INTERVIEW: Keeping English Dubbing Alive In The Wake Of COVID-19

English voice actors adjust to remote dubbing sessions and recording anime from their homes


Image via Hidive


With the state of emergency affecting the rate of production in Japan, the anime industry has taken steps to become operational once again, but under new safety guidelines. Part of those safety guidelines includes changing the setup for voice recordings. In Japan, voice actors will typically work in groups where they will all record an episode in the studio together, but that's not really an option right now in a COVID-19 world. Instead, Japanese voice actors have had to downsize when it comes to voice recordings, and are now recording multiple episodes one actor at a time. While this is a big change for the dubbing industry in Japan that will require some time to adjust to, this method of recording is actually the standard in the States. So, if Japanese voice actors are adjusting to the way English voice actors record anime, then how are English voice actors recording during the COVID-19 pandemic? The answer is ... remotely.


Adapting To Remote Recordings


At the time this article is written, other countries have slowly begun to open back up, however, some businesses and industries in the U.S. remain closed. Businesses like the dubbing industry have had to adapt to different methods in order to continue to operate. When it came time to conduct remote voiceover sessions, some voice actors found themselves ready — or at least somewhat ready. Like voice actress Faye Mata (KonosubaThe Rising of the Shield Hero). "I wasn't super prepared, but I had looked into recording remotely before we were all forced into that hikikomori (shut-in) life so I had a general idea of what I'd need. I guess it gave me a reason to finally take the leap." 


Other voice actors, on the other hand, weren't as prepared for work-from-home life, as was the case for voice actress Laura Stahl (Welcome To Demon School Irumi-Kun, The Promised Neverland). "Oh, I was soooo not prepared!" says Stahl. "At the time I was working off of an 'all-in-one' monitor/computer, auditioning with a very basic USB mic. I had never had a remote record session before. Not to mention I didn't have the chance to go home and work on changing that situation for over a month into lockdown. I was staying with a friend for a little while. The whole thing was anxiety-inducing."


Having to quickly adapt to the new workflow didn't just mean recording from home. It also meant voice actors having to create an environment in their living space that is optimal for voice overwork. Voice actor Chris Hackney, (Tower of God, Fire Emblem: Three Houses) explains, "When we had to stop going into studios, it was a mad dash to try and get a decent enough acoustic setup in my home so that I could hopefully be up to an acceptable standard to the studios."

Voice actors have the tough challenge of creating a space that could produce audio equivalent to that of audio produced in a sound studio. Depending on space and funds, for some actors that meant building/investing in a recording booth, for others, it meant soundproofing a space in their homes, such as closets! Voice actor Robbie Daymond, (Sailor Moon, The God of High School) took to Twitter to show fans a handcrafted recording booth complete with custom framework and ventilation system. 



Mata explains, "I went through a breakup just before lockdown and went into full work mode, buying and upgrading my home studio and a streaming setup because I was determined to stay positive and be successful rather than stew in sad panda mode." In a YouTube video, Mata takes fans on a virtual tour of Porygon-Q, a prebuilt Studiobricks One Plus booth. "I used to record in my closet," says Mata. "But realizing how long we'd be out of studios, I didn't want to gamble anymore on neighbors taking random showers at like 4 PM (those SHHHHH water sounds are brutal). Also, I don't want them to think I'm murdering people all the time. My roommate has received texts from the neighbors asking if everything's alright because they heard screeching and yelling." Porygon-Q is equipped with various microphones for animation, video games, and commercials, "[Thick] squishy pads people stand on while washing dishes that genius moms probably invented so I don't get tired standing during long sessions, and a scented unlit candle so it always smells nice," explains Mata. 



As previously mentioned, due to each actor's unique circumstance, every setup is different. "My recording space is in my bedroom," says Stahl. "I have a solid-state mini gaming pc mounted to the wall behind my desk, two monitors for ease of dubbing, carpets on the floor and foam on the ceiling to dampen noise — and I suppose the most unique thing about my space is that I ran a track in a U shape on my ceiling around my desk and hung sound blankets from them." This home studio sounds pretty original, and Stahl had a lot to think of when creating her space. "I considered using my closet, but it's not very large and would've been cramped and uncomfortable, which is a distraction for acting. I didn't want to use the common areas for ease of living for my housemates, and I didn't have an [exorbitant] amount of money or time to spend on something like a true booth. This seemed the most [efficient], and cost-effective solution."


Creating a home space conducive for voice recordings was the first part of the remote recording process for actors. The next step would be working with studios on what is needed to conduct smooth recording sessions. Dubbing studios like Funimation gave fans a sneak peek into how they conduct their remote recordings with the release of My Hero Academia Episode 84. In a Twitter post, ADR director Colleen Clinkenbeard describes Funimation's remote process where special dub kits were sent to the cast. She also shows fans an iPad with the software to be used for the session which Clinkenbeard describes as a "mini little Pro Tools." When it comes time to actually record from home, "It gets easier the more you work with each production house," says Stahl. "They [studios] do each have their own particular way they want to do things — and the first session with a client since lockdown began is always a little nerve-wracking. Then you start to get into the groove of how you need to prepare for each session depending on who you're working with that day."



SDI Media, the studio who dubbed DEVILMAN Crybaby, discusses workflow and tips for voice actors when setting up their recording space in a recently published article. With each studio taking a different approach, Chris Hackney finds that "Most studios are using some combination of Zoom/Skype/Etc to talk to me while I record and then there's various professional methods to stream the high-quality audio back to the studio. A bad Internet connection means you could also blow a perfect take, so it's a lot to think of. The other weird thing is sort of doing my own engineering, where I'll have to think 'Oh, this line is going to get kind of loud,' so I may have to manually control that so we don't blow a take. It's a brave new world for us all, but I'm happy to make it work." We can only imagine the extra level of difficulty added to each recording session now that voice actors need to become more cognizant of not only their performance but the technical results. While this must be difficult for the VAs, it does make sense seeing as everyone involved in the production of dubbing has to go the extra mile to continue to operate — including the audio engineers. "Bless the engineers right now," Hackney says. "Because they have the Herculean task of making all of us sound like we recorded in the same space."


The Challenges Of Remote Recordings

Maybe you used to think recording anime voice-overs from your home seemed like a dream. But now we know it doesn't come without its challenges. Studios are specifically designed for conducting smooth and efficient recordings blocking out any and all noise from the outside, but every actor's remote space presents its own obstacles that need to be worked through. Dangers to a solid recording session can be cars passing by, aircrafts traveling overhead, unexpected maintenance work, or lawnmowers, just to name a few. For Chris Hackney, it's "Trash day and my kids! Myself — and I know many others — just don't have the kind of money or space to build something top-of-the-line like at a studio, so we're at the mercy of whatever the world has to throw at us. Trash day? Gotta wait for them to leave or schedule around it. My kids play a little too loud? Blown take. Everyone's doing their best to make this work, and I'm thankful for the patience."


Tower of God's Khun


Remote recordings definitely present their fair share of challenges, but does working from home mean more work overall? "100 percent," says Mata. "As far as working in LA goes, eliminating the wait in traffic for two hours every session gave me more time in my day! ... to be even more of [a] workaholic." For others, the answer is a little more complicated because once again, every voice actor's situation is different. "Actually I try to limit how many sessions I put into a day, or at least space them out well because I share this living space," says Stahl. "I can't ask my roommates not to leave the house between the hours of 9-4 PM just because I live over the garage. Nor can I ask my roommate who works in the office by my room to whisper in all of his Zoom meetings and phone calls. And I don't want to leave my air conditioning off for 6-8 hours in August. I try to be [courteous] to my housemates."


Is the Future of English Dubbing Remote?

With the prolonged closures, no one really knows when English dubbing will become fully operational at studios again. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the virus, and with actors and studios adjusting to this new way of dubbing, it begs the question if the dubbing industry will adopt remote recordings permanently. For Chris Hackney, the answer is, "Not at all. The current environment is a fine substitute for the time being, but having a studio full of talent and the creative team can't be beat."

But this doesn't mean all talent are anxious to get back in the studio. "I see a healthy mixture of both," says Mata. "Some people have been recording remotely for a long time. When the US gets its ship together and it's safe to record in the same studio again, that is honestly best for audio consistency as far as space + equipment goes ... but even then, it's possible to adapt." And Stahl? "I think it's going to be a mixture. I do think many projects will go back to in-person recording. But at the same time, the fact that many actors have improved their home setups for this situation widens the talent pool. If a show that's produced in LA really wants an actor who's living in Atlanta now — it's more feasible. Or perhaps, if there are some actors that wouldn't consider a supporting role because it may not be worth the commute from say the OC to Burbank to them — now maybe they can negotiate. Only time will tell."


The COVID-19 virus has caused worry and disruption on a global scale. Many are unsure when things will return to normal, and even when they do, will businesses continue to operate under the safety guidelines implemented during the pandemic, or will they try to return to the same workflow as once before? As Stahl said, "Only time will tell." But until then, great job to all the voice actors, studio staff, and recording engineers who are working hard to keep bringing anime to the fans!

What are your thoughts on the English dubbing industry's remote recording process? Let us know in the comments!


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To keep up with their work, you can follow Laura StahlChris Hackney, and Faye Mata on social media. 


Pro hero Veronica Valencia is an anime-loving hot sauce enthusiast! You can follow more of her work as a host, writer, and producer on Twitter and Instagram.

Do you love writing? Do you love anime? If you have an idea for a features story, pitch it to Crunchyroll Features!

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