like, fight a machine or whatever." But I think the more you get into it, the more you know about the politics, the harder it is to choose a side between Zeon and the Federation (laughs). And I think it's sometimes relevant to world politics, I'm like, "Oh, the conflict is not that different than what's going on now in the world." The same theme is still ongoing. So I really appreciate that.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN (English Audio) Video Message
  • Voice Director
    Stephanie Sheh
  • Cast
    Keith Silverstein
  • Cast
    Lucien Dodge
  • Cast
    Amanda Shuckman