While there may be no shortage of talented voice actors in the industry today, Michael Sinterniklaas is among the cream of the crop. A definite fan favorite, Sinterniklaas has provided vocal performances for some of the most popular anime and video games during his career from Pokémon to Fire Emblem Heroes. Non-anime fans may be more familiar with his work as Leonardo in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon or as Dean Venture, one half of the eponymous Venture Bros. on Adult Swim.
In addition to working in a voice-acting capacity, Sinterniklaas has also been involved in the animation industry as a scriptwriter, sound engineer, mixer, director, and producer. And if that weren’t enough he also owns and operates NYAV Post, a prolific bicoastal recording studio that has been involved in acclaimed anime dubs, original animation, and more.
During the first annual Anime NYC convention last weekend, I had the chance to speak to Sinterniklaas during a press round table to discuss not only his career and process but also the impact of his work.
I know Venture Bros. will always keep asking so let’s get this out of the way. What can you tell us about the status of Season 7?
Actually we’re done with all the recording. I don’t know when it’s going to release, but even if I did that might change. That’s happened to us in the past so I don’t be labeled a fibber for tall stories. [Laughs]. I know we’re done with principle recording for Season 7.
How does the workflow in dubbing anime differ from American animation?
But you don’t have to worry about timing which we do for anime. [In anime] the whole performance has been chosen for you and you have to adjust your vocal performance to retroactively fit in with what they’ve done which is really challenging. And some people are better at it than others. It gets more technical than the other way around. I heard there was a session at Studiopolis and Mark Hamill stuck his head in and said, “You guys are dubbing? Oh man, I used to do that. Good luck guys!” And he’s a top of the pops voice actor but when it comes to dubbing, all the stuff you want to do gets shackled a bit. I think it’s a fun challenge but it’s more of a puzzle.
The other thing is we typically aren’t able to do group recordings when we’re dubbing which in original animation sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. But it’s great to have a group because then you have conversations and you can really inspire each other, listen, respond, and it sounds like the chemistry is there. I know that for our studio NYAV Post, we work really hard at trying to make it sound like everyone’s talking to each other specifically.
How then does voice work in animation compare to voicing video game characters?
When it comes to video games, I feel like it’s not that different but the American games I’ve done, getting to do mo-cap is really cool. The difference with video games is you don’t always have that much context. Very few video games record as a group and even fewer do rehearsals. Naughty Dog is considered the kings of narrative, they do rehearsals. Like any real theater, TV, or film you should be able to able to rehearse so you can work out some stuff, dig a little deeper, so when you shoot it you have some experience. So much of what do we in voice-over is a first take or cold read. And a lot of times it’s about non-disclosure where they don’t want anyone knowing too much about what’s going on and then leaking it. You don’t even get your script ahead of times sometimes.
With original animation, you typically get your script ahead of time so you can prepare which an actor really wants to do and there’s no substitution for homework.
When you voiced Leonardo in the 2003 iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, you got to work with voice director Sue Blu, a legend in the animation industry. Were you familiar with Blu and what was the experience like under her?
I was super familiar therefore I was super intimidated. It was also the first big American show I was in. I mean it’s an ensemble piece but I was the leader of the Turtles, until now which is gonna be Raph and I can’t wait to see what kind of trouble he gets everyone into!
I was really intimidated. It was a part I wasn’t sure I was right for and I’m being directed by Sue who directed the original and voiced Arcee and a Misfit, and was in everything I watched growing up. I did want to please her and she moves fast. I wasn’t prepared for that. Everything else I’d done had more takes but the pros in Hollywood move real fast. We’d do a take or two and move on. The huge lesson I learned there was- bring it all the time, the first time. It’s not a rehearsal. We’re doing the show right now and don’t soft pitch it. Make your choices, commit to them, and go hard.
What has been your favorite projects as both an actor and a director?
The first answer I have to give partly because it’s current and I did both was Your Name. What was really extraordinary about that is Stephanie Sheh, whom I respect and there are very few people can understand tell anime stories like she is, both she and I were able to direct each other being ourselves which was an extraordinary experience. We met [animation director Makoto] Shinkai at the Oscar screening in L.A. and we got to tell him the actors who played the main characters Mitsuha and Taki also directed each other, and he thought that was great and a perfect situation. Working in the industry and knowing each other for so long added some magic.
Fire Emblem Heroes is an incredibly popular game where you voice a number of characters like Takumi and Niles. What’s it been like working on that franchise?
At a recent recording actually, I got to tell the Nintendo guys a story where I did a convention in North Carolina and a transgender fan came up to me and said, “I just want to let you know that getting to plays Niles in the game was really important to me. I loved what you did with the character. It makes me feel included and empowered.” I told them and they were so grateful to hear stories like that because they don’t get to meet the fans as much as I do.
Looking back, what do you think about your career?
I’m always my own worst critic. I don’t think I have the most beautiful voice but I try to be authentic and bring honesty to whatever I do. My goal in acting is that I wanted to do this work to show people that we’re not alone. I remember watching some movies and realizing people had the same doubts and hopes that I do, and thinking, “Wow, in this media you get to see secretly into someone’s life in a way that you don’t when you’re talking to someone.” Seeing all that made me realize the value of this career for me.
What projects do you have coming up that fans should be on the lookout for?
This week I’m mixing Birdboy which is a Spanish-language feature film. It’s a dark adult fairy tale up for Oscar consideration. And then we’re doing Satellite Girl also with GKIDS. I just completed an amazing series called LastMan. It’s being called a “French anime” but it’s so brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s as if Grand Theft Auto was a series but also really intelligent. It’s start off with some of the fun stuff you do in the game to be silly but it becomes the most incredible story.
I worked on a Warner Bros. project that has been announced but not the cast. Season 7 of the Venture Bros. I can’t wait to happen. I played the bad guy in the Fairy Tail movie, which was cool because I don’t often play the bad guys. NYAV Post is redubbing the remasterd Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny, over 100 episodes all by the end of the year.
LeSean Thomas, who I worked with 20 years ago on his first animation, we’re doing a series that’s going to be a Netflix original called Cannon Busters, which he Kickstarted awhile ago. We’re also going to be working on a teaser for something new that’s not announced yet so I can’t say much. He is creating more world and I can’t wait because I love what he does.