Otakon 2012: Toonzone Interviews Voice Director and Actor Michael Sinterniklaas
A veteran of the voice acting business, Michael Sinterniklaas has distinguished himself as an actor, ADR director and script writer. In the year 2000 he founded the recording studio NYAV Post, which has produced English dubs for a wide variety of animation such as The Venture Bros, Robotomy, Speed Racer: The Next Generation, Huntik: Secrets and Seekers, Kappa Mikey, Berserk, Giant Robo: The Animation, Jungle Emperor Leo, Freedom, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn and Welcome to the Space Show. Sinterniklaas himself has performed in a multitude of roles as a voice actor; his leading roles including Dean Venture in The Venture Bros, Leonardo in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, Ataru in Urusei Yatsura, Gai Shishio in GaoGaiGar: King of Braves, Takeru in Freedom, Moritaka Mashiro in Bakuman, and Kenji Koiso in Summer Wars. The titles he’s been involved in as a voice director include The Venture Bros, Ah! My Goddess, Robotomy, Slayers Revolution, Kurokami: The Animation and the French animated movies Mia and the Magoo and A Cat In Paris. As both an ADR script writer and and director, Sinterniklaas has been especially instrumental in the production of English dubs for Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Freedom, Berserk, Giant Robo: the Animation and Phoenix. At Otakon 2012, Toonzone News had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Sinterniklaas about some of his latest work, his sentiments regarding English dubbing and his experience working on the ambitious simultaneous localization job being done for Gundam Unicorn.
TOONZONE NEWS: I’d like to start with something timely. Your studio NYAV post co-produced a English Dub for A-1 Pictures’ Welcome to the Space Show, which came out in the UK recently. You were Kiyoshi, a pretty young and atypical role for you. What was it like working on a movie so dominated by this cast of very young kids?
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: That for me is the best part. Typically in animation adults will play kids. I’ve benefited from that in my career. Men tend to do teenagers, sometimes [characters] a little younger while women tend to do younger roles, the boy roles. From my experience working Mia and the Migoo, where I directed Whoopi Goldberg, Wallace Shawn, James Woods and Matthew Modine, we had some children in the cast as well. I loved working with them. He was quoted as my assistant director but Ned Lott, who is an epic producer of epicness who was responsible for the majority of Disney’s Miyazaki dubs, blessed me with a “you are great with kids, you’ve got the thing where you work with kids and they respond to you, and it’s great.” So I love working with children, I think there’s a huge benefit. It takes longer and can cost more because of that; it’s easiest working with a grown-up because they can just take your direction and understand your references to things. But for me, getting a child’s performance in a child’s role? There’s just an authenticity you’re not going to get anywhere else. So from that and working on Care Bears – I’m a Care Bear now, I play Funshine. Michaela Dean is a wonderful little actress and we get to stand next to each other and record, she is Wonderheart. I took her out for her 10th birthday and she’s cool, she’s a brilliant little actress. From Mia and the Magoo and from that, I decided that I needed to use real children in Welcome to the Space Show. So I brought Michaela in to do that, and Matthew Wayne was awesome. I think real kids in that movie makes it a lot more charming. And the movie’s really charming and sort of epic; I keep likening it to a Japanese Yellow Submarine.
TZN: For everybody in the U.S. who hasn’t seen it yet, what do you think makes this movie special?
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: From a design standpoint, there’s a lot of stuff you haven’t seen before. It’s super eye candy and the story sort of winds through all these things and it becomes a different movie from what it started out being. It starts off as one movie in a beautiful, picturesque countryside in Japan and then things go crazy off the rails and then it gets serious. My only concern is that it might be long for very young kids, but I think it’s so fascinating that it’s not boring. I think the performances from the kids are really charming and there’s so much new stuff going on all the time. It’s just this stream of consciousness adventure, it’s a trip.
TZN: It’s got that journey through space, calling back to Galaxy Express 999, going for inspiring this sense of wonder.
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: Yeah, absolutely. The kids during recording are like, “Whoa, what’s that? What’s that guy in the back doing?” and “Why is that guy transparent, how does he eat?!” and “How does the living space train work? Is it eating food for gas, is it farting through space?”
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: It was, and I don’t know if anyone’s picked it up for the U.S. yet, which is amazing. I went to MCM Expo in the UK and they were like “we win! We finally get a dub first!”. So it’s great for them. It’s a very different business model there.
TZN: So it’s pretty much open season in the U.S., so far as you know.
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: As far as I know yeah, I don’t know who’s got it yet. I’ve heard a couple people say they’re thinking about bidding on it but I don’t know who it’s going to be, and as far as I know it’s not been determined yet.
TZN: A challenging and still ongoing project for you has been Gundam Unicorn. With five episodes done and two to go, how do you perceive fan reception to it at this point?
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: I was actually pulled off the Sunrise panel to come do interviews so I can tell you right now at this moment: wow. We had a packed room of people going berserk. A number of Chars were in there, people started shouting “Sieg Zeon!” before the panel even started. One of the first things we showed was a video of the history of Gundam, which Sunrise had asked me to narrate a year ago. With every new title – there was Gundam Seed, there was Wing, there was Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, there was Turn A – and people were just cheering the whole time. I started shooting video halfway through because it was incredible, It was like a “response to the Beatles” response.
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: It’s so hard to tell – I remember War in the Pocket got “oh yeah, oh my gosh!” Unicorn, people were losing their minds. I really think they did it right with Unicorn. Butthead famously once said “the more things change, the more they suck.” And that can be the case, but this does not suck. It’s the Universal Century timeline with new production awesomeness, great mobile suits – episode 5 has the debut of the black Unicorn, the Banshee. The reception has been really incredible. In the panel I was talking to Loy Fruel, who was the MC of the panel, telling him “oh my gosh, people are loving it, it’s great.” I don’t know what to say, right now I’m a bit overwhelmed by the response that I got so I’m excited. Some of the production committee from Japan have been telling me that the next two episodes get really incredible.
TZN: How has it been working so closely with Sunrise on Gundam Unicorn? Have the circumstances of production changed with the downsizing of Bandai Entertainment?
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: From a production standpoint, it’s been basically the same. Akane Hagino is the Sunrise producer who comes from Japan for every recording. Our family has been me, Stephanie Sheh, Akane Hagino, Nobou Masuda. And then on speed dial we have Mark Simmons, a Gundam Ph.D. master. So, that work crew has been the same. In terms of promotion stuff it’s gotten a bit trickier, but distribution isn’t my side of it. It’s been a great experience and I’m so grateful I have the team that I have. We have a lot of trust with each other. Sometimes we’ll have an idea about the way something should be and they’ll correct us and we’ll say “oh, thanks for opening my eyes to that,” while sometimes we get to say “this is really going to seem sort of awkward” and they trust us to make it work. I’ve been told by a lot of people that it’s the strongest dub of a Gundam series. It was really important to me to make a dub of Gundam that wasn’t klugey in spots. There’s a lot of emotional stuff that is in the spirit of Gundam, there are moments where we get laughs when we screen it with big audiences. Like there’s Banagher saying, “I need her to need me!”, but that’s also a result of his not knowing he’s got other senses – I don’t want to use the word Newtype, but it’s the result of things that he’s feeling he can’t explain. So I really try to justify all that stuff organically and I couldn’t do that without support from them. It also matters to me very much – this is a thing for me – five years before I did my first project with Sunrise, I was going to producers in Japan and saying “we have to do simultaneous releases”. Not just subs, but full localization, and they said “it can’t be done”.
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: I wonder. I kept putting it out there so much. Toshifumi Yoshida reached out to me when he was working at Bandai; now he’s in charge of Pokémon localization. But he was like, “I know this is your thing, it’s going to be a hell of a lot of work, are you up to it?” And I was like, “This is what I’ve been trying to do for five years, I think it’s important to help save the industry, but no one wants to take a chance.” So he says, “Well, I think we can do it with this one, it’s going to be a simultaneous broadcast so it can’t mess up.” I said, “It won’t”, and it didn’t. There were days I got the final video the day we had to air, and we made it. It was a 26-episode series called Kurokami, and that was how I met Akane Hagino. We worked together and realized it could be done, and I think that might have been their attempt at seeing if it could be done for Gundam. So because of that we’re now doing it for Gundam and NYAV Post is the only studio that’s done this, and it’s a lot of work. We are fine-tuning it. I don’t want to jinx anything but on episode 5, it was so smooth, even though I was busy – I’m working on Peter Rabbit for Nickelodeon right now, and that’s been a lot of work. But even with other stuff going on at the same time, at the end of every day of recording – we had only a week to record – we were like “is that it? The sun’s still up!” We couldn’t believe how easy it was, and it came out great. I saw it screened at Anime Expo and it was super well received. I was getting emotional watching it, getting caught up in the moments. I couldn’t be happier or prouder or more grateful that I’ve been working with the people from Sunrise. They’ve been awesome, and it’s a lot of trust for them. With the way Japanese and American business is done and the need to do this so much on the fly, it doesn’t seem like something that would work on paper but it’s been working harmoniously and beautifully.
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: When I started doing anime work in North Carolina for Bubblegum Crisis – this is AnimEigo, this is old school – one of the things that brought me to it was being a huge fan of it anyway, but also wondering why it turned out so awkward. I had a classical theater background and I was used to working with an unfamiliar language and extreme situations. But I wondered if I could use my background to help make dubs not so weird. So that was stage one. Doing original western animation is completely different, you get to have a little more influence on the part you do because it hasn’t been drawn yet. A lot of little things that we do on Care Bears, for instance, and certainly in Ninja Turtles, has influenced the direction of those shows. There are so many micro decisions that you make in the moment as an actor. Because of that, it’s easier to make things sound organic while in an anime dub it’s much harder because everything’s been locked in, and you have to conform to those choices. But especially with the work I’ve been doing with celebrities and children like in big feature films like Mia and the Magoo and A Cat In Paris, which received an Oscar nomination for best animated feature this past year, I’m trying to bring that style to anime more so it’s not so projected and there’s more history and humanity. It’s tricky, but my aesthetic has evolved because of all these things.
TZN: Out of everything you’ve done, what do you think of as your most memorable project?
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: Oh my God, that’s really tough. Okay, so Leonardo from TMNT was the longest thing that I’ve done, so that’s very close to my heart. For anime, Berserk was a series I did eleven years ago, and now there are a series of three films that I was very fortunate to be asked to direct. Venture Bros is a huge part of my life now. I’m about as dorky as Dean, unfortunately. That is really close to my heart because that role is dangerously close to my personality. I love the guys that do it and I’ve met some really cool people because of it, and working with Adult Swim has been pretty cool. Freedom was a Sunrise dub that I worked on that I loved. People should see it, it’s great. It was a six-episode OVA that, because of fan outrage, got a seventh episode. Now with Gundam Unicorn we thought we could fit it all into six episodes, and now we have to put in a seventh episode because there’s too much in the books.
TZN: In closing, are there any projects you’re working on right now that you’d like to plug?
MICHAEL SINTERNIKLAAS: Care Bears is on The Hub right now and I’m really proud of it; I liked Care Bears as a kid and I like it now. I’m super excited about the Berserk movies, those are epic and we got the original cast back. Peter Rabbit will be premiering this Christmas and we’ve got amazing kids in that. Gundam Unicorn, we only have two more episodes to go and I don’t want it to end, but please support that. I know it’s on Blu-ray and not cheap, but I think it’s important to the future of how things are produced. If they think it’s a failure, then we’re not going to see more releases like that. I’m also working on a movie called The Nighters, where Debbie Harry is playing my mother.
Toonzone News would like to express its gratitude to Mr. Sinterniklaas for taking the time to do this interview. Fans can follow him at @MSinter on twitter.