December 09, 2007
by: Serdar Yegulalp
Or: How not to sound like a bad William Shatner impersonator.
Mike McFarland is one of FUNimation’s star people in more than one sense of the word. Not only has he been contributing his voice work to some of FUNimation’s best and most famous titles—One Piece, Mushi-shi, Fruits Basket, Burst Angel, and the various DragonBalls, he’s also a director and scriptwriter for the company. On Friday I sat down with him in the FUNimation booth, over to one side of the (very noisy) New York Anime Festival show floor, and asked him a few details about the not-always-well-understood art and science of creating an English-language anime dub.
AMN: Let’s start by asking, what’re you currently working on?
Mike McFarland: As a line producer, I’m currently working on the new dub for One Piece, Mushi-shi, and Vexille. I just finished up those last two so I’ve got new things coming down the pike, but I’m not sure which ones yet.
AMN: How much notice do you get as far as what’s coming up to be worked on?
Mike McFarland: It depends—you always hear some word of mouth about what they might be looking at, what they might get or what they might not get. I try not to worry about that because I don’t want to get my hopes up for some show that we end up not getting because I’ve done all these research and everything to no avail.
AMN: Speaking of research, Mushi-shi seems like something you had to do a fair amount of research for, because there’s all this mystical stuff straight out of Japanese mythology (which I personally love; the series is a favorite of mine). How much time do you generally get for research?
Mike McFarland: For Mushi-shi, I had about a month and a half. I generally start doing my research for a given title once we’ve figured out that we have it and that I’m inclined to work on it.
AMN: I think a lot of people don’t understand the exact process of creating a dub version of an anime title; some people seem to think the dub script for a show is just improvised by the actors.
Mike McFarland: Really!
AMN: No, I’ve talked to some people and that’s what they really do believe—that you just put the actors in a booth and let them go nuts and try to match the lip movements.
Mike McFarland: No, that’s…wow, that’s kind of ridiculous. [laughs] No, what’s usually involved with it is, we get the raw materials from Japan, we have a certain group of people that we work with—a couple of professional companies that do our translation for us—then we take those translations and we have a few head writers, like John Bergmeier, Eric Bale, and Jared Hedges, they take that material and review it, look into the show’s mythology so they understand its terminology and language, and then they begin to adapt the dialogue.
By adapting the dialogue, they take the translation and they look at what’s onscreen, and they try to make a line of dialogue which means the same thing but sounds natural with those mouth movements. Many times the animation will be these short bursts of lines, three or four mouth flaps and a pause and then three or four more flaps. In order to make the dialogue not sound like a bunch of really bad William Shatner impersonations—“I’m going to! Go over there! Now!”—you know [laughing], in order for it to not sound like that, you really have to mold it and shape it to where it sounds like natural dialogue. It’s a very difficult process.
Then once they get it to where they like it, they send it to the [recording] booth. The director looks it over, gives his opinions on it, and then we start to record it. Depending on the pacing of the voice actor you might have to adjust it—shorten it, lengthen it, but still try to keep the same meaning and flow.
AMN: So it sounds like there’s also some degree of postproduction tweaking on the dialogue.
Mike McFarland: A little bit here and there. Obviously, you can’t change a whole lot or it won’t sound natural. FUNimation is also nice enough to give us a decent amount of freedom to get exactly what we need out of the voice actors, and not rush the product out the door.
AMN: About how much time do you have to work on a given title?
Mike McFarland: It really just depends. Sometimes there’s all sorts of pre-planning that’s done—i.e., it has to be out by this point or in stores by this point, or it’s part of a price-point structure for somebody’s sale and has to be there at that time. What affects those sorts of things are how quick we get the materials from Japan, how quick the translation’s done, how quick the script’s done, stuff like that. Typically, if you’re in mid-stream of recording something, you can get maybe two episodes a week done—but that’s only if everyone comes in, there’s no problems, the scripts are working well and stuff like that. And that’s recording anywhere from about seven to twelve hours a day, usually around the seven-to-nine mark.
AMN: For a lot of people, this process is just a total black box. They just see the end result; they don’t know how it works in the inside.
Mike McFarland: A lot of work does go into it. You can tell when they’re not done well—and that’s why there’s a certain contingency of people who just don’t like dubs, because they’ve heard some really bad ones.
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