So this past Saturday, I arose at a ridiculously early hour of the morning, piled myself and a few cans of energy drink into my car, and vroomed off northward to, as Laugh-In used to call it, "Beautiful Downtown Burbank" to attend an all-day workshop on voice acting for anime, put on by Bang Zoom! Entertainment, a post-production studio that is a major player in anime dubbing.
I'd first heard about these "Adventures in Voice Acting" workshops at San Diego Comic-con this past July, where Bang Zoom! put on a heavily-attended panel-discussion/intro workshop. That earlier workshop impressed the hell out of me not only because the BZ folks hauled an entire Automated Dialog Replacement (ADR) system down to San Diego for the gig, but had the panel MC'ed by Tony Oliver--veteran voice actor/director/writer with a bazillion credits to his name, but best known to Lupin III fangeeks like yours truly for voicing Lupin in the US releases of the second series and Mystery of Mamo. (And he also happens to be my personal favorite of the English-language Lupins.)
So I saved up a little extra room on the ol' credit card, and when one of the all-day workshops in Burbank landed on a weekend I had free, I ponied up the dough.
The studio where we met for the workshop was in an unassuming little brick building tucked into a side-street full of warehouses. A half-dozen students gathered that morning--about half the normal enrollment, which turned into a real boon for those of us attending because we got twice as much studio on-mic time as we would have gotten otherwise. Tony turned out to be a great teacher--warm, encouraging, unassuming, entertaining, and extremely generous with his huge pile of knowledge and experience. His big emphasis was on voice acting being as much about the art of acting as the mastery of the technology involved, and he encouraged us to get as much experience in just straight acting as possible, in addition to whatever specifically voice-acting opportunities we could network and weasel our way into.
The technology, though, was hardly neglected. After a couple of hours going over some basics of classic acting technique (proper breathing and vocal technique, Method and other ways of getting into the character, cold-reading scripts to make the lines come alive), we all piled into the studio. The control room was totally on computer--the engineer worked everything from a ProTools setup. The sound booth was set up for ADR, with a big screen for displaying the anime clip to be worked on, with the timestamp numbers speeding by across the top, and in front of it the big super-expensive super-sensitive mic, a music stand for the script, and your headphones.
One after another, we all took turns dubbing lines into the ADR system. The routine: the engineer previews the scene you're about to dub your character's lines into, so you can see the characters' expressions and non-verbals and hear what the original Japanese voice actor did. Then he cues up the scene again, you hear three beeps over your headphones, and where the fourth beep should have gone, that's where you start talking. It is much more difficult than it looks--you're listening for those beeps, watching your character's mouth flaps and trying to match your words to them, and also trying to relax and be in character while you're doing all this. All I can say is, yeah, I'm glad the class was underenrolled even though that was definitely a financial hit for the studio, because it wasn't until my third time on mic that I felt like I was getting beyond all the pat your head/rub your tummy coordination issues and doing anything even vaguely resembling real acting.
But Tony was, as I said, very encouraging throughout. He definitely gave critique, but it was some of the most constructive encouraging critique I've ever gotten in a critique situation. For instance, it became obvious within a couple of character choices that I was running into a few of my long-standing issues with acting and vocalization--1) that I identify much more easily with rowdy, tomboyish, or even boyish characters than I do with traditional femmy female characters; 2) paradoxically, that I have to work to find a hard cutting edge to my voice as opposed to a rounded, soft, blending sound; and 3) that I could use a hell of a lot of work on breath regulation. Yup, he noticed all of them thar issues right off. I'se got some work to do!
But by the end of the day, I felt that I did have a few things going for me in this voice-acting thang, enough to think that I'm not 100% off my rocker in trying to pursue this dream. And between several of the suggestions Tony gave for pursuing the dream, and a couple other ideas I brainstormed on my own, I'm psyched to give it a go. There's an improv group, for instance, I could audition for (provided I get control of my Wednesday workload since the group meets Wednesday nights); there are also a couple of community radio stations I might be able to talk my way onto. Hell, I could look into being a volunteer reader for one of those books-on-tape organizations for the visiually impaired--they apparently have a screaming need for readers who can hack technical books, and hey, it's on-air time in a studio.
So ... I've got options, and I've got some homework to do, and because of this workshop I feel jazzed about keeping on with it. Sounds like a worthwhile experience to moi!