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An Interview With Kris Zimmerman On Voice Directing & Timing

by Laura Schiff

Kris Zimmerman began her career eight years ago as a voice director of animation programming. After studying under respected stage and screen director Gordon Hunt at Hanna-Barbera, Zimmerman climbed the studio ladder and eventually branched out on her own as a freelance director in 1994. Her produced credits include Hanna-Barbera's Cow and Chicken, I Am Weasel, Jonny Quest and a number of Scooby Doo features for home video. In addition, she directed Metal Gear Solid, the much-lauded Sony PlayStation game. Zimmerman is currently helming Weird-Ohs, a Mainframe Entertainment series that will debut this September on the Fox Family Channel. Also, along with veteran voice actor Charlie Adler, Zimmerman teaches a successful voice acting workshop.

Laura Schiff: As a voice director, what are some of the responsibilities of your job?

Kris Zimmerman: What we do is we take the script or storyboard, hire our actors to come in, and record it. I prefer to take them through it like a radio play. The voice director is responsible for watching the script, watching the story board, listening to the actors, and making sure that they paint the picture of the story vocally so that it matches what the artists', and writers', needs are. We might have a brief rehearsal beforehand. At that point, I can describe to them the action, tell them how their characters are moving, where they are -- if they're sneaking around a corner and need to be quiet, if they're on the top of a 20-story building shouting down to someone below them -- so that at the time of the session, when we actually put it on tape, they'll have a little more idea of the environment around them.

LS: What's the advantage of recording it like a radio play, as opposed to each actor delivering their lines in isolation?

KZ: I prefer to have the interaction between the characters, but you can do it the other way, too. I remember we were doing Captain Planet several years ago, and I think five of the main characters were in different parts of the world. We had to pick them up from wherever they were, but when the show was cut together, you couldn't tell. It all sounded like they were responding to each other. That has to do with my memory as the director, in remembering how one actor said a line, so that the other one can respond accordingly.

LS: How do you make sure that their voices are timed to the animation?

KZ: The animation comes second. Most of the time, they animate to the dialogue track. But sometimes you'll get a foreign cartoon that's in a different language and they need to translate it into English and have the actors come in and do what's called ADR, automatic dialogue replacement. In this case, they will actually be watching the cartoon and would have a cue in to when they're supposed to start speaking. Then it's a matter of watching and speaking as quickly as that mouth is moving, and with the same emphasis as that mouth is moving. Sometimes it's difficult because if it were perhaps translated from Japanese to English, sometimes three or four words in their language ends up being about ten in ours. So you have to kind of cheat a little bit, either kind of ignore the lips of the character or find a different, shorter way to say the same thing. Or a longer way to say the same thing. There's been many instances where "Hey!" gets added in front of a line, or some small, almost meaningless word, just to add an extra syllable.

LS: What are some other difficulties that you face as a voice director?

KZ: Sometimes there are many opinions involved in the performances. For instance, how a character should be played or how a line should be read -- and sometimes those opinions don't necessarily mix with each other. As a director, I need to have my own opinion about what works. I need to be able to give the producers a reason why something works or something doesn't.

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Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.