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The end of this blog as Animated Insights August 23, 2014

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In recent months, I’ve still been blogging but none of it here. I’ve followed the tastes of my audience, and fragmented out to multiple blogs to reach people more selectively.

If you want to continue following my writing commentary and comments similar to what I’ve done here in the past, consider coming over to Muirwords by Shannon Muir at http://www.muirwords.com. It’s the same tone and style as this blog is, but I began to find the free version of WordPress limiting for my needs and that I could do this same style with more freedom over at my own setup. So please, those of you subscribed to a feed, hopefully you can easily do the same there. A selection of posts from here may ultimately be re-blogged there, I’m still deciding. This will also be where I talk about stories I put out with publishers such as Pro Se Productions or Emby Press.

If animation has been the appeal for you, I’m not really dealing with that exclusively at this point. Your best bet is probably the new home of Shannon Muir’s Animated Insights on Tumblr at http://www.animatedinsights.com. While it aggregates all my blogs there, I also do commentary on re-blogged animation or just share animation I find compelling or nostalgic and talk about it. I may also add in the occasional new text post as necessary, but a lot more is available online now than it was when I entered the arena years ago by people who are more on the cutting edge. I thank them for stepping up and doing so.

There are also other blogs and sites I run that might interest you:

http://www.house-of-books.com: Infinite House of Books primarily consists of author interviews based on questions provided by me to book blog tours and individual authors. They’re not the same stock questions being handed out to 50 sites at once, though authors always answer the same questions.
http://www.discoverwords.com: Discoverwords.com brings excerpts and cover reveals from various authors mainly in YA, New Adult, and various genre fiction areas
http://www.willowbrooknovels.com: The latest news and information on my Willowbrook Saga independently released e-books.
http://www.spontaneouschoices.com: The latest news and information on my e-books led by women fueled by passion (though not always the best decision makers as passion sometimes blinds their logic).
http://www.flying-glory.com: FLYING GLORY AND THE HOUNDS OF GLORY is the long running web comic I’ve partnered up to co-write with Kevin Paul Shaw Broden that has been on the web since 2001.

Lastly, http://www.shannon-muir.com shows all the books and stories I’ve put out with links on how to buy each, as well as links out to all the above listed sites.

See you around the Internet, and thanks for your continued support!

All the best,
Shannon Muir

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Going Where The Eyeballs Are But Staying True To It All June 17, 2013

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An interesting discussion came up when I was at my grandmother’s memorial service. When I was there, some people asked me didn’t I want to be in animation and were trying to figure out what I do now (writing self-published fiction and quality assurance for family focused websites) still fit in with that. It took a bit of explaining, but the shortest version is that the venues in which the medium of animation is being used is changing. In order to be able to move with the times, and perhaps work my way into something more directly tied in with the production of animation – though the lines are getting less and less clear – I’ve been versing myself and becoming more proficient in mobile media as a whole which strongly seems to be the future of where animation is being made for. Several years ago, I thought the next logical leap might be actually be viewers taking control of their own stories in the form of things such as the multiplayer online game, like a choosing one’s own adventure book on a massive scale; turns out that wasn’t quite where things were at looking back. In case you’ve ever wondered how I left television animation came to apply at and  ultimately spend several years in the kids and family virtual worlds realm. It’s always been about story and animation as a medium in the end, not necessarily the venue in which the animation appears. As things change, it’s required a lot of out of the box thinking and being able to redefine what things mean. Through a series of events I did not set into motion, I came to work quality assurance for kids and family websites that now feature video and may be the medium to be in for the future. So as far as I’m concerned I’m still very much doing what I want to do. I’ve echoed that theme often in this blog, that flexibility is key so long as you stay with the passion and the heart of what you want to do.

The Changing Landscape of Animation May 6, 2013

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A couple weeks back I got an email from a young woman thanking me for articles I’d written in the past on non-artists in animation and talking about how there doesn’t seem to be much out there on these areas of the field. Those pieces were done largely in the early 2000s but interestingly enough – and perhaps sadly – her observation remained correct. A lot of what is still covered about the ways people can be involved in animation are the artist and directorial positions; that said, the writer is getting more exposure than the past, but still that usually tends to be all that’s out there. She really thanked me for finding what she had and that someone at least tackled the topic.

I’m mulling over why that hasn’t changed, especially with animation easier to produce than ever before. Perhaps because it has become more of a case where people can write, produce, and direct more on their own and the concern really becomes more about marketing and distribution. Perhaps it is all the changes in the studio system model where things are developed and sent straight to their own networks instead of having to shop around. There’s other factors too and I could probably write a book just on that. The key is that the landscape is ever-changing, especially in the way that created content – animation and otherwise – is ultimately consumed by the end user and that seems to dictate a lot of choices. The two main points here are content being mobile, and content being on demand. The idea of being confined to home at a fixed daypart is long gone.

I think in general a lot of what I’ve written in my columns and books are still relevant when it comes to the larger studio system, but those areas aren’t necessarily the first line of how to break in anymore. It may be very possible to make one’s own way and make a difference in further changing the landscape of the animation industry. The key is to do it smartly and make back on one’s investment in doing so. I wish I had an easy formula to recommend for that, but I don’t. So many aspects are still in flux.

My hope is that people are, despite the unpredictability, still willing to try – as long as they do it in a well thought out manner that doesn’t put their own futures completely at risk. We still need innovative pioneers for animation to grow and evolve.

My Heart Always Aches a Little on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2013

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I’ve been quiet the last few weeks because there have been things going on with my family, the kinds of things that bring you closer together and remind you how valuable a treasure family is.

Valentine’s Day has been a touchstone day for remembering the value of family and the loss of them in one’s life.

Valentine’s Day of 2000, my now fiance’  Kevin and I had come back from a luxurious prix fixe meal at a home converted to a restaurant hiding in Hollywood called Off Vine. I’ve been in love with checking out homes converted to restaurants since my 16th birthday at the now long-closed Patsy Cline’s in Spokane, Washington. Kevin shares my interests in architecture and food. The night had gone extremely well and we had a great time.

I came home to a message on the answering machine. Kevin went off to another room, and I just started playing the message. I didn’t think much of it and figured it would probably just be a telemarketer and nothing important.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The voice on the message was my father. He let me know that his father – whom I was completely unaware was going in to the hospital that day for a routine pacemaker operation – passed away in the hospital the day of the surgery. Out of respect for my family I won’t share further details. It was a message I was completely unprepared to come home to, and remain thankful to this day that Kevin was actually there that night. I’m so thankful I didn’t spend it alone.

From that year forward, Valentine’s Day has never been the same to me. Kevin and I trade off surprising who takes whom to dinner at restaurants (not always converted houses), but that’s about it. Forget the candy, the flowers, and all the rest. It doesn’t replace knowing I’ve gone another year with losing Grandpa Porter Muir in my life far too soon. Thank you, Grandpa Porter, for believing I had a lot of “spunk,” for all the good (and far too few) good times we shared, but most of all for believing in me and supporting me even though I had to be so far away to pursue writing and animation. I still miss you and today I realize it the most.

So my thought to my  readers – whether you have a special someone, or just people you treasure in your life, I hope you think of them today and value the way they make a difference in your life. That’s what Valentine’s Day means to me… treasuring all the people close to your heart.

 

 

The Art of the Interstitial (2006) February 23, 2012

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Frankly, I’d never heard the term “interstitial” before I took my current animated job.  So when I was first told I would be a production coordinator for 100 interstitials, I had no idea what I was getting into; all my previous experience was on 11-minute stories like those on INVADER ZIM or 22-minute episodes of shows like EXTREME GHOSTBUSTERS and JUMANJI.

Basically, interstitials are short animated pieces, usually used as bridge pieces or filler between longer pieces, but can also air separately depending on the broadcast rules of a given country.  Given that animation is generally a page and a half per minute of screen time, scripts are just a few pages at most.  Storyboards average between thirty and forty pages.

On the surface this may sound very boring and tedious.  I admit that tying to keep track of lots of little pieces, that aren’t any real intense storylines, may not seem appealing at first.  But bear in mind that each interstitial has some sort of beginning, middle, and end – a “mini-story” if you will.  And because they are shorter material, you potentially get exposed to a wider variety of mini-plots, themes, and ideas.  That’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the job.  For our production, the manageability issue was overcome by treating the interstitials in groupings of ten two-minute interstitials, equivalent to the length of one 22-minute episode each.

Also, because they are just interstitials, we’ve had a smaller staff than I’m used to working with. This has required me to fill some script coordinator and post coordinator roles out of the necessity that we don’t have these positions, so they are part of my job umbrella.   Of course, then I can put this knowledge on my resume to help me get jobs later on. This for me has been another excellent reward of the project.

So if a job comes your way to work on animated interstitials, don’t turn it down just because it’s “not a show,” especially if you’re just starting out.

(originally published 2006)

Look Before You Learn (2002) February 21, 2012

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More opportunities than ever seem to be cropping up for non-artists to learn about the animation industry.  A screenwriter’s conference in the Fall of 2002, mainly geared to live-action writers, has several seminars scheduled devoted to animation.  Now in the bookstores, alongside the animation artist-geared books that have been available for years, are books for writing and non-artist aspects of producing animation.  Classes geared specifically to writing animation are available through continuing education, many of them online and available to aspiring writers around the world. With so many choices, and so many people offering advice, how do you sort out the worthwhile stuff from people who don’t really know what in the world they’re talking about?

First off, doubt everything.  Hey, doubt me too, for that matter.  There’s a reason a fair number my columns consist of interviewing others, and that’s because I am well aware that I do not know it all.  That said, there’s also some experience I have that other people at my level are not sharing, and I think — or at least hope, anyway — that insight into the lower ranks of the production ladder really can help someone wanting to break in know what to expect.

A credentials check should be what you do first.  In the instructor biography, on the book’s back cover, look for specific projects people have worked on.  Sometimes they’ll tell you what positions they had on shows or at companies; confirm them.  If all they’ve done is claim they worked for companies but don’t say what they did, the radar should go up.  Be sure to check what that potential instructor or book author did in fact work at that company, and see if those positions at those companies involved animation in any way.  They may have an extensive resume at all the major studios, but if the total experience in animation adds up to very little, you should choose someone with a greater wealth of animation experience.

This industry tends to have a lot of people in it embellishing their resumes.  It also tends to have a lot of people playing up projects that have not been produced; however, this is not necessarily bad.  Not everything that gets developed gets made in animation.  Someone with a lot of developed but unproduced series under his or her belt may very well be good at what they do, and just not been fortunate enough to be with, or find, a company able to make things happen.  Or it could just be that they know enough people to keep getting gigs places but are ultimately replaced on shows because they truly are not capable. On any case, these people still can say they developed such and such a show on their resumes, because it’s true.  They did take a pass at developing the show.  Their version just didn’t get made.  Now if someone says he or she helped create a show, happened to be on staff at the time, and maybe the most they did was gave a suggestion to someone at one point that just happened to be followed — that’s more my definition of fudging your credits.

So do your homework before doing your studies, in other words.

Having said that, experience does not in itself make people good instructors.  I also mean this in the sense of books; someone may write a great creative script but be totally unable to express concepts in nonfiction.  You may be able to glean a lot from that wealth of experience, but if the information is communicated in an ineffective way, much of the impact is lost.  If you have the access to ask other people’s opinions (who have read the book, taken the course, etc.), by all means do so before spending.  It’s your precious money, and you should want to be making an investment, not throwing it away.

As to whether books or classes are more effective, that is up to your own personal learning style.  I do well with either, though I enjoy the ability in a classroom setting (whether online or in person) to interact and the immediacy of asking questions specifically tailored to my current needs.  Others may prefer this road because they hate reading.  Some people, on the other hand, are far too shy to ask questions and feel more at ease being able to learn on their own time.

Essentially, don’t let your eagerness and passion totally blind you into thinking that every class or book geared towards non-artists in animation fits your needs.  Make sure you’re getting your money’s worth and worthwhile experience.

(originally published 2002)

Name that Brand (2002) February 18, 2012

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All the buzz that arose about Adam Sandler’s animated movie 8 Crazy Nights offering to animate brands into the film for sponsors willing to pay makes it sound like product placement is new and innovative to animation.  Since it’ set in a mall, Sony’s been actively soliciting chain stores to see if they are willing to have product placement.  In case you are not familiar with the term, it’s basically the agreement to provide product as props to a show, — or in the case of animation, draw in the props with its logo clearly visible — often in exchange for covering some of the production costs.

However, as someone reminded me, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time product placement’s occurred in animation — just look at a certain famous doll in Toy Story 2.  It’s just never been pointed out so strongly before.  I’m very interested if product placement will become implemented more often as a result of 8 Crazy Nights or not, though it probably would not work in most of the fantasy/SF animated films that make up the bulk of the animated features released today.

Right now, most product placement seems to be confined to feature films.  In television animation, which until recently was perceived as strictly for children, there’s still an instinctive need to protect kids.  Also, with all the merchandising tie-ins to product based on successful shows, companies may not want to muddy things pushing other products.  Product placement on television seems most logical with prime-time and late-night animation offerings.

Since I interviewed for jobs related to this area, I’ve had to ask myself how I feel about product placement.  Ultimately I believe that consumers should be able to decide for themselves, and the use of specific brands visibly in a program is not in and of itself a big deal.  But when the brand names unnaturally get worked into dialogue, I think at that point (largely as a writer) it goes too far.  The dialogue just sounds too unnatural, most times.  The other reality is that the business gets more expensive, and product placement is an avenue to explore to cut costs and find needed props.  It just must be exercised with caution and care, particularly in programs children watch.

I want to stress that while working at a product placement company isn’t an animation job per se, it can put you in contact with companies that produce animation.   This depends, of course, on what animated productions are being done and what kind of product they would use.  If the product placement company doesn’t represent what the production needs (you can always influence them to shift to the brand you represent, but they must need the item to begin with), then there will be no connection with a given animation script.  Still expect the bulk of your work at any product placement company to be live-action, since that’s where most of the work is.  The companies ultimately broker the brand, not the medium.  However, if you want a potential association with animation, it is a possibility to explore.  Be sure to ask prospective employers how often they deal with animation companies and/or how they would feel about handing animated scripts if that’s crucial to you wanting to work in the product placement field.

(originally published 2002)

MARC HANDLER INTERVIEW – WRITING DUB ANIMATION (2002, 2009) February 16, 2012

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SHANNON MUIR:  What are the reasons for dubbing animation?

MARC HANDLER: Sometimes it’s just as simple as translating a film so that viewers can watch it in their own language.  In other instances, it means rewriting the entire story of the series — or even merging multiple similar series into one storyline — resulting in a new product that has the look of the original but tells a whole new tale.

SM:  Can you talk about where you started as a writer, and how that led to doing dub scripts for animation?

MH: I used to do street theatre, political theatre, we did sketch-plays supporting Nelson Mandela’s movement in South Africa, women’s rights, etc. I wrote some of the plays we performed — and later I wrote plays for independent theatres. Then I actually studied dramatic writing at USC, went through a masters program there, and afterward, became a staff writer for Walt Disney / Disney Channel — that was all original writing. I met a producer named Heidi Lester who was working on the original Voltron series and she introduced me to ADR (dub) writing, which was a very small area at the time.  Very few animated shows were being imported at that time.

SM: You’ve written for series such as Voltron, which was recrafted for anAmerican audience by removing or re-editing sequences, and series such asCowboy Bebop, for which minimal editing is done.  Can you elaborate on the joys and challenges of each?

MH: I wrote for one series at Saban where we had an episode that just ended half-way through, and the next episode started right there — about 12 minutes in. They had to cut out so much footage — it was wacked. I called up the company and said, “um… this episode ends in the middle…” they said, “oh, I guess we messed up in the editing — well, do the best you can” — somehow I made it seem like one episode — but obviously that’s not very satisfying, because you have to really work hard to figure out a way to connect it up, and in the end you know whatever you do, it’s still going to be pretty bad.

I story edited a show recently where, the whole series was a journey to this mythical place to set up some major event that was supposed to happen at the end of the series, but we didn’t have synopses or tapes for the final episodes so we didn’t know what was actually going to happen when they got to the end of the journey. At the network meetings I kept saying, let’s call Japan and talk to the director or the story editor — they’re real people — I’m sure they’d be happy to discuss this with us and explain what they had in mind — I’ll bring in a translator. Everyone seemed to think this was an odd suggestion, like Japan was Mars and these episodes were artifacts that needed to be deciphered through some mysterious means — and they also thought there might be legal obstacles, like the contracts might not allow us to call the company directly  — very strange — so instead, they just made up a bunch of stuff about the characters and their goals and the world they were in with no idea whether these things would continue to make sense as the series went forward. Needless to say, that kind of thing is frustrating.

I worked on a series called Dinozaurs: In one episode, our young heroes are rushing off to bring an urgent warning to the Dinozaurs that evil aliens are about to destroy the earth. But before the kids can get out of town, they are stopped by a neighbor lady who has lost her cat. The kids forget all about the earth being in danger and spend the next ½ of the episode trying to catch the cat. From an American perspective this seems nuts: I’ve never known an American story editor who would approve this kind of story, but in some of the Japanese productions, they’re working with low budgets on very tight schedules, so all kinds of strange things will get through.

I actually quit working on a network series to do FLCL (Furi Kuri). The network paid more, but it was a chore working with people who really weren’t into anime; I was patching episodes together, and the end result was so-so. FLCL was for a small company (Sync Point / Digital Manga), only 6 episodes — but everyone on the project understood anime and they really wanted to do it right. I was able to write and direct which gave me a lot of artistic input — and we had the original director, Tsurumaki-san, in the studio with us for the first few days, so we could ask him what he had in mind for each character and each scene, and then really try to be true to the original intention. FLCL is a very bizarre series — fun, very wacked —  but though it seems whimsical, it was carefully made with great attention to detail, so we tried to honor that in the American production. I enjoyed that a lot. There was a great moment when one of our actors, Bob Kline, was doing a character and I turned to Tsurumaki-san and said, “Y’know he’s doing this differently than the original actor, do you want me to bring it back closer to the original?” and Tsurumaki-san said “No, no, keep it like this…” he said he was never happy with the original performance of the Japanese actor in that role and he liked the American actor better. So this was a case where we were actually improving on the original production with the input of the original director. — Tsurumaki-san grinned when I showed him about 30 pages of script analysis we had done on FLCL, breaking down all the literary elements, character motivations, etc.  —

Likewise with the Cowboy Bebop movie (aka Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door), we were in very close communication with Watanabe-san. Yutaka Maseba and Haruyo Kanesaku are the Zro Limit Producers on Bebop and they were trading e-mails with Sunrise constantly, getting answers to very detailed questions about how to interpret the various scenes. On Metropolis we communicated directly with Rintarao-san and the Japanese production team in the same way. I think this is a big step forward in the process of bringing anime to the US — getting into direct communication with the Japanese creators — I credit Yutaka Maseba, Haruyo Kanesaku, Shizuki Yamashita, Stephanie Shea, Hikaru Sasahara, and others like them for building those bridges with the creators in Japan — and also with providing writers like me with multi-layered translations, explaining when words have double-meanings, cultural references in the dialogue, and things of that sort. Those are the kinds of things that are lost in a direct translation. TV studios never provide writers with those kinds of detailed analyses of the text, so this is a case where the good independents are really ahead of the studios, leading the way.

SM: Looking specifically at VOLTRON for a moment, you served as story-editor toward the end of the first series and for the follow-up series. When you know that aspects of the content must be altered for the audience the
company is aiming for, how hard is it to stay on top of the new continuity?

MH: We were not aiming for a special audience in either of the Voltron series — we were aiming for all Americans who might like the show.  We assumed this would appeal more to young children — color-coded lions with color-coded heroes is the kind of idea that tends to appeal to children — but we never tried to dumb-down the dialogue or turn it into a cutesy kiddie show or anything like that. We tried to stay with the spirit of the original show in all cases — in fact the reason I was brought in to story edit Voltron 3-D was specifically because they wanted someone from the original show who understood the spirit of the series to make sure we stayed with that and built on it for the new series. Some of the old fans thought the 3-D series was aiming younger – it wasn’t – it’s just that the original fans were older now so it seemed younger to them. The kids who have always been Voltron’s main audience had very strong positive reactions to the old and new versions.

As far as the alterations are concerned, for both the old and new series, in order for the show to be broadcast in the United States, it had to be consistent with US standards – so we had to limit violence and change some
things to make it  broadcastable in the US. That was just to get the show on the air, not to reach a special audience.

None of this presented a continuity problem. When we started the new series we had meetings with the staff, made decisions about where we wanted to go
with the new series, and what we wanted to do with the characters in the new season — I then wrote a show bible so that everyone had the same point of reference – and then we began to write the episodes. There were no special continuity issues. The whole writing staff on that show had a very unified approach — we all got along well and had similar ideas about the show.

SM: Can you describe the process of how a script for a dubbed project evolves?

MH: Yes. Let me focus on the heart of the process first, then I’ll give a more technical, step by step description.

The heart of ADR writing entails watching the original scene, looking at the translation, then writing lines that will convey the meaning of the scene, sound like natural English, and fit with the mouth movement of the character. So the writer’s main tasks are:

1) making sure that the story is being told in a clear, step by step way so the audience can follow and understand it. This is by far the most important part of the job.

2) Writing dialogue that sounds natural and colorful, not stiff, flat, boring, or confusing.

3) Making sure the lines will sync to the picture.  These are the issues that you are dealing with line by line throughout the writing process.

The most difficult part is the first part, making sure the story is told clearly. The most common problem with ADR writing is that writers will follow the translated dialogue line by line so that each line makes sense, but when you put the whole scene together, the scene doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t move the story forward. The essence of the original scene has been lost and the story becomes muddled. — Writers trained in dramatic writing understand that each scene must move the story forward: each scene adds something specific to the story and connects up directly with the other scenes forming a cause and effect chain: what happens in this scene effects the next scene which in turn effects the next scene. If any of the links in this chain are lost, the story becomes confusing. So the writer has to look at each scene and understand how it fits into this chain, what essential developments happen in this scene that will effect later scenes: then he has to make sure that those essential developments get across clearly to the viewer.

Here’s a crude example of the kind of problems that arise around this issue: A character says (direct translation): “I will now return to the space ship. I wish to go to the cargo area. There I will wait.”

The ADR writer changes this into more natural English, e.g. “I’m going back to the ship. I’ll wait for you in the cargo hold.”

This fits the mouth. It sounds okay. So the writer thinks he has done his job and he moves on to the next scene.  But he didn’t stop to ask, why is the character saying this? How does it affect the story? Had he looked more closely he might have realized that something essential is being communicated here, e.g. what the character is really communicating is, “I’m going to the cargo hold to hide the moon pendant so the bad guys don’t find it.” — This is essential to the story. It explains why the pendant shows up in the cargo hold 3 scenes later. Why didn’t the original Japanese writer say this clearly? Probably because it’s typical of Japanese communication to imply things without stating them directly. Stating things too bluntly is considered crude and uninteresting. Implying things is considered intriguing and thought provoking. Japanese viewers are tuned into this, so the original Japanese viewer would have understood that this was all about the moon pendant from the context and the way the line was said in Japanese. But it was lost in the translation and the American writer failed to pick it up, so the American viewer will be confused. – This kind of thing comes up constantly in adr writing. – The good writers analyze the scenes and ask, “Why is this character saying this? Is there a reason that is not readily apparent? What is this scene all about? How does it connect up with the other scenes.” They make sure that the American viewer is able to follow the story just as the original Japanese viewer could.

The next component of the process is to write natural, vibrant dialogue. This is a subjective issue: your idea of good dialogue may be different than mine. However, it’s clear that the visuals should inform the dialogue. For example, suppose in Cowboy Bebop, Jet and Spike walk into some smoky jazz club full of hipsters in sunglasses listening to a cool jazz trio led by an alto sax player. The whole scene is done in a deep blue wash. Jet looks at the musicians and says, (direct translation). “I like the way this music sounds very much.” You naturally want to change the style of the dialogue so that it fits with the mood and motif of the scene. Knowing that Jet is a jazz lover and this is his kind of place, he might say something like, “Man, that sax sure is sweet.” – The words are not the same, but the intent is the same and more in keeping with the mood of the scene. It is probably much closer to the original Japanese if you could translate the nuance along with the literal meaning. So an effective adr writer writes dialogue that expresses the mood, motif and the nature of the character as well as the literal meaning of the lines.

The final issue is sync, i.e. making the lines fit the mouth movement of the character. You’d probably be surprised to know that this is quite controversial within the dubbing community. There are people who think sync is not very important, and others who make a virtual religion of it. For those who focus on sync, it is important not only that the line starts and ends at the right time, but also that it carefully matches the pauses, “labials” “fricatives”, open mouth sounds, and other details. i.e. when a character’s lips come together, they should make a lips-together sound like M, B, or P. If a character’s mouth is open, they should make an open sound like Oh  or Ah. In my own writing, I take these things into account and try to write tight sync. I enjoy seeing scenes that sync up well and I know this will make things easier for the director and the actors. However, I’m also aware that these things have very little effect on most viewers. E.g. Disney’s version of Spirited Away has poor sync — it’s clear that neither the writers, directors, nor engineers paid much attention to this issue — and I think it would be a real stretch to argue that this has negatively impacted the success of the film (though I much prefer their dub of Princess Mononoke which had tight sync and more vivid dialogue). The original Voltron series had dreadful sync for technical reasons too complicated to go into, but the poor sync did not prevent the series from being a hit series. That said, most ADR producers and directors working currently are aware of this issue and prefer tighter sync. Many directors will rework a writer’s dialogue in the studio to make it fit the mouths better, including changing a word like “large” to “big” so that the “b” matches when the character’s lips come together. Rewriting in the studio slows them down, so they appreciate a writer who writes tight sync so they don’t have to stop and fix it. This is much more important in close ups where the mouth movement is prominent; less important in wide shots where the mouth is small.

Those three issues, story, dialogue, sync, are the most important things to be aware of. Here’s a more technical step by step of how the overall process works. Bear in mind that each company is different and each project is different. Typically…

The Japanese company sends tapes and synopses, sometimes scripts to the American company.

The American company sends the tapes or the Japanese scripts to translators to create English language scripts — these are direct translations. If you
read them in English they generally seem very awkward and strange because of the differences in the two languages.

At the same time, if there is any editing to do, the producers and editors are editing the tapes, taking out scenes that won’t work for the US audience.  Some shows have no editing, especially if they are for the
anime fan video market. Some have lots of editing, especially if they are for a mainstream broadcast market. Then…

They call the writer in. If you’re lucky, they send you a tape so you can see it. More often you sign on without seeing the show, just a brief verbal description from the Producer.  In the case of Metropolis, I actually had no time to work on a new project and I was going to turn it down, but they sent me the tape of the Japanese version and once I watched it, it was such an excellent film in every respect, I knew I just had to work on it.

Cowboy Bebop was just the opposite circumstance. When they called me I said I was unavailable because I was about to leave the country on an extended trip to Asia. But fortunately Kevin Seymour (Animaze) didn’t just hang up on me. We talked for a bit and a little lightbulb went off in my brain: “Any chance I can write these episodes while I’m travelling and just send them in via e-mail?” When Kevin said yes, I signed on immediately, never having seen the show. It could have been a real dog: I wasn’t expecting anything — I think it was the same for everyone who worked on it — just a job. Then as soon as we started working on the first episode, it was, “Hey, this is good…” and as we went forward we all just lit up as we realized what a fantastic series we had stumbled into.  … So ya never know…

If you’re story editing a series, you generally have some meetings with the producers to set the direction of the series, what you want to change, what you want to keep the same, formats, etc. In the case of FLCL and the Cowboy Bebop Movie, we had some meetings just to interpret the show, trying to understand all of the fine points and sort everything out — but this is unusual.  In the case of Tokyo Pig we had a couple of meetings with the producers in which all the writers were present. I think that’s the only time I’ve been to full staff writers’ meetings for an ADR show.  In most cases, as a writer, you have no meetings with anyone — they just send you a tape and a translation script, tell you whatever you need to know over the phone, and you start writing.  It’s pretty helter-skelter and you learn the show as you go. E.g. you write lyrics for 3 or 4 songs, which is very time consuming, only to be told later, “Oh, we forgot to mention, the music department is writing all the lyrics, you don’t have to do that…” Or after you’ve written a section, “Oh, the part where the bird flies in, that’s a running gag, it works like this….” So you have to go back and redo the section now that you know the gag.

In an original series, you usually have some writer’s meetings and you get a pretty comprehensive bible and guidance on these things from the story editors, but with ADR writing, there are often no show bibles, or very thin ones, and the story editors often only come into play after you finish your first draft. So a lot of the time you’re just taking your best guess at everything. If you have an idea for a running gag or a signature phrase for a character, you can put it out there, write a note in the script suggesting that the other writers pick up on the idea. Often there’s not enough communication for the other writers to get the message. For instance, on Gatchaman (Eagle Riders) I had the idea that the ship’s computer could have different “personality settings,” so that it would have different character voices in different episodes. Though the idea was used for that episode, it never passed on to other writers. In other cases, however, running gags or signature ideas do get passed around and become part of the series.

For story editors, the process is different than for writers. You attend meetings with producers – sometimes network executives or other executives on the project. We discuss how the series works, the
characters, the arc of the series (how it changes from the first episode to the last) and all other considerations relating to the scripts. Then writers receive tapes and translations – usually one tape at a time – the
translation may be in hard copy, or it may be sent as an e-mail attachment or delivered on disc. The writer is also given a deadline to complete the script (typically ridiculously short).

The writer takes the tape home and works on his own equipment — video equipment with good frame control is essential — or the alternative is to have the tape digitized and work on your computer rather than on a VCR: this is still rare, but will probably become common over the next few years.

The writer generally watches the whole episode, reads the translation, then goes to work. If you’re lucky enough to be working with a savvy producer like Rita Majkut or Jamie Simone at ABC, they may talk you through the episode letting you know what direction they want to go with it – but that’s rare. Most of the time you’re on your own for the first draft.

To break it down technically: The script will include time codes and dialogue. The time code works like this: each frame has a number, you can see it on the screen — 30 frames for each second of screen time. So when a character starts speaking, we note the frame number where he starts. When he stops speaking, we note the frame number where he stops. Then we write the line to fit in that space. That way, in the recording studio, the engineer can punch these numbers into his recording equipment, so he and the actors and director can
instantly find the location of the line and easily record the new English line at that spot. This speeds up the recording process immeasurably and, more importantly, it allows the actors to maintain their momentum and focus so they can concentrate on their characters and not be slowed down by technical issues.

So the writer’s work is a mix of creative work, writing dialogue, and non-creative detail work, locating and recording time code numbers. Time coding is a boring technical exercise. There are a few people around who only do time codes: sometimes writers farm out that part of the work to these coders (bless them). But usually the writer does his own codes. You can do all of the codes in a single pass before you start writing: some writers prefer that because at that point you’re just focusing on numbers, that frees you up later to just focus on dialogue. Also, by the time you’ve done a numbers pass, you’ve watched every scene and you’re a little more familiar with the episode.  Other writers prefer to do the codes as they go, putting in numbers and dialogue one loop at a time. I work either way depending on how I’m feeling at the moment.

With the Cowboy Bebop Movie we did this all backwards.  We received tapes with no time code so we had to write all the lines first, then later gave it to a time coder who went back and spotted all the numbers. This is a very difficult way to work, not recommended. Similarly, I worked on just time codes for Laputa and Kiki’s delivery services for Disney because they re-edited after the script was complete, so we had to go back and redo all of the numbers. Along with dialogue, numbers must be spotted every time a character gasps, grunts, or makes any kind of sound. So this process typically involves 15 or 16 thousand code numbers on a full length script: you can easily go number crazy doing it.

Putting in numbers entails finding the start point for each loop. A loop is when an actor speaks or makes a sound. So every time an actor will need to say a line, or gasp, or cry, or make any other sound, you need to find the spot where he will begin and note the frame number. — Those numbers later go to an engineer who punches them into the recording system so that when we’re recording we can move very rapidly from one loop to the next without hunting around for spots.  This saves lots of time in recording, but, perhaps more important, it allows the actor to maintain their momentum and focus so they can concentrate on their character and not be slowed down by technical issues.

As I mentioned, the main part of the job is, of course, trying to write great creative dialogue that syncs and moves the story forward, but concurrently, you are trying to provide the director, actors, engineer and producers with what they need to have smooth, efficient recording sessions. So as you work, you always want to keep the recording session in mind. My goal is to make everyone at the session feel that the script is on their side, supporting them, giving them the info they need, notes, codes, whatever it may be. I don’t want them to feel they’re struggling with my script, working to interpret or adjust it, or feeling that there are things missing. Of course none of this ultimately prevents them from trashing the writer. It’s a running joke in the business that when things go wrong at a recording session you always blame the writer, mostly because he’s not there, so he’s a natural target. So when the writer sits in on a session, it ruins everyone’s fun: they have to find someone else to blame. The receptionist!

Back to the writing process: as you’re working your way through the video, you’re stopping at each loop, figuring out what the character should be saying here, and then crafting it to fit into the mouth movement and/or time slot. You come up with a possible line, then speak it out loud while watching the picture to see if it will fit. Then you start adjusting it, shorter or longer. Or you decide it’s not good enough, so you throw it out and try another line. In this way you go over and over the same 3 second spot relentlessly until you nail it down. Then you move on to the next 2 ½ second spot, etc, for 300 to 500 spots per 22 minutes.  By the way, this can have in interesting impact on your relationship with the neighbors: if they happen to be passing by as you are  repeatedly shouting out “I will take over the universe! NOTHING CAN STOP ME! HAHAHAHAHA!” it may tend to color their opinion of you. Well, you probably didn’t want to be invited to their party anyway.

In addition to writing each line, you also put in any parentheticals that will help the actor. Parentheticals such as (sadly) or (harsh) or (shouting out) are usually kept to a minimum in original scripts, however, for ADR scripts, the more guidance you can give the actor, the better. You also have to include notes letting the actor and director know if this line is on camera or off camera and many other technical notations. It’s very painstaking — drives a lot of people nuts. Some people think that’s what happened to me, but those who know me well would assure you that I lost sanity long before I started doing this. That’s probably why it seemed like a good idea.

When I finish the first draft, I do a read through and polish — I don’t know if other writers do this or not.  Virtually all writers who write original episodes do multiple re-drafts and polishes, but with ADR scripts I don’t know if they do.  I read through to feel the flow of the dialogue, usually making small adjustments as I go.

Everything in the script is laid out so it will be easy for the actors and directors to work with it in the recording studio. When we’re finished with the writing, we create “breakdowns,” “loop counts” and other documents to help with the planning and recording of the episode. A breakdown is a technical sheet listing all of the loops for each character, and a loop count with total numbers of loops for each character. When it’s complete, it is usually e-mailed to the company, along with a synopsis telling the story in brief, typically half a page, and any relevant notes.

Then you wait for the producers/ story editors to send notes telling you what changes you need to make for the next draft. As soon as you read their notes, you realize  with absolute certainty that they don’t know squat about writing or anime or anything else, and they certainly do not appreciate the great genius you put into this script —- however, once you begin to make the changes they suggested, you often realize that they’re a lot smarter than you thought, and they actually had a lot of good ideas that have improved the script after all.

SM:  Does it help to know the original language?

MH: I think it’s helpful and more enjoyable. I worked on a live-action tele-novella called La Dama dela Rosa — the most-work/least-pay ADR job I’ve ever done. I speak enough Spanish that I could follow most of the dialogue and have my own take on it — that made it more fun and gave me extra-ideas as I was writing. This would be even more true for someone who spoke Japanese; because the structure of the language is so different from English, there are many more options of how to interpret any given line, so knowing the language would be more helpful. I wish with all my heart I could speak Japanese, but I’m still on the same beginning Japanese book I was on a year ago. I don’t know of a single anime ADR writer who speaks Japanese. It would not make a major difference in their writing, but it would be a nice addition for any of us.

As I mentioned, on the Cowboy Bebop Movie and on FLCL I was working closely with Japanese speakers and I was able to ask lots of language questions. The FLCL script had copious language notes — that was ideal. That process makes you realize how open-to-interpretation it all is. E.g., in The Cowboy Bebop Movie, there’s a scene where Vincent leaves Faye tied up on the floor as he goes out to unleash his nano-machine gas. His parting line to Faye is about Purgatory. In Vincent’s earlier dialogue, he characterizes the whole world as a kind of Purgatory. I went over the script with two native Japanese speakers, both with excellent English skills. One of them insisted that Vincent was telling Faye, “After I leave you can watch what’s going to happen to this purgatory,” meaning, to this world, earth, which is a kind of purgatory. But the other Japanese speaker insisted, with equal vigor, that Vincent was saying, “You can watch what’s going to happen FROM your own purgatory” – an entirely different idea: that Vincent was leaving her tied up, alone, miserable, stuck in her own personal purgatory. This kind of discrepancy is very common. It is not a case of one translator being right and the other wrong. The original writer purposely left it open to interpretation, so an attempt at “literal translation” would not solve the problem. As I mentioned before, fans often talk about literal translations in an absolute way, and someone who is from Japan or lived there will sometimes insist that they know what the line actually means, but the reality is, Japanese people tend to communicate in non-specific ways, through innuendo, implication, and intentionally ambiguous phrasings – especially in stories. Plus the structure of the language is very different. So trying to nail down an exact meaning is very iffy at best.

To use a very simple every day example: The Japanese “O genki desuka” is usually translated “How are you?” A very literal translation of O genki desuka would look something like this:

“Respectfully, healthy is

?”

The “you” is implied. Obviously if you had a character say this, the American viewer would be totally lost. A more sensible direct translation might be

“Are you healthy?” or “Are you in good health?”

This actually makes more sense when you see how this phrase is used in Japan:  they generally don’t use it as an everyday greeting as we do with “How are you?” —  implying “How are you feeling today?” or “How are things going today?” They are more likely to use it after they haven’t seen someone for a long time, the way we would use, “How’s your health?” or “Have you been feeling okay?”

So a translator could choose any of these phrases, “How are you?” “Are you healthy?” “Are you feeling okay?” “How’s your health?” etc., and each would have a different implication in the context of the scene. So if the writer spoke the language, he might look at the scene and say, “Oh, the translator is saying “How are you?” but in this case, the character has been ill so it would be better to have the character say, “How’s your health?” In short, you could make better choices with more knowledge of the language.

SM: Would it help to be more familiar with the original storyline?

MH: The more familiar you are with the storyline, the better.

SM: What kinds of spec scripts are used to get jobs doing ADR?

MH: I have never seen full ADR spec scripts used to get ADR jobs. It may happen, but I haven’t seen it. Saban/Fox ran a few workshops where they taught adr writing and they had people write a scene or two on spec.  That’s enough to see if the writer understands the form and can write to picture, and to get a sense of how they write dialogue. So I guess you could write a few scenes of something and hand it to a producer along with the tape — it’s a bit complicated. Usually, when they hire someone for this, it’s kind of a leap of faith. One comedy show I worked on asked for non-ADR sample scripts — they just wanted to see if you could write funny. Many of the writers being considered didn’t have any non-ADR samples; they only wrote ADR, and the ADR scripts don’t work very well as comedy samples because you can’t get most of the jokes from just reading the dialogue without seeing the picture. ADR scripts are only dialogue and technical notes – there are no scene descriptions, so when you read it, there’s no context for the jokes. In original scripts it’s much easier for the reader to get the joke.  So for an ADR writer looking for work, it might be helpful to have some good strong non-ADR writing samples for an adventure script and/or a comedy script, depending on the kind of project it is, just to give a producer or story editor a feeling for the kind of dialogue you write. But this doesn’t come up often.

SM: Is dubbing animation more of a popular fad now that will fade, or do you believe it is here to stay in the mainstream?

MH: Ha. I talked to someone recently who had a possible investor for new projects. I said, “Ask if he’s interested in investing in importing shows from Asia.” He checked with his inside-the-business friends and called me back a few days later announcing that the consensus was: anime is just a minor trend and will soon be out of style.

My answer: That’s what they said about rock and roll.

I have been living in various Asian countries about half the time for the last few years and it is crystal clear to me that, in the coming years, more and more entertainment projects will be imported into the US. This is just a small part of a much larger global trend of countries trading entertainment products the same way they have long been trading food products, technical products, etc.  Imagine asking a Thai four hundred years ago when they first brought peanuts and chile from the Americas whether these foods would catch on in Thailand. I can just feature some Thai old-timer saying, “These chile peppers are too hot! And the peanuts taste funny! Our people will never eat these strange foods!” — Most Thais today eat so much of this stuff, they don’t even realize these foods aren’t native to their country. The music we listen to in the US is a mix mostly of European and African music with some other influences thrown in — but you forget about where it came from and just think of it as American music. The Astro Boy series that I’m working on now is a cultural mix. It’s definitely Japanese, but it there is heavy American influence. We’re moving toward something that would be neither Japanese nor American, but a genre of it’s own with influences from both.

Overall, I think Americans have a very inflated view of the value of their own entertainment products. It’s true American movies are sold around the world.  I’m very happy about that — but if you watch TV in any Asian country, flip the channels and you are much more likely to see period Chinese dramas (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style); Thai soap-operas; Baliwood Indian musicals; Hong Kong kung fu movies; and of course Japanese Anime. These shows are imported and exported from one Asian country to the next, and dubbed into the local language, usually very badly (although I recently saw a superb live-action Japanese dub of an American sit-com, so they’re starting to catch on).

American “youth culture” was turned on in the 60s by English rock bands (who were, oddly enough, imitating American black blues artists). Today young people are turned on by Japanese Anime, Salsa dancing, and World Music, among many other influences. These things are beyond the control of US industries that would rather keep them buying home-grown entertainment products. It is very clear to me that in the coming years, young Americans will be more and more influenced by interesting trends and styles and ideas coming at them from many different cultures: as a country becomes more economically viable, people have more leisure time, and young people start producing new interesting kinds of music, dance, film, animation, and new art forms emerge that reflect their culture. As they burst onto the scene, these forms will often have strong appeal to people in other cultures. Satellites, the internet, and other global technologies allow these new forms to be disseminated quickly to other countries where they can catch on and rapidly become a part of that culture as well. The way hip-hop can move from black neighborhoods to white neighborhoods today, that is how trends will move from one continent to another in the near future: we’re most of the way there already. In the near term, look for powerful cultural trends coming into America from Japan, China, and Brazil (Handler predicts!)

Viewers in most countries are used to watching dubbed films, and American viewers are also starting to get used to it. As dubs get better and better and foreign products get more and more attractive, it’s inevitable that importation and dubbing will expand.

SM:  Where are the dub companies located?

MH: Don’t know. I just work for the ones that call me up. If I had to track them down, I guess I’d go to anime websites, check the credits on anime video releases, and/or check the Hollywood Reporter annual animation issue. In the Southern California area, they tend to be in and around Burbank (where Disney and WB are located), and in the Hollywood and Santa Monica areas. Of course there are also dubbing companies in Canada where they pay even less than American companies do. Going north anyone?

SM: Do you have any final advice for people who want to get into writing scripts for dubbing animation?

Man, this is always the hardest question. I want to give good helpful encouraging advice but if I sounded very encouraging it would be a big fat lie. The truth is, it’s very hard to break into dub writing and if you do break in, it’s very hard to make a living at it. It doesn’t pay well as entertainment jobs go, and no benefits. Many ADR writers are also actors or directors: only by juggling 2 or 3 jobs do they make a passable living, and even then, it’s up and down — good years, bad years.

The problem with breaking in is, there just aren’t that many jobs and it’s so technical that most producers are very reluctant to try a new writer. It has nothing to do with the new writer’s talent.  He may be very talented – but it’s still going to take him a while to master all the technical aspects of adr writing and to get the hang of writing to a picture that’s already there.

A lot of people never get it; others try one script and swear they’ll  never write an ADR script again. They hate it. I’ve known several writers like that. A big issue is writing short or long. You have to be able to speak your lines out loud to the mouth movement in the picture and time the line accurately. It’s very typical for a new writer to write too long, i.e. all of his lines have too many words for the mouth-movement of the character — or too short, i.e. all of his lines have too few words for the mouth-movement of the character. In either case, the director ends up cursing the writer because he has to rewrite every line at the recording session. That means the sessions go long and the producers blame him, the director. And all of this ultimately costs money. This is why, when producers do try new writers, they often choose ADR actors. Typically, the actors have no training in story structure or writing, but they know how to speak lines to picture, so they can accurately time the lines. That’s what you’re up against.

Beyond that, your best chance of breaking in is by contacting a company when they are just starting a new series and they may need to fill out their writing staff. Be persistent in a nice way. It’s hard to find the line between friendly-persistent and obnoxiously pushy.  Try to find it.

If you get a shot at a job, it would be ideal if you could get an experienced ADR actor to help you go over your lines and determine if they are short or long or fit picture. Or ask the producer if you can turn in your first 5 or 6 pages and get early feedback so you can make adjustments at an early stage.

Also, get a high quality VCR with a jog wheel with very good single frame forward and back. It shouldn’t jump when you try to go one frame forward or back, and it should hold a steady picture when it’s on pause, no jiggling. This sounds like funny advice, but it is much more important than you would think.  If you’re very technically savvy, you may be able to skip the VCR and do it all on your computer, but you’d need to digitize the picture from the tape.

Also, take your first opportunity to sit in on any ADR recording sessions you can. When you see how the directors and actors work with an ADR  script, you get a much better idea of how to give them what they need, and you can personalize the script to the particular director and cast.

Of course the other way to do it, the best way, is the Spike Lee way: do your own project. Import your own OVA or whatever and write and produce it yourself. Then you have a finished product to show, not just a spec script. If it’s successful, people will be coming to you for jobs, not the other way around. In fact, now that I think about it, my official suggestion is: import a whole series. Then, when you need some more writers to complete the project, give me a call.

(interview originally conducted 2002, revised and released 2009)

INTERVIEW WITH CRISPIN FREEMAN – ANIMATION DUB ACTING (2001) February 15, 2012

Posted by shannonmuir in animation, Interview.
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When I attended the Gathering of the Gargoyles 2001 convention, I got the chance to hear Crispin Freeman, who’s built a resume in dubbing animation brought to the United States from other countries. This is an art sometimes also referred to as ADR, or ‘automatic dialogue replacement'(though it can also apply to dubbing done to make last minute corrections to any animated project). Crispin’s known for being the English voice of ‘Zelgadis’ of  Slayers, and ‘Touga’ of Revolutionary Girl Utena, among others.  Crispin’s also been a script adapter for Pokemon. Here’s a couple questions I posed to him about animation dub acting…

 

SHANNON MUIR: What special challenges are there for actors dubbing foreign animation?

 

CRISPIN FREEMAN: Well, it depends on the show and the script.  The first is whether or not the script has been adapted to match the lip flap of the characters on screen.  If it has, then the actor’s job is simpler (not necessarily easier) since you don’t have to waste a lot of time trying to rewrite lines on the fly that don’t match.  If it has been adapted prior to recording, then it’s a matter of trying to make an authentic and honest read for the character you’re portraying in the rigid form handed to you, namely that your performance has to match the lip flap on the screen as opposed to animators matching your vocal performance.  The next level is to try to get across the original intention and subtlety of the original show, while still making it work to an audience of a completely different culture.  It definitely is tricky.

 

SM:  Briefly describe what a dubbing session is like.

 

CF: I go into the studio by myself and stand in front of a microphone with a TV in front of it.  The director and recording engineer are there and sometimes a producer.  Sometimes I’ve been able to read the script or watch the show ahead of time, but many times, I’m seeing both animation and script for the very first time when I get up to record.  I wear headphones, I have a music stand in front of me with the script and I look at the TV.  The animation appears on the TV with the Music and Effects from the show in my headphones. I get three beeps in my headphones as the time for my line comes up.  Where the fourth beep should be, I say my line and try to match the lip flap on the screen.  Usually, we have to go back and try the line again to adjust the read or the match to lip flap or even the script.  We usually go one line at a time until we finish an entire recording session.

 

SM:  Does a dubbing script look different than a typical animation script?

 

CF: Most of the dubbing scripts I get are merely straight Japanese Translations with timecode telling the director exactly where the line falls in the course of the show.  Those don’t look anything like the scripts that I get from other producers who are doing the voices first and the animation later. In those, they’re written more like a screenplay, except that every line a character says has a number so that they can keep track of everyone’s lines and in what order they go.

 

SM:  If an actor wants to go into dubbing, what do you feel he or she can do to prepare?

 

CF: Take class.  Find people who are teaching acting and voice acting.  Contact licensing companies in your area and find out how and when they hold auditions so you can try out.  Get to know people who are doing what you want to do.  Once you’re in class, you’ll meet all sorts of people in the business.  Pick their brains about how and what they do and how they got

there.  Keep smilin’ and have fun.

 

Crispin, thanks so much for taking the time to share insight into the world of animation dubbing.  For more information about Crispin Freeman, visit his official website.

 

(originally published 2001 at Suite101.com)

A Few Words About Animation Script Format February 8, 2012

Posted by shannonmuir in Advice, animation, script, Uncategorized, Writing.
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One of the questions I often encounter when interacting with hopeful animation writers is: “What exactly is proper animation script format?”

Animation scripts are standard screenplay format, with one exception.  That difference comes when you are talking about an animated show geared at prime-time (say THE SIMPSONS or KING OF THE HILL).  Writers for these shows originally came from the live-action sitcom world, so they brought the dialogue style used in sitcoms into the prime-time animated scripts.

In sitcoms, dialogue is double-spaced. This is in case they decide to rewrite jokes on the set at the last minute, there’s lots of room to do it.  No scribbling tiny text in the margins.

So why bother to do so in prime-time animation, where the product ships overseas to be animated and then comes back for final assembly?  Series creators in prime-time animation build in a similar advantage to their live-action sitcom counterparts by creating window of opportunity in their production schedules (one that normally cannot be afforded in other series animation).  The show’s producers budget time to re-record dialogue in order to make the comedy fresh and topical, but the only restriction is that the new lines must fit the existing mouth movements.

“Saturday morning” series, such as the ones I worked on for Sony Animation, and animated features use the format identical to a live-action screenplay.  I have heard of some people that employ the two-column audio-visual format for animation, but this is not the industry standard and I personally have not seen an animated script in the two-column format; I recommend not using it.

So how do you find out what “standard screenplay format” is?

The books that remain the traditional reference of standard screenplay format are Cole and Haag’s Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats books.  Volume One covers screenplays, which is the one I’m talking about.  Volume Two covers one-hour drama and half-hour sitcom formats.  You can find the book at the usual places, like Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, also consider specialty stores such as The Writers Store that may be able to fulfill your other writing needs.  (I will be honest, I used to work for The Writers Store.  But it’s on that basis I’m willing to recommend them directly, because I know the kind of operation they run.  Also, they’ve been in business for almost twenty years and the Internet was an expansion of what they do versus being just a virtual storefront.)

Or, you can get screenwriting software to help you do the job.  Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and Scriptware are the three major programs.  You can visit their sites directly, or again, The Writers Store has all three (they also happen to be Final Draft’s preferred vendor, so it’s not just me singing their praises).

This should give you a solid start in formatting your animated script and bringing your dream to fruition.

(originally published at Suite101.com, 2001)