The Day I Met Monkey's English Voice!

On Wednesday 16 June 2004, I went along to the underground dubbing studio in Central London where they've been dubbing the unseen Monkey episodes (for more information about the dubbing, please see the Monkey Dubbing page). I was joined by Henry Burrows, Richard Walker from Fabulous Films, and two winners (Martin Lau and Rob Walton) of the competition to win the chance to meet David Collings.

The full account of our visit can be found after these photos. Click on any of the photos below to see larger versions.

Here I am with David Collings at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004 Martin Lau at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004 Rob Walton, George Roubicek, me and David Collings at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004 Richard Walker and me at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004 Nick Gibbs-McNeil, me, Richard Walker and Richard Bacon at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004 Here I am again with David Collings at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004 Henry Burrows and David Collings at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004 Martin Lau and David Collings at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004 Rob Walton and David Collings at the Monkey dubbing session on 16 June 2004

At 11.30am, we entered the studio and were introduced to:
- David Collings (the English voice of Monkey - see Monkey Dubbing David Collings),
- George Roubicek (director of the dubbing, and also the person who wrote the English adaptation - see Monkey Dubbing George Roubicek),
- Alexi (the sound engineer)

It was quite a small studio, and there were just enough seats for us all to sit around, actually in the studio. We expected to be in a separate room from David, but it felt fairly informal; we were all in the same room, with the sound engineer at the back of the room, just behind us, with his computer and recording equipment. Before we watched David Collings in action, George Roubicek gave us an introduction to the dubbing process....

All the episodes of Monkey were recorded with the dialogue sound track separate from the other sound tracks. I *believe* that in some cases the music and sound effects are on another two separate track, and in other cases they're on the same track.

Before the dubbing process began, George Roubicek wrote the English adaptation for the dubbing scripts from the English translations (subtitle scripts) written by Daigoro Films Ltd. (which I proof-read). Contrary to popular belief, the actors don't sit in the dubbing studio with a script in front of them (Martin Lau commented "One minor technical point - I thought I saw a script stand in front of the mic, so I think actors can look at a script if required.") - when the video plays on the large projector screen at the front of the studio (and also on a TV on the left hand side), a handwritten band runs across the bottom of the screen (it moves from right to left, so it can be read continuously). This contains all the dialogue to be spoken by the English cast. Where several characters appear in a scene, each character's lines appear above / below the other lines, and are prefixed with the character's name. The laborious part of this is the incredible fact that George wrote these bands out so that at the split second when a character says a line on screen, the equivalent English dialogue crosses a "shadow line" (known in the business as the cursor) near the left side of the band. At the exact moment when a line of dialogue finishes on screen, that line of dialogue crosses the cursor. Where words are lengthened or last a long time, the words are stretched out on the band, so that they accurately represent the location and length of the dialogue.

Although the dialogue band is generally used for providing the dialogue for the actor to read, apparently, for 2 of the unseen episodes, actual scripts were used (but apparently that's a long story, so I don't know the exact reason why).

Each English dubbing cast member records his/her lines individually in the studio. The process is as follows:
1) A portion of a scene containing a manageable few lines of dialogue is played on the screen (all the video is time coded - so you always see a time readout at the top of the screen), with the original Japanese dialogue soundtrack playing. While this is playing, the actor reads the English line at the same time as the Japanese dialogue, to get an idea of the way in which the line is said, and to get used to the timing of the line. If more rehearsal is required, the video is rewound, and this is repeated.
2) When the actor is ready to do a take, the same portion of video is played again, this time without any audio, and the actor's voice is recorded, performing the English line. If a retake is needed for all or just part of this recording, the video is rewound and it is redone.
3) The video is rewound, and certain audio tracks are played: the music / sound effects track(s), the English audio just recorded, plus the English audio for any other characters in the current scene, to hear / see how it all fits together. At this point, it may be necessary to rerecord some of the lines, and this goes on until George is happy that it's OK.
4) Where the line has been performed OK, but maybe it's just a little out-of-sync with the video, George asks the sound engineer if he can shift it forward or backward by a specific number of frames (while we were there, I think the maximum shift he asked for was 3 or 4 frames).

Whereas in the original Japanese version of Monkey, all the characters' dialogue is on the same audio track, all the English dubbing voices are recorded on separate digital tracks. So at any point, George could ask the sound engineer to bring on "English Tripitaka", or any character names.

During the original dubbing of the 39 episodes of Monkey in the 1970s, George had very little involvement - he just did some English lines. Over the years, he has worked extensively in the dubbing industry, so he has major involvement this time. His experience has given him the uncanny ability to spot immediately when a line of dialogue is out of sync, and by how many frames. He is very much a perfectionist, and he won't move on to the next lines of dialogue until he's satisfied that he's achieved perfection.

Following the introduction, it was time for David to begin work on today's episode - episode 6 "The Tormented Emperor". David Collings took a seat behind the microphone and began his dubbing work for today. George talked David through the story of this episode, so he knew exactly what it was about. When we were introduced to him, it was hard to believe that this was the same person who does the voice for Monkey - he couldn't sound more different. But in no time at all, he was doing the English voice of Monkey, and we were all sat there, completely mesmerised. The most impressive thing of all was that he performed 90% or more of the lines perfectly on the 1st take, occasionally needing shifting by a number of frames afterwards; it was great to see this professional in action! (David Collings is very quick, and spent just 8 days or so dubbing Monkey's voice on all 13 unseen episodes!) Sometimes, during the rehearsal process, George read the other characters' English lines with David, to give him an idea of the interaction. At other times, George would describe / clarify the onscreen action (so David was clear what "he", Monkey, was doing), and what was going on at this point in the story - to give David an idea of the way Monkey should say the lines.

There was an occasion where George decided that a line of dialogue didn't actually go with the onscreen action, and he would change it on the spot, to something more suited to the onscreen action.
Also, there was a time where David improvised some "dum-dee-dum" noises when Monkey was wandering up to a stone to try to read the inscriptions on it - in the original Japanese version, Monkey didn't say anything - but David's improvisation really fitted in with the character, so these were kept.
Sometimes, in the script had the words "MONKEY NOISES" instead of dialogue, and David was left to make some noises in the voice of Monkey, right there on the spot, that fitted the moment - and this was so impressive to observe!

It was really interesting to hear all the other English voices during the audio playbacks - we heard the new recordings of Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy, all done by the same cast as back in the 1970s! Plus we heard some clips of Burt Kwouk doing the narrator lines.
Martin Lau comments: "I think the best part for me was seeing the playback immediately after David had recorded some lines - it was amazing to think that those words had just been recorded by an actor, because they now belonged totally to the character of Monkey. He had been given a voice right in front of us!"

Near where I was sitting, at one side of the studio, there was a pile of the English scripts for the 13 unseen episodes. As lines are dubbed in each episode, George ticks them off on the script, so that he has a record of exactly which lines have been recorded, and which are still outstanding.

At 12.45pm, George decided to break for lunch. Before we left the room, George asked David if he'd be happy to stay behind for 15 minutes, so we could have a chat / Q&A with him and George. Here are the questions we asked, and the approximate responses (from memory):

David Collings

Q: How difficult did you find it getting back into the voice after all this time?
A: George remarked that out of all the cast members, David was the one that fell back into the character effortlessly. He watched some of the original episodes to listen to the voice, and within 5 minutes, he was there doing the same voice, absolutely spot-on identical to how he did it all those years ago.

Q: Is it true that you don't remember working on Monkey in the 1970s? (David Collings had said on a previous occasion that when he worked on the dubbing first time around in the late 1970s, it was a little side project he squeezed in between "proper" work!)
A: I never watched the episodes back then. But I've been watching the rerun on Channel 4 recently, and it's fantastic - I can see why it's so popular!

Q: I have heard Masaaki Sakai's original Japanese voice for the Monkey character, plus lots of Japanese fans have bought the English-dubbed episodes on video / DVD. We all agree that you sound so much like Masaaki Sakai!
A: That was the intention - we all listened to the original voices, and did our best to copy them.

Q: Have you ever done any other dubbing work?
A: Back in the 70s, I worked on The Water Margin before Monkey, and I also worked on lots of German stuff. There doesn't seem to be much demand for dubbing work nowadays.

George Roubicek

Q: How does the technology differ now from how it was back in the 1970s?
A: Well, believe it or not, we were using the band then - it's the best way to do redubbing, so I decided to stick with it. However, the advances in digital recording makes it easier, the ability to record all the characters on separate tracks, to effortlessly shift audio back and forth by a number of frames etc. Back in the old days, if you wanted to shift some audio, you'd have to write a note to the editor, giving the time(s) that needed to be adjusted, and he'd have to physically cut pieces out of the tape and stick it back together!

Q: How has your involvement in the dubbing changed?
A: Back then, I had minimal involvement, just doing a few voices. After being in the industry for a long time, I'm much more involved this time.

Q: Any idea where David Weir is these days, or how he is?
A: Sorry, I've no idea.


After lunch, we returned to the dubbing studio at 2pm. David Collings was still on lunch, and would return at 2.30pm. However, it was my turn to do some voices in an unseen episode of Monkey, along with Richard Walker from Fabulous Films, Richard Bacon (from TV and radio) and Nick Gibbs-McNeil (Senior Sales Executive for publications such as Bizarre, Fortean Times and VIZ).

All 4 of us were to play 4 guards who were trapped in some stocks (for four people), and we were yelling out in pain, trying to attract Tripitaka and co.'s attention, so they would come and help us. Richard Bacon and Nick got speaking parts for the 1st 2 guards, and after a little bit of rehearsal, they performed their lines very well indeed - they were played back, along with the English voices of Monkey, Tripitaka and co., and it really worked!
Before each person got up to record their English lines, George Roubicek gave them 2 tips:
1) "Don't be afraid - it's IMPOSSIBLE to overact in this show!"
2) "If you have trouble getting into the Japanese accent, repeatedly say 'Ah so! Ah so!' a few times, and you'll find that it'll come naturally."

Richard Walker and I played the other 2 guards - and our lines basically just involved breathing loudly, watching our characters on screen, and when they spoke or moved their heads, making breathing noises, indicating our pain and distress at having our heads and arms trapped in the stocks. We recorded our "lines" together at the microphone. It took a few attempts for us to get it right - at first, we were breathing too rhythmically and in time with each other, which gave completely the wrong effect! When we finally got it right, it was played back, and it worked OK with the visuals.

After all the dubbing is finished, all the audio will then need to be processed in the mixing studio, to get all the characters' levels right, and then each episode can be released off the "production line".

It was a very memorable day, and we got some great photos from the dubbing studio - which I'll include on my web site at a later date, along with this account.

If you have any questions about the dubbing process, please contact me using the Monkey Feedback page, and I'll do my best to answer.

PS I hope I haven't missed out anything - if I find out that I have, I'll add it on later.

Related web sites:

  • Monkey Dubbing - Cast / Crew - Details of the English dubbing cast (and crew) who worked on the English dubbing Monkey in both the late 1970s and 2004.
  • Monkey Dubbing - Dubbing The 13 Unseen Episodes in 2004 - Contains details of the dubbing of the 13 unseen Monkey episodes in 2004.
  • Monkey Undubbed Episodes - Details of the 13 unseen Monkey episodes that were not dubbed into English in the late 1970s with the other 39 episodes.
  • Monkey Dubbing - Gallery 2004 - photos from the 2004 dubbing sessions.
  • Monkey Autographs - Dubbing Cast - autographs of the dubbing cast actors.
  • Monkey Dubbing - Media - Details of media coverage of the English dubbing of Monkey.

  • Back to the Monkey Dubbing page