Andrea Romano, the Emmy Award winning Voice Director for Avatar: The Last Airbender, and will be publishing an interview with her in three parts.
We hope you enjoy looking through this wonderful window with us into the career of a fascinating person and titan of the animation industry. She generously shared with us in the interview below some of her views on voice direction and voice acting, two of the vital components of the magic that turns a collection of sounds and images into great stories and great animation!
We thank her for spending some time with ASN and for all of her work bringing these wonderful shows to life for us.
Acastus: For those fans not familiar with all the various disciplines involved in making shows like Avatar, could you please describe what a voice director does?
Andrea: It's the voice director's job to make sure the writer's and producer's requests are incorporated into the recording session...after all, when it comes right down to it, it's the producer's show. It's my job to be sure to get them the vocal tracks they need to make the cartoon they desire. The animation director (not to be confused with the voice director) might also have some input into desired vocal performances. To clarify, a voice director is responsible for the way the cartoon voices sound, act, and interact. The animation director is responsible for the way the cartoon looks and moves.
All voice directors work differently. Here's the way I work:
I prefer, whenever possible, to record the entire cast at the same time (the is sometimes called "ensemble" recording). This session would begin with a rehearsal or table read...during this time, I describe the action to the actors while they read through the dialogue lines out loud. This is the time when questions can be asked and answered regarding the action (i.e. "how far away are these two characters?", or "how far am I falling when I scream?" or, "What does 'Guard 2' look like so I can give him the right kind of voice?"). Since we record the voices before animation, we have to be very careful to supply the animators with the best possible vocal tracks since it will absolutely effect their work.
Acastus: Most fans are unfamiliar with how a voice session for an episode goes. Can you describe how an episode is voiced and what your role is in the process?
Andrea: If someone were to observe a recording session like this, it would resemble an old radio show broadcast...many actors in front of microphones in a sound proof booth.
Oftentimes, a voice actor can't make a session at the same time as the rest of the actors (celebrities often have limited availability, and so are often recorded separately). This certainly can be accommodated, but it's not the most advantageous way to record (in my opinion). I'm of the mind that a large part of an actor's performance comes from reacting...and it's hard to react when there's no performer there to act with. However, many animated features never record 2 actors in the same session at the same time...and quite successfully, too! It's just not my personal preference.
Sometimes we record from a script, and sometimes there's a storyboard (a comic book looking item that breaks the script down into small panels which help to show the action.). Although most studios want to record from storyboard, once production starts to lag behind (as it often does), the recording is typically done at the same time that the storyboard is being created. Hopefully, the board artist has a chance to listen to the recorded, edited dialogue track and make any adjustments before the board is finalized.
Acastus: Can you walk us through a typical voice session for Avatar?
Andrea: Avatar has it's own specific challenges regarding recording. The actor who voices "Aang" (Zach Tyler Eisen) lives on the east coast. The rest of the actors in the main cast reside in the Los Angeles area. It's a major part of my job to make sure it sounds as if these actors were all in the room at the same time...so that it sounds like the characters are all in the same scene. It would be disconcerting if Toph and Katara and Sokka were all talking at a conversational level (volume) and Aang sounded like he was shouting his lines!
Another unusual aspect of this series is the voicing of Appa, Momo, and all the other creatures on the series. These characters are voiced by the incredible Dee Bradley Baker. Certainly, the producers could have chosen to use sound effects for these characters, but I've yet to see sound effects "act" the way Dee Baker can. And we very clearly needed to have (especially) Momo and Appa act with their voices.
After we do the initial voice sessions (which do not include Dee), the cartoon is animated. When the episode is edited for time and before it is "mixed" (marrying together the picture, dialogue, music and sound effects), we bring in Dee to lay in the voices of the "creatures". We send him a videotape of the episode before he comes in to record so that he can be familiar with the story. Then he comes to the studio to record all the animal sounds...badger-moles, ostrich horses, etc., and of course, Appa and Momo. To watch this man work in front of a microphone and to hear him bring these characters to life with his voice is quite something to behold. One of the pleasures of my recording days!
Let me also mention that I was given a wonderful cast to work with on this show. The main casting and incidental and guest casting on this series is done by Sarah Noonan and Maryanne Dacey. Two awesome figures in the world of animation casting. They certainly make my work in directing much easier, and rarely ever get the credit that they are due. My hat is off to them both.
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