Anime and Video Game dubbing in the ’90s: Interview with Les and Mary Claypool.

Introduction

Younger readers may have not heard of the couple, but in the early 1990s, Les and Mary Claypool have worked on many anime and Japanese video games like Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, and Dot Hack. From working with Mamoru Oshii to working on various video game franchises, they’ve done it all. The two kindly had a conversation with me about the post process, the making of Ghost in the Shell and the differences of dubbing back then and now.

How did you get into ADR work for anime?

My name is Les Claypool. I was the owner/operator of Magnitude 8 Post studios from 1989 to 2016. I started dubbing anime in January of 1992 and ended up owning multiple studios in two locations where we worked on over a thousand episodes, movies, trailers, and games. A few titles include AKIRA, APPLESEED, ARMITAGE, BIG O, BLACK JACK, CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO, COWBOY BEBOP, DEVIL MAY CRY, DOT HACK, GIANT ROBO, GHOST IN THE SHELL,

GitS: INNOCENCE, SOLID STATE SOCIETY, and the STAND ALONE COMPLEX series, GUYVER (including composing the Dark Hero music score), MACROSS PLUS, NINJA SCROLL, RESIDENT EVIL 5, STREETFIGHTER, TRI-GUN, AND WOLF’S RAIN.

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Guyver 2: Dark Hero (1994)

Mary: 

My name is Mary Claypool, and I have been an ADR writer since 1994. ADR stands for automated dialog replacement, another term for dubbing. I write English language dubbing scripts that replace the original dialog of a project that originated in a language other than English. A few of the anime and game titles I have worked on include GIANT ROBO, WINGS OF HONNEAMISE, GHOST IN THE SHELL, the STAND ALONE COMPLEX series, COWBOY BEBOP, CODE GEASS, DOT HACK, DEVIL MAY CRY, BUSHIDO BLADE, AND RESIDENT EVIL: DEGENERATION.

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Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening (2005)

How did you get into ADR work for anime?

Les:

It’s actually quite a long story that I go into at length in one of our convention guest panels.

The extremely short version is that I was a guitar player in several hard rock bands (and NOT the bassist of Primus…lol) from the late 70s until the mid-80s. Then my songwriting partner and I started buying recording gear for our little garage rehearsal room to record the songs that we were writing.

This eventually morphed into my anime career completely by accident. I had a close friend who was making a short film and he wanted me to compose the music and do the sound for his film. This led to me researching post-production audio equipment, borrowing money, buying gear, building a voiceover booth, and learning how to lock audio to video. That same friend eventually introduced me to a Japanese producer, Ken Iyadomi, who had started dubbing Japanese animation into English at another, far less competent, garage studio, with completely unacceptable results. I didn’t even know what anime was when we started dubbing it in my little garage studio.

Mary: 

Long story: I worked many years as a production coordinator in the movie industry specifically for visual, physical, and make-up effects. I met and began dating Les in 1992, and we quickly became an item. In 1994, Les and I were living in my Sherman Oaks condo when the Northridge earthquake hit. The quake destroyed my home and most of my possessions. This was a real game-changer for me, as I had wanted to leave the arena of live-action film production for a job in which I didn’t have to work 25/8. Plus, Les and I were planning to marry, start a family, and I was itching to do something creative. It so happened that Les’ audio post-production studio was located in a facility that the owner intended to transform into shooting stages for film and video productions. Les recommended me to him, I was hired instantly, and I went to work for both him and Les.

I assisted Les with running his studio while I turned the facility into Laurel Canyon Stages, Inc.

I still work there today as the company’s rental manager.

Shortly after I took on my new positions, I overheard Kevin Seymour, the ADR director for the projects being dubbed at Magnitude 8, that he desperately needed more ADR scriptwriters. This was the creative opportunity I was hoping for. Writing has been a passion of mine since childhood. I studied Journalism and English Literature in college with the intention of plying my craft. I hit Kevin up for a chance to write for him. Dubious, he reluctantly let me cut my teeth on episode 3 of GIANT ROBO. To both our surprise, it turned out well. He gave me another script to write. Then another. Then I became his #1 writer. Kevin was my mentor and friend until he passed away in 2014.

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Ghost in the Shell (1995)

How was the process of working on the movie Ghost in The Shell?

Les:

Crazy to say the least. Mary and I actually have a two-hour convention panel that’s dedicated to our experiences on this one project alone. Initially, it was simply another job on the calendar and my first question was “what’s a Ghost in the Shell?” Once we started to get the first video versions we realized that it was going to be a pretty cool film. Casting it was the usual process of open auditions with a lot more people than usual having an opinion about who should play whom. From an audio standpoint, the sound FX from Japan were, unfortunately, not up to the quality level of the picture. I decided that I would take it upon myself to layer in a ton of new sound FX (yet never cover the original Japanese crew’s work) with our relatively new, $30,000.00 Pro Tools editing system. Later in the project, I spoke to the highly appreciative Japanese Supervising Sound Editor who told me that he had wanted to upgrade his studio and sound FX library as well but didn’t have the time due to Ghost’s deadline. He thanked me for all of my hard work on the FX that I had added. Ghost was definitely one of those projects that you look back on and realize that it was amazing that it even got finished, let alone on time!

Mary: 

GitS was the most challenging script I’ve ever written. It was also the most rewarding and memorable. I’m immensely proud of my work on this project. I had only been an ADR writer for a little over a year, and suddenly, I was approached by Kevin Seymour and one of the Bandai producers, Ken Iyadomi, to write the dubbing script for this seminal and prestigious feature. It seemed like everything happened in the blink of any eye. Within two weeks of being informed that I was going to be the GitS ADR writer, I flew to Tokyo with Ken Iyadomi and Laurence Guinness, a Manga Entertainment UK producer, to discuss the script with famed filmmaker, Mamoru Oshii. We spent one week of intense meetings poring over every detail of the film and the translation to ensure that I would provide an accurate English rendition of this seminal title. Oshii wanted assurance that the writer would maintain the characterizations and story points of the original.

As soon as I returned to Los Angeles, I hit the ground running. I was handed a thin and very literal translation, a time-coded copy of the movie that had been re-recorded onto an old VHS tape which was extremely grainy, and given two weeks in which to write the English localization. I was in panic mode, as was everyone else.

The movie had not been finished, and some scenes were still being animated. Some scenes had hand-drawn temporary slugs as placeholders until the final animation arrived later to replace them. Dialog questions went back and forth between us and Japan, and I was writing around certain scenes until answers came in. In one long scene, I could only see the back of a character’s head as he spoke, which is a luxury for an ADR writer—no lip-sync to worry about. I wrote the dialog to fit the time length only to learn later that the poor quality tape I was using did not show the reflection of the character’s face in a glass window—all his dialog had lip sync! The upset director hauled me into the recording studio to play the scene that was being viewed from a high-quality tape to show me the problem. I had to hurriedly write the entire scene on the fly while the actor took a break. No pressure…

A few scenes had dialog that didn’t make a lot of sense or they simply refused to fit into the time given for the character to speak. I came up with some custom lines that were not in the original movie, and they obviously passed muster, because no one objected.

How was it working with Mamoru Oshii?

Les: 

I didn’t really have any interaction with Oshii-san until he and the key members of his crew flew out to attend the final mix sessions, then things became “quietly contentious” to say the least. While his sound editor would covertly lean back and give me a thumb’s up on the numerous sound FX that I had added, Oshii wasn’t used to hearing his movie that way and was constantly having me remove the new FX much to his sound editor’s chagrin. This actually turned into a full-blown fight with me threatening to quit during the “big gun” scene. I had created all kinds of new FX for that scene to make the “big gun” joke work and Oshii, not understanding the English humor of that line, wanted to remove them all. After much unpleasantness and some less than gracious language on my part, he allowed my enhanced FX to stay. Of course, yet again, his sound editor quietly leaned back and gave me a smile and a big thumbs up!

Mary: 

During the week of meetings I had with Oshii in Japan, he was businesslike and stoic. He neither smiled nor frowned. He also spoke through a translator the entire time and never addressed me or looked at me directly. I felt a bit slighted, especially since I was the only female present. During our script discussions, we came to a scene that lingers on a basset hound. Not being familiar with Oshii and his fondness for his pet Basset, I asked him what the significance of the dog was. He simply shrugged his shoulders and moved on to the next scene. I thought he was being coy with his refusal to explain the dog, and no one else in the room offered clarification. In a later meeting, the dog came up again, and once more I asked him about the meaning of the dog. Again he shrugged! I got annoyed that time. At the conclusion of our meetings on the last day as everyone is bowing and saying good-bye, I turned to the director and said, “Oshii-san, I am not leaving Japan until I know what the dog is all about.” I noticed that he understood me without the use of his translator. He motioned everyone out of the room except for me then turned to open the door of his private office behind the area where we held our meetings. He motioned for me to follow him. Intrigued and a little unnerved, I walked into his office. There on the wall directly opposite the door were dozens of photos of his basset hound! I smiled and laughed, “Oh! It’s your dog!”

His normally blank face broke into a giant grin, and he gushed in English, “She just have puppies!” How adorable is that?! I also noticed one small, framed photo on his desk of who I assumed were his wife and daughter. The man has priorities. Hah!

What were the processes of ADR scripting and audio post like the 1990s compared to now?

Les:

The recording, sound design, and mixing processes were completely different in the early 90s compared to how we were working when I closed the studios in 2016. Early on it was all analog audio tape machines, with a limited amount of tracks, “locked” to very expensive video decks via time code, using equally expensive synchronizers. There were no computers to edit the dialog, so there were a few years of releases where the dialog performances and sync were exactly what the actors had done in the booth. No moving lines around or cutting and pasting performances in those days. We didn’t even have ADR “beeps” to let the actors know when to begin speaking. They had to guess the start times of their dialog by reading the time code window that flies by on the bottom of the TV screen! Madness when looking back at it now…lol!

The final mixes were all done by hand with no automation. You simply had to keep going over an entire section of the show until you finally got it right, or close enough, since there was always a deadline hanging over your head.

Even when we started to get computer systems for sound design and editing, hard drive space was so expensive that we would lay the work from the computer onto a tape and then permanently delete all of the data to make room for the next project. In those early days a few GBs of storage could cost thousands of dollars. The technology slowly evolved to having digital tape decks, digital picture machines, and more and more digital editing stations. Eventually it all evolved to a point where everything, including picture, was in the computer systems.

Mary: 

Remember VHS tapes? That’s what I worked with. I played the tapes on a big heavy commercial deck that allowed me to manually toggle frame by frame so that I could start dialog at the exact moment a character began to speak. I watched the animation on a separate TV monitor. It was so tedious and prehistoric, no comparison with the software and computer simplicity available today. Nowadays, all you need is a laptop. But I will say that, even though it was a clumsy process, I was pulled into it. I used to enter and adjust my own time code, something most writers hate doing, and I was OCD anal retentive with sync. I loved that damned toggle wheel that allowed me to move frame… by frame… by frame… Yeah, I’m weird that way.

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Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

In the sequel, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, there were a lot of quotations from philosophers such as Voltaire, were they created through localization or from the original script?

Les: N/A

Mary: 

All philosophical and literary references in Innocence were derived from the translation that I was provided. My English literature background came in handy on this one. I wanted to ensure that the references were accurate and written in a manner that did not make the characters sound stiff or pretentious. Your typical Section 9 team member doesn’t normally expound on such lofty subjects, but in the context of the movie, it worked. I’ve written a few anime projects that were steeped in classical literature, mythology, and music, which required me to bone up on my Dante’s Divine Comedy, and ancient Greek gods, and Wagner. Keeps me on my toes.

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Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008)

When working on media based on existing properties like Resident Evil: Degeneration. Did you have to work with set guidelines for characters or did you have some leeway in terms of dialogue?

Les: N/A

Mary: 

Honestly, this was my least favorite project. Writing for games is very different from writing for films or shows. The games I’ve written were rapidly animated with computer graphics. The characters’ mouths were mushy and difficult to make out; sometimes, there was nothing more than a moving blob. The length and the dialog is key, not sync. I had to write dialog using a stopwatch in order to make sure that what I wrote matched the exact timing of the Japanese dialog. The actor had to adjust his or her speed while voicing the English dialog. Sometimes a line would need to be adjusted, lengthened, or shortened according to how quickly or slowly the actor was able to speak.

I wanted to spice up my dialog and avoid some of the repetitious language that was in the translation, but I was discouraged from doing this. Much of what I wrote was returned to me with the instruction to stick to the translation. So I did. Ironically, a few months after this movie played in theaters, I received an invitation to join the Writers Guild of America. Because I had worked on a theatrical release, I qualified to become a member. Not my best work by far, but I technically met the guild’s criteria for membership.

What’s the difference between working on video games and anime in terms of workflow?

Les: 

Outside of what little bit of fun might occur during the dialog recording process, games were more of a grueling technical exercise than anything. Unlike anime where you are editing the dialog for performance and sync, in games you had to duplicate the length of the Japanese file for each line, word, or reaction EXACTLY so that the game engine would accept the file. There would be thousands of these files and each one had to have a long, very specific file name as well. One letter or number off and the game engine would not accept the file. The volume level of the files had to be in a very specific range in order to match the original Japanese since they were not going to receive a new audio mix.

Les (cont.):

It was such tedious and difficult editorial work that we all started to get serious hand pain from the repetitiveness of it all. I would have to limit editorial to about five hours a day due to this. I even bought us a few reverse tension Carpal Tunnel exercise balls to help with the hand pain the editing was causing. These worked very well and got us through years of doing games.

Mary: 

All projects have deadlines, but games tend to be in hyper-rush mode. Plus, they are usually HUGE. There are scads of dialog, repetitive instructions, call-outs (shouts, calls, exclamations), efforts and reactions. It is not uncommon for more than one writer, or even a group of scribes, to work on a project concurrently in order to finish by the due date. This can add a lot of flavor to a script. If the characters are divvied up between/among the writers, each character will be unique and not share any potential dialog similarities with the others.

Thank you for your time.

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