I think it's safe to say we're all here because we love voice acting. We have a passion for portraying unique, dynamic characters and then seeing our own distinct personalities injected into an enthralling story. But from what I gather, not everyone is in love with another aspect of this endeavor, an aspect which is just as important as actual acting. I'm talking about the real blood and guts work of production.
The reality of this subject can be harsh. At best, production work can be tedious, and at worst, it's almost impossible to make it look and sound almost anything remotely similar to what the pros do. But without engaging in production to actually create a finished product, all we're doing is talking to ourselves in a highly artistic way, hardly a fruitful activity at all. I've always believed that if you want to enjoy the fullest benefits of this craft and reap the highest rewards from your acting efforts, you have to be able to produce an actual dub.
Now, I'm just gonna warn you guys beforehand that what I'm about to say next may initially strike you as disrespect. I certainly don't mean it that way, just give me some time to extrapolate on my point. You simply cannot trust anybody else to produce something for you. Far too often, people make plans to start a project without actually contemplating how much effort it will take to complete, and they discover way too late in the game that they have neither the adequate resources nor time to make something of it. Even with very talented, capable producers, a lot of times, their plans have to change because of whatever's going on in their real lives, so that can derail things as well. Furthermore, sometimes when a project actually does get done, it's just not as good as what you had hoped for. Maybe the delivery of the performers is not as sharp as it should be or there are little things missing here and there in the sound effects. The truth is that if you're truly passionate about a project, you should take it upon yourself to complete it and do it exactly the way you envision it.
Like I said, though, production is hard work, and it will require a hefty commitment from you. I realize that for some people, the choice not to be a producer is merely a pragmatic one because you don't have enough time. I can certainly respect that. But for others, I suspect that you do have both the interest and the time to take the steps in becoming your own producer, but maybe you just thought that it's too difficult for you to pick up. I'm making this post in an effort to break that misconception. Production can be trying at times, but it's not impossible to learn. And more importantly, it is well worth the effort when you create dubs that you can really take pride in.
So with the opening statements out of the way, I hope I've made a good case for why you all should take it upon yourselves to learn at least a little about how to become a proficient producer. Especially now that summer is upon us, most people should suddenly have significantly more free time on their hands to try out a new hobby in our constant quest for self-improvement.
STEP 1: Get the right program
Michelangelo didn't paint the Sistine Chapel with a box of Crayola. Similarly, you should not create dubs with programs like Windows Movie Maker. That kind of software is fine if you're just splicing together video clips from your vacation to Tahiti, but it's not meant for intricate audiovisual work.
The industry standard is of course Sony Vegas, but that is a very pricey asset (Pro 11 checks in at about $600). And seeing as how this site is not meant to be a torrent gateway, I will instead refer you to an option that should be in everyone's price range, provided that you're using a Windows machine. Try VideoPad Video Editor (be sure to click the FREE version; they do a very good job of tucking that option away on the page). It is not quite as flexible as Vegas, but it can perform most of the functions you'll need. It allows you to use practically an infinite number of audio tracks, and you can cut and combine audio and video clips during editing as well as equalize volumes. It also accepts practically all audiovisual formats.
STEP 2: Get sound effects
The editing program may be your gun, but the ammunition is your sound effects. Here are some resources that should come in handy.
First look at Ashley's SFX RIPZ. Blue Bunny offers up some authentic cartoon-themed sounds here from Minami-ke, Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Oreimo, Sketchbook ~full color's~ and Bokura ga Ita. A nice collection of whizzes, pops, beeps, sparkles and whooshes to add the right accent to the action of your footage.
Antfish had previously uploaded the Hollywood Edge SFX pack to this site as well. I would recommend getting the 3D SFX set (it contains train sounds, very important since it's such a common form of transportation in Japan, so you'll need it for pretty much any anime), the Foley SFX set (a wide assortment of single SFX pops like cloth movements and crashes and impacts of all kinds of materials, some weapon sounds are included as well), Martial Arts and Human Impact SFX (punches, kicks, slaps, body impacts and swishes) and both Premier Editions (one of the most comprehensive SFX sets available, all sorts of ambient sounds, weather, nature and household noises, cars, etc.). This was recommended to me by finalCrystine, so she deserves a shout-out here.
For anything not included in those packs, I'd recommend Sound Dogs. Probably the most important thing you'll find here is footsteps. There is a pack available on our site, but I didn't like the sounds very much, since they were somewhat artificial. What makes the site so useful is its search engine. It's generally very good at refining your searches for you. For example, if you search for footsteps on cement, it will also include footsteps on pavement and concrete, which are of course similar enough for you to use as well. The selection here is very good and should fill whatever holes you have in your collection.
STEP 3: Find the right cast
Some people think casting is as simple as just picking out the best voice. Rubbish. A good voice is no use to you if the actor behind that voice doesn't show up to work. I've seen so many cases of talented people exhibiting shameless delinquency. When deciding on your collaborators, evaluate their skills, yes, but also try to gauge how reliable they will be for you. If you listen to an audition and get a strong feeling that you'll want the person on your team, it can be useful to get in contact with them (PM, e-mail or instant message are all fine), just to speak informally and get a feel for how committed they truly are to their projects. You don't even really have to mention you're talking to them because you're seriously considering them for the role. You can just casually ask why they have an interest in the part and what they plan to contribute.
It's also helpful to ask for a resume. Check if the performer has a track record of successful projects. You could even get in touch with some of his or her past directors to see if they can vouch for reliability. Obviously, you'll get new people who want to audition and they won't have that much of a resume if at all. By no means am I asking you to disregard these people, but definitely do your homework when you try to see how interested they really are in staying aboard. That's just what you have to do when someone is essentially unproven.
In my case, I didn't start out producing immediately. I first worked just on the cast for a few projects to get a feel for which of my fellow cast members were committed to their duties. Those who I felt demonstrated the proper responsibility were the ones whom I have continuously asked to come back as performers in my own projects.
STEP 4: Set a schedule
Once again, production is a lot of work. If you want to actually accomplish something worthwhile, you need to have the proper approach. As is usually the case with big, daunting tasks, it's much easier when you divide that hulking proposition into smaller, more manageable segments. So long as you decide on a schedule to work on those segments on a regular basis, over time you'll be able to tackle even the biggest projects.
This was the approach I took when I was working on my 5 Centimeters Per Second film dub. It was about 60 minutes of footage to edit. Certainly a hefty workload. But I chipped away at it little by little. For example, I split production of the first chapter into three videos, each lasting about eight or nine minutes. I took two weeks to produce each video. During the first week, I added the sound effects to the footage (working with about a minute of video or so per day). Then during the second week, I'd go back and sync the lines and equalize all the sounds. By working just a little at a time, I was able to give each segment its due attention and I didn't get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the endeavor. I was able to complete this project because the experience was much easier when I only had to handle a little bit at a time.
STEP 5: Start small
Make no mistake, there is a learning curve associated with this activity. There are certain tricks you'll pick up to make the process easier for you, but you can only discover these through adequate practice. When you're just starting, try out a shorter clip with only a few characters. That way, there are fewer actors for you to manage. Also, find scenes where there's not too much going on. Simple dialogues are best for the beginner producer. Don't go immediately to scenes with lots of explosions and movement and action because it can get very overwhelming when you have to deal with all those effects. Keep it to things like a simple ambience and some walking and light touches. Once you get comfortable working with basic situations, you can graduate to more intricate pieces.
So that's all the advice I have. Anybody else who wants to add to this is more than free to contribute. I can't really promise that all of you will become proficient enough to produce something as spectacular as Annabel Mundy's Pandora series. To me, doing things like this requires a special artistic vision that you're either born with or not. But I definitely feel that the possibilities are still very vast for all of you. The scope of what you can accomplish is wider than what you may initially think. I encourage you all to explore your capabilities, and believe me when I tell you that when you complete something in your own vision, it's way more fulfilling than you can ever imagine.