Supanova Perth 2009
Five minutes with Chris Sabat

by Shasta Calvo, Jul 21st 2009

During the recent Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Perth we had a opportunity to interview Chris Sabat who is famous for voicing Vegeta (and others) in Dragon Ball Z, Louis Armstrong in Fullmetal Alchemist, Roronoa Zoro in One Piece and Daisuke Jigen in Lupin the Third. Not to mention his long career in directing anime for western localization. So without further ado, Chris Sabat!

Chris Sabat: (Reading the interviewer's questions, upside down and the wrong side of the sheet) Which one of these do I want to answer?

ANN|AU: No these aren't for you, they're for Spike Spencer. I could ask you what you think of being Spike Spencer, Frickin' Genius, if you like.

Chris Sabat: Umm, it's a tough job being Spike. He has a lot to live up to, I mean his name and all, Spike. It just has a hard edge appeal to it and if he doesn't live up to that, like, it's just tough.

ANN|AU: No, you've got to be careful giving your kids names like Spike.

Chris Sabat: You can't name 'em Spike or Toughness or like Huge Johnson or something like that. That's a terrible, terrible name to give a child.

ANN|AU: And then they wind up voicing Shinji Ikari the rest of their life.

Chris Sabat: Yeah, exactly.

ANN|AU: So, tell me about the general process of voice acting, how do you go about dubbing an anime?

Chris Sabat: Cool, I know more about this process than other people.

ANN|AU: Yes, as you're a director and a voice actor.

Chris Sabat: And I happen to be probably about the fifth employee at Funimation and probably the second employee that wasn't related to someone in the company. So I'm intimately familiar with the process because I've actually had to do a little of all of it, with the exception of translation.

In a nutshell, I'll speak in terms of Funimation here, they'll get the Japanese episodes, get the contract to do the episodes, then they'll get the Japanese materials in and send them off to translators, and the translators translate literally what is happening on the screen. They get the translations back and then they time-code the video so you can have a time code reference for the whole movie. So if you need to get to any specific part in the anime you can just say go to, you know, 01000525 and five frames or something like that. They send that time coded video and the translation off to writers.

A lot of them actual actors too and the head writers are people like John Burgmeier who is Tien Shenhan in Dragon Ball Z and Kurama in Yū Yū Hakusho and he does a ton of other work. Eric Vale is another head writer as well. They take those translations and they watch the video and make the translation into something that makes a lot more sense in English and also makes a lot more sense for the mouth movements as well, that's their gig.

When that's done it's sent back to Funimation, Funimation then either hires it out to a studio like mine or they do it in house and you hire a director, a engineer and blah blah blah. Then you cast it, call the actors in, you record them, record the actors one at a time and you then review it, hope everything works, cross your fingers and send it off.

ANN|AU: I hear it used to take about three days to record a episode, is that still accurate?

Chris Sabat: Yeah, two and a half, three days. It really depends on the type of episode and how far into the series you are, like at the beginning. I think I was the one who came up with that estimate originally because I think if you average it out it takes about 35 hours but it takes about 25 hours once you average it all out over time. So yeah it's pretty easy. I say a day and a half it would be very difficult for you to schedule all those actors in perfectly like that. So typically you would work on anywhere from four to six episodes at a time, sometimes you work on all the whole series, like thirteen episodes or twenty six.

ANN|AU: If it's short, if it's not Dragon Ball.

Chris Sabat: Yes, if it's not Dragon Ball which is a dreadfully long winded process.

ANN|AU: Dragon Ball Kai, have you heard of that?

Chris Sabat: I have, I don't know exactly how Funimation is going to handle it, but I do know that they're discussing right now exactly what the details are. but I do know they're leaning towards rewriting it and redubbing it completely from scratch.

ANN|AU: Which is what the Japanese have been doing, well, not rewriting it but redubbing it.

Chris Sabat: Well in Funimation's defense the scripts that came in originally for the Dragon Ball series was terrible. And it wasn't the scriptwriters fault, it was the translations we were getting, they were awful, so bad. They were just photocopied pages from the original Japanese translator and even the translations were in such Engrish we couldn't tell what was going on.

ANN|AU: It was very early days as far as dubbing anime was concerned.

Chris Sabat: It was the earliest days.

ANN|AU: Sailor Moon and Pokémon definitely predate that by a fairly significant time.

Chris Sabat: They do but maybe not on television.

ANN|AU: Over here they did.

Chris Sabat: Oh, ok, in America they were what Funimation was trying to do at first. And it was a noble process and it was trying to turn Dragon Ball Z into an American cartoon. That worked really well and I think it was part of Dragon Ball Z's success, but now that were given these options to redub it. Funimation I know, because Justin Cook is now the producer over there. They're really going to try and do it the way I think the Japanese would have intended, keep it very Japanese friendly, maybe recast some new people. We'll see.

ANN|AU: so they're definitely picking up the rights, that will be interesting.

Chris Sabat: I mean if it doesn't happen how I have said it, everything I say is subject to change and I don't work in house over there.

ANN|AU: Americanization of Japanese cartoons, what is your opinion?

Chris Sabat:I have a mixed opinion on that, I think there's something good about Americanizing Japanese cartoons, because there's something good and bad about it. When people do it poorly it sucks, when people do it well it works and I think that some people are not smart enough to handle anime the way it was originally intended. I think as a gateway into appreciating the art of it, I don't think it's bad necessarily to craft a little bit around parts of the story that American people wouldn't be able to handle, because if you're a fan of the original Japanese translation when the episode is released, you get a translation and you get a subtitle track. And technically when you watch a foreign film you watch the subtitle track, the only time I watch a dub is when I want to make fun of it.

Now anime is something unique because the series are really long winded, I don't know if I can handle watching one hundred episodes all subtitled all the time. So it's kind of nice to be able to relax your eyes and be able to just listen and watch the art on the screen rather than having to read that the whole time. And some just work better, especially the faster paced shows like Fruits Basket.

ANN|AU: I'll admit that I like the dub for that, and that's not a sentence that comes from my mouth too often.

Chris Sabat: It's an awesome dub

ANN|AU: Yeah, it was really well done

Chris Sabat: I think it's Funimation's first truly good dub.

ANN|AU would like to thank Madman Entertainment and Supanova Pop Culture Expo for the opportunity to spend five minutes with Chris Sabat. Most importantly we would like to thank Shasta Calvo for coming onboard to conduct the interview and prepare this article for publication. Let us know what you think on the forums! - Ed


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