Press Archive

Animerica March 1998 (Volume 6, Number 3)

Animerica Interview

Dragon Ball Z… How It Gets On TV

ANIMERICA goes behind the scenes and in the recording studio with Dragon Ball Z and FUNimation Productions’ Barry Watson on TV censorship, digital painting and the release of the uncut Dragon Ball on home video.

How did you end up working on Dragon Ball Z?
Well, the president here at FUNimation, Gen Fukunaga, is very involved with Toei Animation. They talked extensively prior to us getting involved with the project, and he was very instrumental in acquiring the rights. Basically, it’s Toei’s number 1 property, so we were very excited to get it. As a company, FUNimation just kinda grew up over Dragon Ball–for myself, I’d sone some smaller features and worked with Daniel Cocoanougher [sic], our Executive Vice President, and I’d known Gen for years, so when they got the Dragon Ball project, they basically called me to get involved at that stage. Dragon Ball is really my first major series–I’d previously done work with commercials and other features.
What exactly is your role in adapting the series?
I like to think of myself as the coordinator as much as anything–I have very talented writers, very talented animators and other very talented people to work with, and I just make sure that every one of them has everything they need to do the best job that they can. I work closely with network censorship to go over the script and find out what they have concerns about and make sure that we address all of those. I also work with the music and the mixing people and oversee the project from the beginning to the end. I oversee the script, I oversee the voice recording, and I actually offline-edit a lot of the show myself.
Were you a fan of the Dragon Ball before you began working on it?
To be honest, I hadn’t been able to acquire enough of Dragon Ball to become a huge fan. I had see a bit of the show, and I liked it, but getting enough video to actually become a huge fan of the project was difficult. After I got the video, I became an enormous fan of Dragon Ball, of course, but prior to getting involved in the project, it was difficult to get ahold of a lot of the tapes.
If you were to describe how Dragon Ball Z was different from American animation, how would you put it? What would you say is really different about it?
Well, first, the story–it’s a great story. It’s an epic tale. In most American animation, the stories are very geared toward a beginning and an end, all in a 30-minute format, and just for that reason, the character development can’t be as involved as Japanese animation in general and Dragon Ball in particular. Also, the action is unbelievable. Very different from anything you see here.
Could you describe what’s involved in the average day of doing a voice-recording for Dragon Ball Z?
Well, my busiest workload actually begins prior to the voice-recording. Invariably, because of the number of shows we do, I get a lot of scripts to look over–we actually have two or three different writers involved with this, at any particular recording, and I have to coordinate all three of them, and their scripts well in advance.
How many episodes do you record at a time?
We’ll record typically about four to five shows in a session. When we’ve got four or five scripts done, then I have network censorship look through the scripts, to make sure everything’s okay for children’s programming, and then I have to coordinate all the actors. I have people who book all the talent for me, for specific days. So typically, I’m running 12-hour, 14-hour days, the whole weekend before we start recording, to try to get everything coordinated, get the scripts in line, get the people called in and scheduled. Then, when the actors show up, we begin recording at about 9 in the morning–it depends on how many people we have called in for that day–and we’ll do about five or six different actors’ roles in a day. We typically run a very fast-paced schedule, and a lot of our recording is done up in Canada, so recording days are pretty long days.
About the television standards…when you get the scripts from your writers, are they already rewritten with TV in mind, or do you have to do a lot of that yourself?
We get translated scripts from Japan, from the original Dragon Ball show, but a lot of the time it’s very difficult–the English is sketchy at best, the character names will be very inconsistent, things of that nature. So our writers will go through and write a legitimate English script that’s recordable.
So the translation is done in Japan, your writers go through and do their first cut…
…and then I send that first cut to a lady we have looking at it, a former programmer at one of the major networks who does freelance work. She goes through it, and looks at it from a Federal/FCC guidelines perspective, and anything she has concerns about, she will run by other people, and then we talk about it, and find out what she has objections to, what the networks are sensitive about. Then, we run that back through a second, revisionary stage. We also have a punch-up writer, who basically writes humor, to beef up the comedy.
In terms of network censorship, some of what you’ve had to do to get around Dragon Ball‘s…well, the show, in its original Japanese form, contains a lot of character deaths. Out of curiosity, whose idea was it to get around that by sending characters “to another dimension”?
That was a network idea. There are guidelines for what you cannot say for children’s programming. We talked about various ways to do it, and we could have tried to work around it, as in cutting it out, but since Dragon Ball has such an extensive story, we had to come up with something like that. So, basically, our writers and the network censors got together and that was the idea they came up with.
Then there were the guys with the T-shirts that read “HELL,” which went to “HILF,” [sic] or “Home for Infinite Losers” in the TV version…do you do a lot of that sort of digital painting in Dragon Ball Z?
Absolutely. To be honest, that “Home for Infinite Losers” was about the best we could do. Something you have to realise is that to eliminate something like that, there are 30 frames for every second of animation, our painters have to work through about 15 to 20 minutes of footage, so you’re talking about literally tens of thousands of cels to clean up. We do try our best to keep to the spirit of the original animation and to keep in line with a lot of the Japanese spirit of the show. For example, for American children’s programming, you cannot show blood, you can’t show punches to the face, things of that nature. We paint out a lot of the blood, we paint out a lot of direct punches to the face, and assorted things like that, and for some episodes of Dragon Ball Z, it’s just an extreme amount.
How do you go about disguising a punch to the face?
Here’s some of the ways we handle it: In the most extreme cases, we can do a “cutaway,” where you cut to a different character. Or, we just put in one of those Batman-like “K-Pow!” splashes, where you can’t really see where the character’s punching. We try to do things of that nature. It takes much more time and effort than just cutting the footage, but we believe it’s worth it to preserve the action.
How many episodes of Dragon Ball Z have already been done in English at this point?
We just finished our 53rd episode, plus the movies, so about 56 episodes, currently. Our history goes something like this: Following our debut with 13 Dragon Ball episodes, and a Dragon Ball movie, we made 26 Dragon Ball Z shows. These shows were so popular that we did 27 additional Dragon Ball Z shows, plus the special feature Tree of Might (Japanese provided title: The Sacred Sappy Tree”). This feature was split into three TV episodes, making a total of 30 new shows airing this year. Given the popularity of Dragon Ball Z in its first year, it was decided that it would be best to increase the number of airings, to twice weekly on the weekends. This would give more people a chance to catch on to the Dragon Ball craze as well as to get viewers accustomed to the continuing storyline concept.
Have you gotten a lot of feedback from people who’ve been fans of the series for a long time?
We have–we’ve gotten a lot of feedback, and for the most part, it’s been very positive, which we’re glad to see. I think a lot of people appreciate the fact that we are trying to keep as much as we can, and trying to keep the spirit of the original animation, within TV’s boundaries. I think most people have noticed that. And the show’s done extremely well–we were the number 1 syndicated show last week. Then again, obviously, there are some die-hard anime fans who would really rather see the uncut version, and for that we’re working with Pioneer. Pioneer is releasing uncut versions of the episodes as well as the TV versions, so for people who want to see the show uncut, that’ll also be readily available. For the uncut versions, they do a second recording–Pioneer basically oversees the anime script, and we coordinate to some extent with them.

As a closing message, I would like to say to viewers that we appreciate your response, and it has made a difference! Many of you have e-mailed us with your opinions and comments (, and written to TV stations which helps them know how popular the shows are with the viewers. For this we are extremely grateful. Many of your opinions have been forwarded to TV programmers, toy manufacturers, and others who take serious stock in what you say. We have made a serious effort to respond to all of your letters, although at times we may fall behind because of the large amount of mail. However, we do read each and every letter we receive, so keep your comments coming! Currently, there are discussions underway for the release of more Dragon Ball shows to complement our Dragon Ball Z shows. Your letters and comments are important in this regard.

We are updating our web page at present so that you will be able to download cool graphics and audio from the shows, as well as find out the latest news and information on Dragon Ball Z…so you’ll know as soon as we know! Many of you have asked where you can get merchandise for Dragon Ball Z. We have just made a preliminary agreement for many new lines of Dragon Ball Z merchandise, all of which will be available for sale everywhere very soon! And we expect a broader release of our new Dragon Ball GT game, available for the Sony PlayStation.

So thanks for your support! Hopefully, together we can get many more episodes of Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and eventually Dragon Ball GT on the shelves and available to everyone, both cut and uncut. Because as you know, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series is just unbelievably good!


The following historical notes are included for the benefit of the reader as supplemental information and were not originally published in the book.

1 Indeed, Dragon Ball Z received significant syndication help from Saban versus the original Dragon Ball TV series broadcast a year prior. The show would continue to do so well that it would receive its own one-hour (two episodes) timeslot for its second season after the Saiyan arc wrapped up in 1997.
Transcription & Notes: VegettoEX