Hear from Ride Your Wave ADR Voice Director Stephanie Sheh on Setting Up for GKIDS and NYAV Post’s First Remotely Recorded Dub, and Adapting GENERATIONS from EXILE TRIBE’s Theme Song “Brand New Story” for the English Language Dub
Ride Your Wave is the latest film from visionary director Masaaki Yuasa, who brings his trademark visual ingenuity to a deeply emotional tale of romance, grief and self-discovery. He is joined by producer Eunyoung Choi, and animation studio Science SARU – known for their colorful hits like Lu Over The Wall, The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, as well as eccentric and daring works like Devilman CRYBABY and Japan Sinks 2020.
Exclusive to the home video release is an all new English language version of the film, featuring the voices of Joey Richter (A Very Potter Musical) as Minato, Merit Leighton (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power) as Hinako, Sarah Williams (Kill la Kill, Puella Magi Madoka Magica) as Yoko, and Michael Johnston (Teen Wolf) as Wasabi. In this special post from Voice Director Stephanie Sheh, hear about the unique experience of recording the dub entirely remotely, as well as some behind the scenes into “Brand New Story’s” English adaptation.
When I first watched Ride Your Wave at the Animation is Film festival, I turned to Michael (owner of NYAV Post) and pretty much demanded “I am directing that.” That’s how much I loved the film. It surprised me. Made me laugh. Made me sob. Made me reflect on life. Which was also pretty much the experience I had directing the film, as it was the first full remote recording during a pandemic.
Like the surfing metaphor throughout the film, myself, the NYAV staff, and the cast, rode through each challenge as it came at us. Luckily, the majority of the cast had decent home setups, or managed to scramble to get something usable set up in time for our records. Each actor’s setup had to be analyzed, audio samples reviewed, and some adjustments had to be made. We discovered one of our actors had been talking into the back of her microphone. Moms suddenly became audio engineers, riding the gain. Another actor had to be mailed a full recording kit which included a portable booth! We worked through various setups, but we pretty much recorded audio remotely via Source-Connect or Source-Connect Now, and video shared via Skype. Every session started with “Make sure you mute your microphone on Skype.” If you didn’t, we would hear annoying echoes. While for the actors, the process was similar to dubbing in studio, aside from not actually being in studio. For myself, the audio would come in 1-2 seconds after where it should. And when you are recording to picture, it means you need to slide every line back to make sure it syncs before moving on. A minor inconvenience, but not too bad. (More on this later).
Being a voice director is not just about guiding performances. It’s also about a collaboration with the actor. And while much of the supporting cast, I already knew or worked with before, that was not the case for my two leads. They couldn’t read my facial expressions, I couldn’t just glance into the booth to tell if they truly understood my direction, or were just being polite. In a way, we both had to just trust the other and jump in. By the end of the project, Merit Leighton (our Hinako) and I had a long list of things we wanted to do post pandemic, many revolving around boba and food.
Merit, it turns out was already an anime fan, and studying Japanese. She was naturally the bubbly loving life side of Hinako. She was also a hard-worker and fully committed to the project. She was an utter delight. That said, she was playing a character older than herself, with perhaps a bit more life experience. It was a bit of a challenge trying to explain to her some of the darker or deeper moments of the character, not knowing what her personal experiences were, and with her mom listening in, since she was engineering. In the end, it all worked out, but it does make you appreciate all the non-verbal communication we do in our everyday lives that we take for granted.
The biggest challenge of this film is probably the adaptation of the theme song “Brand New Story” which is featured heavily throughout the film. I’ve adapted several songs into English by now. My first ever being a song for Digi Charat. Since then I’ve adapted songs in K-on!, Fireworks, Lu Over the Wall, and Gundam Seed. One of the things I always do before I start adapting is, I learn the songs phonetically in Japanese. As an otaku in college, I used to regularly karaoke J-pop songs that I had learned phonetically, and let’s not forget the K-on! anime convention tours where the dub cast sang in Japanese, songs from the show. This process allows me to really learn the melody and rhythm. When adapting songs, it’s not just about the translation, it’s gotta be singable. In the English language, we stress or accent certain syllables and not others, this will affect the singability. Just because the syllables match the beat of the song, doesn’t mean that it will be singable if the stresses are in the wrong place. And with a song like “Brand New Story,“ which is very pop-y and the stanzas follow a structure, I decided to make sure certain lines rhymed. And then on top of that, you need to take into account that you are following the translation.
Once the song is adapted, I generally record a scratch track. If you hand an actor a song in Japanese and then lyrics in English, they won’t know how to sing it, unless it also has sheet music of the lyrics. And even then, not everyone can read sheet music. I sent Joey and Merit the song in Japanese, my English scratch, and the English lyrics. Of course, Merit had already learned the song in Japanese! The interesting thing about “Brand New Story” is that every time it is sung by Hinako and Minato, it is in character. They are just two people in love. They aren’t professional singers. In the long montage with them singing the full song, there is giggling and messing up, and I wanted to keep the fresh, alive feeling of the original. But instead of matching giggle for giggle, stumble for stumble, I let the actor do their own thing. We did several full passes. I told them if they forgot the words, just hum, or blah blah through it but don’t stop. I would give them specific action to imagine while singing, things like: you’re tickling her, you’re trying to nudge them with your foot, you’re prancing around a campfire… So, the flubs in the song are genuine. I would tell them something funny about the lyric to get them to laugh during the singing so things would sound natural and that they sounded like they were singing it together, even though they recorded separately.
Luckily for the actors, they didn’t have to go through what I did while recording them. Remember earlier when I mentioned that while recording, the actor’s audio comes in 1-2 seconds late? For the dialogue it’s not too big a deal, but when I was recording the singing it meant that the music that the actors were singing to (while in time for the actors) for me recording would be out of sync for about 1-2 seconds. So, I would have to really focus on the actor’s singing to make sure they were on pitch and in time, and tune out the backing music. And then I had to move the singing back in time to check to make sure everything was ok. Sometimes I felt I was going insane. But a good fun kind of insane.
To be honest, when it slowly dawned on me that this film would need to be dubbed remotely, I was filled with dread and fear. The fear of the unknown, the worry of how challenging it would be, the anxiety of what creative sacrifices would have to be made for the film. But looking back, I couldn’t be prouder of the entire cast and production team that worked on this film. Sure, some mistakes were made, lessons learned, some audio quality could have been better, but we faced this rising tide and plunged in.
Stephanie Sheh is a voice actress, voice director, ADR writer, and casting director. She is well known for her voice acting in various anime roles, and has worked on various GKIDS English language dubs, including Promare, Weathering With You, and Mirai.
Ride Your Wave is available now on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download.