Sonny Strait is an ADR Director and Actor who has been featured in several notable projects, such as Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, and Fullmetal Alchemist.
In this exclusive article for voice actors, he sheds valuable insights into the voice acting industry, gives advice to aspiring actors, and shares about his experience as an ADR Director at a prominent post-production studio.
Working as an ADR Director
I began directing in 2002 at FUNimation. As a director, my primary duty was to interpret the original Japanese anime into English while staying true to the original intention of the creators.
As a visual artist, I can easily compare my directing duties to the process of painting. There are many things that make up the palette of the voice director – script, engineer, deadlines and, probably most important, the actors. A lot of directors have a set vision and every line must be read as they hear it in their heads.
I was trained by Chris Sabat, who had a different approach. When I began, he told me: “Listen close to what the actors are giving you. It may not be what’s in your head but generally what we have in our heads are clichés.” I follow this advice and try to make the actors as much of the creative process as possible.
As a director, you must respect everyone involved in your creative projects, and believe in them as well as yourself. You assembled this group for a reason. You should trust that they will help you find the best way to present this show.
What’s the difference between acting on stage and being in the booth?
I had been acting on stage for 14 years before I began voice acting. At first, my theater training got in my way. I had to learn that I didn’t have to project to the back row of the auditorium anymore. For the same theatrical requirements from stage, I also had a tendency to over-enunciate.
You don’t have to do that in a recording booth because the mic picks up everything. Although we are technically making cartoons, my VA work has taught me to be more subtle as an actor. As an anime dub director, you must understand the message of the original creator more than any.
My main goal was to get to the heart of the story. My greatest compliment came from Kazuki Akane at a US convention where we premiered my re-dub of Escalowne. After watching our version, he said that I had really found the tone and meaning of the show. He added: “At one point, I was watching and thinking: When did Van and Hitomi learn English?“ I cannot think of a greater honour.
Advice for Aspiring Voice Actors
I recommend getting as much experience in acting as possible. All of its facets – theater, improvisation, ADR Directing, etc. – will help to make you a better actor and director.
In order to succeed, I believe that your chances are better if you’re the type of person who would be doing this kind of work even if you didn’t get paid for it. For 14 years, I worked as an actor for nothing before I got into anime. If I had never got into anime, I would still be acting. Even for free.
There are plenty of options out there for talented and trained voice actors – you could start with commercials and video games. For instance, if you’re only focused on FUNimation I’m willing to bet you’re not passionate about acting as much as you are a just a daydreamer.
Only a mad obsession with the craft of acting can sustain you during the lean times when you are not being cast. Besides if you have talent and drive and you can travel to Texas, more than likely FUNimation will end up using you for something at one point. It’s like some great talent vacuum – eventually, all will be sucked in.