October 26-2004
The art of directing dubs: A chat with Ellie Lewis

Voice is an important part of animation content. In a canvas full of either hand drawn or computer generated imagery, voice is a strong human connect for animation. It helps audiences relate better with what they see.

Recently the big animation news to hit town was King Khan dubbing for forthcoming Disney flick, The Incredibles. Hot on the trail of all those involved with the project, we at Animation ‘xpress chanced upon Ellie Lewis, the person who directed Khan while he did lip sync with Mr Incredible.

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Mainframe Software Communications head Ellie Lewis

Ellie Lewis heads Mainframe Software Communications. The company’s core competency is dubbing work. She has in her 18 year long career headed many a dubbing setup, including UTV’s dubbing department which she was at the helm of for a good many years.

Her association with animation dates back right since she began her career with Jenny Pinto at ThinkBig productions in 1986. Her first shoot was with animation veteran Ram Mohan.

Ellie is pretty positive about SRK dubbing for Incredibles. “The mindset out here is that people who don’t get work as actors opt for a career in dubbing. That is changing now though, with SRK coming in I hope that the ice will break. If a dubbed animated film does well and the awareness levels are high, you would have a lot of Bollywood producers queuing up, wanting to invest in animated content” says Ellie.

“The mindset out here is that people who don’t get work as actors opt for a career in dubbing. That is changing now though, with SRK coming in I hope that the ice will break”

“The Indian masses look at animation as something for children. They don’t realize the effort that goes into animation, or else they would appreciate it much more” she adds.

Other than The Incredibles, her company is also doing stuff for Disney’s to be launched channel. Due to her specialisation in the field of dubbing, Ellie has been involved with quite a few international channels in their localisation drives. “I have been instrumental in doing the dubbing for quite a few first episodes for Nick and Discovery” she informs.

So how difficult is it to get the lip sync right with English and Hindi being such different languages with different nuances?
“When an English film is ready, fitting in Hindi gets difficult. The humour is different and so we adapt the dialogue, not literally translate. For long format(TV Series) we fix different dictions and dialects for the character and that sets the ball rolling. Normally I go for lipsync but I would forego lipsync to keep it conversational, unless it is a tight close up” she replied.

“Doing voices is easier than dubbing. The sync hassle is not there. With so many kids channels coming up and the volume of locally created animation set to go up, we hope to have original stuff coming out where an artist will have the opportunity to explore new ground. I hope that the status of dubbing will go up and also the respect that the voice artist gets. Like IP this is vocal property. It is an art” remarks a visibly charged Ellie.

“I hope that the status of dubbing will go up and also the respect that the voice artist gets. Like Intellectual Property this is Vocal Property. It is an art”“Doing voices is easier than dubbing”

What sort of talent and skill sets do you look out for in dubbing artists? “When we have a regular audition we also call in new voices, we look at their voice texture and range. Syncing is the biggest criteria in selecting a dubbing artist”

With 18 years of experience behind her, Ellie has a lot of interesting information and anecdotes to share.

“Back in 1986 we did ads on film and all the supers were animated and composited. I remember some cute animation film we did for Pickwick” she says.

A couple of years later Ellie joined UTV. Later on in 1991/92 Ronnie Screwvala approached Disney which already had a tie up with Modi Entertainment in India, for producing the hindi dub. Ellie lead the dubbing department. “It took us 4 years for setting up the department” says Ellie.

Ellie recalls with amusement that, “While we were just starting, we had put an ad for voices in the newspapers. We got just about everybody calling and mimicking dogs and cats over the phone. It became a tough task selecting whom to call in in for the audition”

The first animated Disney feature to be dubbed and released in Hindi for theatrical release was Alladin in 93-94. Sonu Nigam dubbed for the lead character Alladin. Sonu had sung for ellie’s brother Lezz’s album just a few days ago. His dad was apprehensive since they had just landed from Delhi and they were trying to build Sonu’s career as a playback singer.

“Sonu was very excited about the whole dubbing thing though and he managed to convince his dad. We were initially considering Aamir and Juhi to do Alladin but Aamir didn’t have the time” recalls Ellie.

“We also did Disney hour on DD which had Talespin and we had the entire cast including Uncle Scrooge and the others. Our assumption was that dubbing for Donald would be the toughest, but it turned out to be the easiest. Vinay Nadkarni dubbed for Donald and Javed Jaffrey dubbed for Mickey as well as Sher Khan. Chetan Shashital dubbed for Balu and quite a few other characters” Ellie shared.

Talking about the other animated capers that she oversaw the dubbing for, Ellie says, “Lion King should have been dubbed in Hindi but it only had a tamil dubbing. Maybe it was because the dubbed Alladin didn’t do too well. Jungle Book 2 again featured the voices of Chetan shahsital (for Balu) and Javed Jaffrey for Sher Khan, while Jagdeep did lucky the vulture.”

“When we have a regular audition we also call in new voices, we look at their voice texture and range. Syncing is the biggest criteria in selecting a dubbing artist”

It usually takes 8-10 days to dub an animated feature with 6-8 characters. Nemo took the longest to dub and now the incredibles , doing nemo was fun we gave different regional dialects to the fishes in the dentist’s fishtank.

As the conversation continues, we return to the present. So how was it working with SRK? “SRK is friendly and a thorough professional he doesn’t put on an atitude. He knows what the masses want from him he is very fast in his dubbing. We have stuck with SRK’s style in the vioicing even though he could have deviated and offered a low subtle style, reason being the audiences love his style and a majority of the people who go into the theatres for the dubbed version would be going in for his voice” concluded Ellie.

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