Case Study – Japanese Anime on DVD
Challenge: Conform two significantly different audio tracks to the same video.
Until DVD came along, when Japanese anime was released for the US market, the script was translated into English, dubbed (recorded in a new language), and then the video was conformed (edited to fit) to the new English soundtrack. That works when there is only one audio track, but DVD was the first mass market format to offer the feature to “surf” audio (switch tracks) without changing the video stream. With two very different audio tracks, it was not as straightforward as encoding both audio tracks and one video and putting them on the same disc.
In the early days of DVD, a lot of content was the same as the VHS content, quickly repurposed and transferred at higher quality to DVD. My first business, Advanced Media Post, specialized in creating DVDs, including menus, encoding, authoring (a.k.a. programming), etc. We also had a recording studio, which will come into play later.
One of my clients, sub-licensed some anime episodes from the US distributor which included both the Japanese and English videos. Our job was to encode one video and match both audios. However, a typical Japanese line of dialog is longer than the equivalent English line of dialog, so we found the two versions of each episode were different lengths!
Our job was to conform the English to the Japanese video, so we could offer audio surfing.
Fortunately, Japanese anime does not match lip movements to words, but rather the characters’ mouths just open and close (known as Paku-Paku), so we didn’t have to worry about that.
To solve this, first, we hired a couple of amazing voice actors who were able to match the English dubbed voices. They recorded some “uhs” and other neutral sounds so we could lengthen the English to match the Japanese. Second, our talented sound editor also looked for some pauses in the mouth movements to add some space between words and dialog, which lengthened the overall audio without sounding or looking unnatural.
The results were better than expected.
Eventually, my client licensed the content directly from the Japanese creators without the English dub. This allowed us to hire a Japanese translator and have more control over the final English script. We also were able to hire a pool of great voice actors.
We received several reviews in anime magazines and websites which praised our work as being better than the original Japanese, both in quality and synch to the mouth movements in the Japanese video.