Selecting the Perfect Dialogue
Friday, September 02, 2005

Janet Jaramillo (Todd McFarlane Entertainment Assistant) provides us with our latest look inside the production of the Spawn Animation...

We recently held the recording sessions with the various actors who will be providing the voices for the forth-coming Spawn: Animation and while I wasn't able to attend the actual sessions, I did have an interesting experience yesterday with Todd as he went through the recordings line by line and take by take selecting the perfect dialogue for each and every word that is uttered during the course of the 70-minute movie.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself. To tell the story correctly I have to take a step back and fill you in on what's been happening over the past two weeks of production.

When both "records" (a fancy insider way of saying "recording session") were complete and a third, smaller, session (without Todd or Terry present) -- for background noise and bit parts - it was time to lay down the master voice soundtrack for the movie. Film Roman received the recordings and their editor and voice casting person sat down to chose the takes they felt best suited the story and in turn creating the voice track for the animation. For those of you who are not currently aware, the voice track is laid down and finalized, then, and only then, do the animators begin to animate the characters' mouth movements to match the recordings. This allows the artists to have a definitive speak pattern with which to create the most realistic and natural mouth movements for all of the characters -- who speak in decidedly different manners. So, the soundtrack is actually a big first step towards the actual production of any sort of animation.

Anyway, Film Roman sent us the finished CD with all the takes they had chosen, but minus anything that contained every take captured at the records -- whether they were selected or not. Using this initial voice track, we were able to sit down and listen to the script for the first time with each character doing their part. With each character coming to life through the dialogue. As I stated earlier, this is a key ingredient in the production process and something we had all been looking forward to. So, with voice track in-hand, Todd and Terry sat down and they listened.

Although we were happy with what we heard in the soundtrack, Terry requested CD's of every take that had been recorded at each of the sessions for Todd's review.

Terry received the two CD's on Tuesday and immediately went to Todd's house to begin going over every line of dialogue recorded. Every line. Every take. After six hours on Tuesday and half the day Wednesday they were only three quarters of the way through the first CD.

This brings me to yesterday, where I come in. Todd and I took over one of our conference rooms here in Tempe at roughly 10AM and started the long, and fascinating, process of going through each and every take for Barabbas (Michael Jai White), Captain Edwards (Carl Weathers) and SPAWN (Keith David), as well as two or three of the other main characters, all of the ambient noises and the lines for a majority of the secondary characters. Almost seven hours later, we emerged with a script marked up with Todd's choices for each and every one of the 606 lines of dialogue. That's 606 lines divided by an unfathomable amount of takes and re-starts and numerous pauses for discussion about this take over that -- is the inflection better here... or here - and so-on and so-forth.

I have to tell you the experience was interesting, if not a bit overwhelming at times and a bit aggravating at others. Getting through the remainder of the first CD in retrospect was a piece of cake. The actors all seemed prepared, not only knowing their lines but also the context in which it was meant to be spoken. They all took direction very well, which I noticed involved having a good vocabulary -- being able to understand the meaning of some of the descriptive words the voice director was using to explain the emotions of any given scene. They also had to possess the ability to read the director's mannerisms when he didn't use words to explain a mood he was hoping to achieve. There were times when he would say, "you know just..." and there were no words. It was obvious he was giving an expression or conveying something through body language, which the actors then had to capture in the delivery of their lines. It really was a cool thing to listen to, in the sort of "fly on the wall" manner in which I participated. I can only imagine what it must have been like to watch the whole process unfold firsthand.

Today Film Roman and the phonetic transcriber are working on the choices Todd made. A new master voice track will be laid down and a new script based on the actors' actual delivery of the dialogue will be written.

Other than the voice work, we are still polishing up the storyboards and working on the three dimensional aspects of the animation. Things are moving along nicely, so stay tuned because we will have more updates headed your way very soon.