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NYAF2008: Top Talent Talk "Voice Actors and the City"

Jamie McGonnigal with the Paddle of Moderation. Or not.Saturday afternoon was voice actor time at the 2008 New York Anime Festival, with the Voice Acting and the City panel, bringing together New York City’s finest voice acting talent to talk about their work. The first panelists to arrive were Mandy Bonhomme (Komaki in Kujibiki Unbalance, Juri in Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Mimi and Nene in Slayers Next), Jamie McGonnigal (Yoshito in BECK, Kuromarimo in One Piece, Takeo in Magic User’s Club, and Ranmaru in Kizuna), Lisa Ortiz (Deedlit in Record of Lodoss War and Lina Inverse in Slayers), and Veronica Taylor (Ash in Pokémon, Aoi in To Heart, April O’Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Amelia in Slayers), with McGonnigal and Taylor volunteering themselves as joint panel moderators. The “Yaoi” paddle that McGonnigal wielded throughout the panel was a great assistance at this task, although McGonnigal and the paddle had to leave the panel about halfway through. Shortly afterwards, the four were joined by Rachel Lillis (Jesse and Misty in Pokémon, Utena in Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Nagi Kirima in Boogiepop Phantom), Tom Wayland (Producer/director for The World of Narue, Animation Runner Kuromi, and Kakurenbo; Jammerjaw in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Reggie in Pokémon), and Michael Sinterniklaas (Dean Venture in The Venture Bros, Mikey Simon in Kappa Mikey, and Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Sinterniklaas had even managed to get past security with a badge for the Diabetes Expo next door.

The panel was opened immediately to Q&A (or at least as immediately as it could after the clowning and joking around with the panelists had settled down enough to take questions from the audience), and after the first few questions-that-weren’t-really-questions that always seem to crop up at these things (“I just wanted to say that I totally loved you in Giant Robots Fighting and am totally looking forward to Pretty Boy Harem Choice”). The first one was a question about whether there were any new Shadow Hearts video games coming. McGonnigal said that most games aren’t recorded in New York and none of them were associated with the company who makes Shadow Hearts, so he had no clue if or when there would be anything new. Taylor added that she just finished recording the voice for a DVD Trivial Pursuit game, but guessed that this wasn’t the kind of game the audience was really going to care about.

This led to a question about the difference between working in a video game and on a television series. Wayland said that the anime was usually dubbing/ADR rather than a “pre-lay” voice track, which is done before the animation is done and is standard practice for most video games or domestic cartoons. Thus, video games can give an actor more freedom, but it can also lead to moments where you record getting kicked in the stomach all day for a fighting game. Sinterniklaas added that a video game can have 10,000-50,000 lines of dialogue, compared to 350-500 for an average anime episode, often because of the branching storylines in a game, all of which need lines recorded. As a result, the work has to be done fast out of necessity. It can also lead to grueling recording sessions, such as the anecdotal session where Burt Reynolds had to halt a recording session with Rockstar Games for a Grand Theft Auto game. Lisa closed by adding that she had one session for Grand Theft Auto that started with recording getting hit by a baseball bat before moving on to a chainsaw, and eventually getting thrown off a hill. She figured they enjoyed finding lots of different ways to maim her.

One audience member asked Taylor if she had a favorite Pokémon. Her answer was Pikachu, and part of the reason why is that she loves listening to the Japanese actor who provides his voice, and how she can manage to evoke emotions and read every line differently even though it’s just a nonsense word.

Lisa Ortiz, Veronica Taylor, and Michael SinterniklaasAs always, there were tons of questions about how to break into the business. Taylor said that every voice actor has a voice tape that is sent in as the first step to getting an audition. She also stressed the importance of networking, since actors want to meet as many people who can cast them in something, and that classes in acting and voice acting were good ways to ensure you were ready when you got your shot. She said she knew since she was 5 that she wanted to be an actor, and took classes all through college and graduate school and constantly sought out work as an actor when she was getting started. Wayland added his perspective as a voice director in addition to being an actor, saying that staying busy was critical because the best way to find actors is through other actors. McGonnigal added that this was how he got into the business, with a musical in New Jersey leading to a gig at SciFi.com with Lisa Ortiz, which eventually led to anime dubbing with Mike Sinterniklaas.

The panelists also had a lot of good advice about what a demo tape should be. Lillis said that demos should for about a minute and should have as much diversity as possible. She suggested putting character stuff at the beginning, and not to do impressions or other cartoon characters (unless you’re actually well-known for being that cartoon character, like Bob Bergen as Porky Pig or Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh). Spending the money to get it professionally done is pretty much required, and getting other people to listen to it will also make sure that it sounds good. Speaking other languages can be done as a separate demo, and if you can do accents, you will need to be really good at it and one extra accent is enough. McGonnigal said that there are a lot of people who aren’t actors but make demos anyway because they think they’re really good at making up voices. He reminded the audience that the average agent or casting director has heard thousands of demos before, so yours really had to stand out to get their attention, and the best way to do that is through emotional honesty and core acting skills so you’re not just a guy “saying words with a funny voice.” Taylor suggested visiting voicebank.com, a resource for voice actors, which has lots of demos. Wayland’s last advice was not to send copies of your fandub work to the companies who sell the licensed anime. He said that fandubs can be a good way to sharpen your acting chops, but was definitely not something you wanted to send out as audition or demo material.

When asked for pointers on the “Who Wants to be a Voice Actor?” contest on Sunday, Wayland offered, “Follow the rules,” sticking to 60 seconds and not to get mad at him if you weren’t able to go. He also said not to hold back or feel self-conscious, since it’s easier for a director to ask an actor to take it down rather than keep trying to push the performance “up.” McGonnigal helpfully added, “Don’t suck” (good advice for all but an extremely small number of occupations). Finally, Sinterniklaas said that facial expressions and body language won’t help, unless you’re doing it to make your voice do more. He also said that recording and listening to your voice would be a good idea to hear what you sound like.

Jamie, Lisa, Veronica, and MichaelOne person asked what to do if you wanted to be an actor but were the shy type. Wayland’s self-described ******* response was, “If you’re shy, don’t be an actor.” He said you don’t have to be ON all the time (especially because those people are annoying), but that actors have to be uninhibited on stage, on camera, or on the microphone when they need to work. Bonhomme and Lillis both said that they were shy people naturally, but were able to turn that off in the recording booth. Lillis continued that she spent a lot of time alone talking into a tape recorder because she was a shy kid, and that this was part of what led to her interest in voice acting. She said that overcoming her shyness was a hard thing for her, but she just had to jump in and do it.

One audience member asked what the actors do when they don’t like something about the character, meaning physical aspects like the hairstyle or skin color (as in the character is green and you think it should be blue). Wayland said that if you want to work, you do what the boss says, and the actors don’t animate or write the shows usually, so even if they wanted Pikachu to be blue, that’s just too bad. Sinterniklaas joked, “Besides, don’t you guys hate it when they change stuff?” Wayland continued that there is room in a performance to discuss content or approaches to the material, with McGonnigal adding that actors were always at the bottom of the totem pole, and that 99 times out of 100, the actor had nothing to do with big creative decisions. Sinterniklaas said that on original shows, there is more room for back-and-forth on character development, noting that the Venture Bros. has grown well beyond what it started out to be, but that anime has already been done and finished and probably isn’t going to change for you. He did say that retrofitting an organic experience into something that’s already been done was the challenge and the joy of anime recording, and repeated a comment by Bob Bergen that it wasn’t fair that pre-lay recording pays so much better than anime ADR when the work is so much easier.

Many anime voice actors get minimal preparation for their roles before they begin recording, and one audience member asked whether the panelists preferred getting as much information as possibleabout their roles beforehand. Lillis said that some people make a point of watching the material in Japanese beforehand, but she doesn’t. For her role in Utena, she said she was glad she didn’t know how it ended, because sometimes knowing too much might make you play the role too much towards the ending. Taylor said sometimes this goes too far, since she had one role as a boy where she found out at the very end that the character was really a girl dressed as a boy. She complained to the director, “I wish you had told me that at the beginning!” but it turned out the director didn’t know either. Bonhomme said that sometimes, making an emotional connection with the character at the moment was more important than backstory or preparation. Wayland finished by saying that sometimes, research can be counter-productive, especially if the American producers want to do something different. He cited an example where Descendants of Darkness had “these undead flying chicken things,” and the original soundtrack sounded like, well, undead flying chicken things. However, the dub producers thought it would play better if they did something different, and opted for a deep, Barry White-type of voice.

I don't remember what Lisa said. But it was apparently pretty shocking.When asked how much money a voice actor makes for their work, the general answer was, “Not enough.” Taylor said that the way they were paid changed from studio to studio, and that one voice-over job would never pay your rent. Wayland said that making a living as an actor was difficult, making a living as a voice actor was very difficult, and making a living purely as an anime voice actor was nearly impossible. He also said that lots of voice actors do other work as well, either as actors or sometimes doing something else entirely different. Sinterniklaas added that most acting conservatories don’t take people fresh out of high school, since they’d prefer to have someone to have life experiences to draw on as actors.

The panel didn’t wrap up as much as it ran out of time, so the panelists thanked everyone for coming, and then spent time afterwards signing autographs for people and talking with their fans.

Return to Toon Zone News’ Coverage of the 2008 New York Anime Festival.

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