Interviews: David McDermott (9/01)

in Interviews, Robots in Disguise (2001)


The Robots in Disguise television show is not slated to air until September 2001. However, Mr. David McDermott, a producer on the series was kind enough to take time out to answer some questions about this latest entry into the Transformers universe.
*Note: any text in red are notes by yours truly.

  1. Has a voice talent company been chosen to provide the voices for Robots in Disguise? If so, who?
    We didn't use a company per se --we held auditions and cast each voice separately. However, as there's a relatively small and tight-knit pool of people who do this sort of work, most of our cast have worked together on other shows.

  • Has a writing team been chosen yet to helm the series translation? If so, who has been chosen?

    Again, Saban does so much of this type of work, they have a pool of writers well-versed in matching sync, etc. They're all names you might have seen on other projects--Steve Kramer (Robotech, Power Rangers), Tom Wyner (Samurai Pizza Cats, Robotech), Marc Handler (Voltron, Voltron 3D)...

  • Are there any significant storyline changes that may need to be made to the show to accommodate an American audience?
    Not really. We're pretty much staying with the original plots, except where we made small adjustments to bring things a little more in line with the classic G1 characters and story.
  • Are there any animation changes being made to the show (CGI or Cel animated)?
    We'll be doing a few "Transformer-vision" overlays on POV/targeting shots, and we've recreated the classic '80's-style transitions, again, to reinforce the identification with the first US series, but that's really all.
  • Will all of the villains be "Predacons", or will some also have the label "Decepticons"?
    As you know, the first group of bad guys in the series are all beast-based, so they are ID'ed as Predacons. Later, when evil vehicle-based robots appear, Megatron will unite all evil Transformers under the banner Decepticons. At least, that's the current plan. We're still working on scripts.
  • Car Robots is a very comedy oriented action series, has it been difficult to work around the humor when translating the series?
    Well, there's really no way to work around it. Each episode is a minute and change short of our format anyway--if we cut out every goofy take and sight gag, the show would only be about five minutes long. We're working with the humor that's built into the series, and trying to find English equivalents to the gags in the Japanese dialogue--punch lines like "Sorry, I've never been to Shinjuku before!" don't exactly translate. I don't know if a lot of the hard-core G1 fans will like it, but we're banking the kids will appreciate the humor.
  • What is the projected release date for this program?
    Right now, we're planning on early September.
  • What is the process for translating and adapting a Japanese show for an American audience?
    It's rather backwards, but somehow, it all comes together. First, the scripts are translated into a very literal (but not all that entertaining) timecoded dialogue list. Then, we view each episode in the original Japanese, reading the translation along with the picture. Then, the picture is edited for format and content (Some Japanese animation is too graphic for US broadcast--not Car Robots , of course. It borders on too wacky!). Any additional elements, like the wipes and POV overlays we mentioned earlier, are added at this stage and the picture "locked."

    At that point, the translation and the locked picture are sent to the writers, who write a new time-coded dialogue script, making sure the words flow right and match the lip-flap as much as possible. Then the voice actors record the new dialogue to picture, matching the timing of the lip-flap--sometimes the dialogue is tweaked in recording to get the timing just right.

    At the same time elsewhere, sound effects and music editors are working on their tracks, using the same locked picture as reference. Then, all three tracks, dialogue, music, and effects (really multiple stereo tracks, of course) are mixed in a studio and matched with the picture, and the resulting tape is
    delivered to network operations for broadcast.

  • What inherent difficulties exist in such a project?
    Well, in a sense, you're working in reverse--normally, you'd write and record, THEN animate--so you do lose a certain amount of creative freedom. Then again, you're not really supposed to be putting your own spin on things so much as recreating for an English-speaking audience the same experience the Japanese-speaking audience would have. There are certain cultural differences, but given the tremendous entertainment "cross-pollination" the US and Japan have experienced over the years, those differences seem to matter less and less all the time. The interesting thing here is that, for the first time, we're seeing a Japanese take on a property that has become a huge cultural icon in America. EVERYONE has heard of Transformers, but America hasn't seen the Japanese version until now. extends its thanks to Mr. McDermott for his time.