November 20, 2012
by Laura Pochodylo '14
Samantha Butler, a Knox College senior who is majoring in creative writing and pursuing minors in business and management and philosophy, is also developing a potential career in voice acting. She provides the English-language voice for some characters in Japanese-made anime productions.
It started when Butler attended an anime conference in Chicago, Illinois, as a panelist speaking about fan culture and a type of writing called "fan fiction," which uses characters from popular shows or books to write new stories. Backstage, she met people who worked for FUNimation Entertainment, an anime production company looking for voice actors.
"I e-mailed them and thought I'd never hear back from them, but then they gave me a call," Butler said. "So I flew down to Dallas (Texas) and I auditioned. I didn't know how it went because I had never done it before, and I didn't know what I was doing."
The audition was a success. She was given background parts in as-yet-unreleased series, and she also was invited to work on a movie.
"Every Anime Fan's Dream"
"They don't give you big-name parts for an entire series until you've done your small stuff, earned your stripes, so I'm still on training wheels," said Butler, who is from Houston, Texas. "FUNimation is the largest anime licensing and dubbing studio in America, so getting to work with them is kind of every anime fan's dream."
Butler works in a sound booth with a video screen of lines to read, and another screen with animation. She works to match her lines with the cartoon mouths as she dubs the animation, originally produced in Japanese, into English.
"The funny thing about voice acting is because you can't see your face, you have to put everything into your voice," Butler said. "What they recommend is actually locking your hands behind your back so you don't 'hand talk,' because the emotion will leach into your body language. You want to be as blank-faced as possible, don't move, and try to get every emotion out of your mouth."
Enthusiasm for Anime Helps Hone Creative Writing
Butler's interest in anime stems from her passions for acting and writing. She explained that writing anime fan fiction helped develop her creative writing skills.
"It helped me learn about how to characterize people because I was having to match a very specific characterization. As a writer, it was great training at the beginning," Butler said. "Now I still write it, but not as much. I am now working on my own personal projects because I think I've matured enough for them, but when I was younger, fan fiction really helped me get started."
One of her projects, a nonfiction piece titled "Elvis Presley has been Avenged," is set to be published in The Gettysburg Review, a literary journal, this winter.
"It's a story about a bobcat, an emu, and a gun. That's how I give my short description," Butler said. "(Knox Professor of English) Natania Rosenfeld was the one who pushed me to submit my story for publication, so I owe her many thanks."
Rekindling an "Old Passion"
Being an anime enthusiast has not only helped Butler develop her writing -- it has put her other talents to use, too.
"I used to want to be a screen actress because I did theatre in high school, but I never pursued it, so voice acting is an extension of an old passion that I am happy to be reunited with and rekindle," she said. "Every anime fan, for at least one month of their life, has dreamed of being a voice actor. It's something that just goes along with loving that genre of entertainment."
While Butler enjoys voice acting, the creative writing major says her writing will always come first, though she plans to continue working with FUNimation.
"I'm not going to say it's a hobby, because I can make some sort of a career out of it. It's going to play second fiddle to my writing," Butler said. "There's a lot of stuff I could do after I graduate, so I'm just going to see where the wind takes me. I can always write, no matter where I end up, and I take a lot of comfort in that."
Butler credits her time at Knox with developing her confidence in her talents, allowing her to pursue voice acting and continue writing.
"When I came to Knox, I was really shy and really withdrawn and just not who I am today. I think Knox really helped me open up, because professors in class would say, ‘You haven't spoken yet!' It was a kick in the keister," Butler said. "Knox also has definitely shaped my writing; that is so evident. I can definitely credit my professors for that. They're just very insightful."