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Otakon 2015: Press Conference With Dragon Ball Actors Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabat


Two of the leading stars of the English voice cast for the Dragon Ball franchise, Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabat have performed a large number of roles for the property’s various iterations over the years. Mr. Schemmel has played the lead hero Son Goku througout FUNimation’s dub as well as the major role of King Kai, and he also has experience as an ADR Director and Screenwriter. Meanwhile Mr. Sabat has been a major force in Dragon Ball productions as both its voice director and the voice of such major roles as Vegeta, Piccolo and the eternal dragon Shenron. During the weekend Otakon 2015 in Baltimore, MD Mr. Schemmel and Mr. Sabat were present to promote the upcoming August 4 – 12 theatrical run for the latest Dragon Ball film Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F, and the pair took questions from the media for an hour on a range of topics concerning their careers and their experiences working on Dragon Ball for so long. An edited transcript of their dialogue follows. 

Q: What inspired you to go into voice acting?

DBZResurrectionPosterCHRISTOPHER SABAT: I stumbled into voice acting. Voice acting was nothing that I even knew was an option when I was a kid. We didn’t have the Internet, so we were easily fooled by things. I didn’t even think about the fact that cartoon characters had voice actors that made those sounds. To me, they just came with those voices. I’m not sure everyone even does think about it, they just watch it and accept it for what it is. If anything has inspired me, it’s the fact that I was lucky enough to be offered a job as a voice director for Dragon Ball very early on. I got to work with professionals like Sean and all the other great actors. Over the years I got the chance to work with some of the most amazing people. It’s weird how being both a voice director and an actor can make you self-conscious about your own skillset. Someone can go “hey man, just jump in there and do a British accent!” And I’m like yeah, I can do that, but I could call up Ian Sinclair and he’s better at that than I am. Being a producer, you want to be able to offer people the best possible options for things. So over the years it’s been inspiring and it’s made my life difficult, because I sometimes think I may not be good enough to do what I’m doing.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I got into voice acting unconsciously in a way, because I think [that] as a little boy if I’d known there was a job in voice acting, I’d have pursued that my whole life. Instead I was simply turning down the volume on my TV and constantly doing impressions, constantly listening to my favorite impersonators. I was a professional classical musician in Dallas [and] Fort Worth, and my friends were always having me do impersonators at parties. They’d put me in a corner and say do an impersonation of Popeye, do an impersonation of Grover, do an impersonation of Kermit the Frog, and I’d try to do it. Sometimes I got close, that was a weird training ground. Then there was an open casting call for Dragon Ball Z in the Dallas Observer and a friend of mind was like, you should audition for this. When I decided to do it I didn’t just half-ass it. I treated it like a classical music audition. I wanted to prepare as much as I could, I prepared a fake resume, I prepared the best demo tapes that I could, I got really psychologically prepared to do it.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: And when I offered him the part as Goku, he goes “Oh, really? I thought my audition for Captain Ginyu was actually a lot stronger.” *laughter* [I said] “You’re gonna like Goku, he’s way better than the character that lasts eight episodes.”

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I was kinda bummed after that day. Which is so funny, because that’s so Goku. [In Goku’s voice] “Really, are you sure about that?” And then after when I went to work and after two weeks of doing Goku, I realized I had a lead part in the show. I think the reason I’d felt that way is that I prided myself on being able to radically change my voice, and Goku is not a huge departure from my natural voice whereas King Kai is.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: And when you came into the show in the late 60s, Goku wasn’t necessarily the lead in the show. It was in that moment when Goku was gone and they were fighting the Ginyu Force. So [you thought] you’d just show up and kick Recoome’s butt.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: The reason I say “unconsciously” is that when I got in the booth, I thought “this really feels like home.” I feel like I had a dream to be a voice actor that I didn’t know I had until I got into the booth, which tends to be a theme for me. Like I got to work with Frank Welker for a Scooby-Doo thing recently, and I did not have a dream to work with Frank Welker. Then he showed up and I realized who he was, and I started bawling in front of a co-star who I didn’t know. I apologized to Jason Spisak and said “I don’t know you, but I’m going to cry now.” I didn’t realize until after the session I had a dream to be with that kind of actor professionally, and I cried after the fact.

Dragon Ball Z Resurrection FQ: You guys have been voice actors for many years now partly due to Dragon Ball Z and many other anime, and you’ve also worked with many voice actors. If there were a Mount Rushmore for voice actors who would you put on it?

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Mel Blanc, Frank Welker…who else?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Man, it’d be hard to narrow it down to four people. *crosstalk* Dan Castellaneta maybe, or – Hank Azaria

SEAN SCHEMMEL: And Hank Azaria. *crosstalk* Harry Shearer is insane. If we had 30 minutes to go through and analyze each one, those names might change, but that would be a good starting point.


SEAN SCHEMMEL: Billy West is incredible.

Q: Scott McNeil? *laughter*

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Scott McNeil is great. Great guy, also.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Todd Haberkorn. You could put his face on there cause it’d be a lot smaller, and you could fit more people on there.

Q: As far as directing, how do you get other people into character?

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Chris has directed a lot more, I was an ADR Director for three years. I did have struggles, after about a year of directing I figured out some things that Chris knew all along. To get people into character, I think actors tend to be generally very insecure, so making them comfortable about their choices and trusting them is very important. If they’re having trouble getting into character, depending in the character I try to use imagery or anecdotes that they would relate to. If it’s a new actor or actress, I’d ask them questions to see what they’re not getting. Chris, can you help me out here?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: If you cast a show well, you don’t actually have to spend that much time getting people into character, because you’ve already chosen people who are very good. But one thing that can really hurt your session is if, as a director, you act passive about what you’re doing. If you don’t at least try to make the job as fun and exciting as you can, that can affect the energy of your actors. If you enjoy directing, you do this natively. What I love to do is get into a scene with an actor, and you’re excited to make that scene great together. You let them do it but you support them as they’re doing it, giving them guidance as you go along.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Especially if they get a take wrong, not saying “that’s wrong” but saying “that’s really great, but here.” You keep everything positive.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Sure. If an actor does something wrong or that’s not correct, if they’re a good actor it’s because you haven’t given them that context. To me it’s really about keeping the sessions fun and inspiring. DBZResurrectionF_2

Q: How do you two feel when you see Dragon Ball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho cosplayers that are walking around? Have you ever thought of cosplaying?

SEAN SCHEMMEL: My girlfriend cosplayed as Chi-Chi once when we first got together. It was Halloween, and I wore this orange Goku thing. I just decided recently that if I were going to cosplay, I would totally cosplay as a Witcher because I’m so into that game right now.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I don’t know what I would cosplay as, but I can guarantee you it would be something very comfortable. The ones I’ve seen that are just super elaborate or hot. Of all the characters I’ve played I’d probably do Alex Luis Armstrong because I wouldn’t have to wear a shirt. It’s been funny, over the years of doing this, I remember when I first started coming to these conventions in the late 90s, everyone was dressed up. When I was first doing this cosplayers were fascinating to me and really weird, very strange to me.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: There weren’t many Gokus or Vegetas at the time.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Not as many. But now I recognize so many of them, and on top of that I don’t even notice them anymore. They’ve become so good and I’m so used to them, it’s not even unusual to me anymore. When people aren’t in cosplay, it’s more unusual to me.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: It’s true, I feel the same way. I see lots of Gokus and they’re getting better and better. But some guys are not just like, “I’m going to dress as Goku, but I’m totally out of shape.” It’s “I’ve been working out for six years!”

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: As a somewhat overweight voice actor, it’s always strange to me when people come up to me and go “man, Dragon Ball Z inspired me to be a level 8 black belt in karate!”

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I got inspired a few years ago to start karate and I studied for a couple years, and I only quit because I moved to LA and hadn’t found a proper teacher yet. I had the weird experience of being in class, and my kiais sound so much like Goku because I can’t help it.

Q: Were you guys even sure that you’d be able to dub Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F on such short notice, and what was the best thing about working on it?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I didn’t think we had such a short notice. I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to wait a year to dub it like the first time. With Battle of Gods, we had to wait almost a full year before we could start dubbing.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: And everyone was asking us if we were going to dub it all day, every day.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: With Resurrection F we got those materials very early, as soon as they were finished working on the movie. I DBZ BOGthink we got an early animatic of it before they even had finished it in Japan, so we had a chance to review the material and we knew what sort of people needed to be cast. The coolest thing about Dragon Ball Z is bringing these guys in to do it. It’s not like we have to sit around and discuss what the characters are all about. They already know what they’re doing, it’s like hiring the A-Team to come in and get it all done.

TOONZONE NEWS: For Resurrection F and Dragon Ball Z before that, Mr. Sabat, you’ve been on both sides of the microphone as an actor and as a director. So how do you manage those very distinct positions? Who directs the director in those situations?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I am the worst director to myself. I make myself do a lot of takes because I get very very paranoid. The only thing that really helps me out is that I have an engineer, his name is Raleigh Pickens. He’s been the main engineer at Okratron, my studio in Dallas, since I started the studio. He has seen so many of the episodes, he’s been sitting there while I’ve done so much Vegeta and Piccolo and Yamcha. He’s a really good gauge for me to go to. I’m very harsh on myself, probably more than I am on any of the other people.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I [vowed] when I was ADR Directing that I would not cast myself in parts for that reason. However, every once in awhile I would have extra ancillary parts that just could not get casting for. I’d be at the studio at 3 in the morning. In the early days we were using Quicktime. I’d have a keyboard, turn the monitor into the booth and record myself for whatever part I had to fill in until I was done. Sometimes Michael Sinterniklaas would come in and he would check things, but in general he was off doing his thing and it was a crapshoot and I’d hope I got it right. I’m hard on myself as well but usually out of the booth, but once I’m in the booth and I make a take and I’m clear on it I’m [fine]. I nitpick a little bit, but there was only like two lines at the end of Battle of Gods that I wanted to fix. And Raleigh and I went through and checked everything and I’m glad we did, because one line was just clearly inflected wrong and we fixed it. So there’s not a single thing I did in Battle of Gods that I’m unhappy with. I think it’s my best work as Goku personally. And Resurrection F, I don’t know that it’s better, but it’s definitely equal in terms of my part in it. And Resurrection F is a mind-blowing movie in terms of quality, because they just keep upping the ante. So I think fans are really going to love that movie. When you watch them together, you see how they fit very well. It’s really a double feature.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Yeah, it’s a really good film to watch back-to-back.

Q: How do you feel about fan-created content going around like the Abridged Series and fan-art and tributes to your characters?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I think it is a huge honor to have people imitating what it is we do, especially the art I see people come up with, it’s incredible. And it is so weird when people come out and do an impression of your voice. There’s a lot of fan love out there.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I’ve hired artists to create artwork that I sell, and I pay the artist a fee – limited edition prints, stuff like that. I will look for artists that I think draw Goku in a way that’s different from Akira Toriyama, because I don’t want someone to just copy it. Some of the tatoos in particular are amazing, I see murals of incredible art that looks like they were created by Akira Toriyama.

DragonBallSuper_KeyVisualQ: Now that [Akira] Toriyama is back on a [Dragon Ball] series, where do you see Dragon Ball going?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I think it looks beautiful and I think what you’re going to find is that with Toriyama’s influence, it’s going to be very light-hearted and nostalgic. He started with Dragon Ball and he’s kind of a comedy guy, he loves that comedy. I know some people have strong opinions on what they want Dragon Ball Z to be, and in that case some people didn’t like Battle of Gods because there wasn’t enough punching people in the face.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: And there was no clear destruction of an enemy.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: But I think that’s what I love about his style. Already, some of the episodes that we’ve seen coming out of Japan for Super, they’re really family situations. Including Vegeta in a really funny situation like the “bingo” song, those are the things that are hysterical to me, and I think those are really charming.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I’m starting to wonder if Dragon Ball Super might be more Dragon Ball-like than Dragon Ball Z-like, because Dragon Ball is so comedy-driven and story-driven.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I still have a hard time believing that eventually it won’t get to the point where everybody’s powering up all the time.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Goku starts out as a radish farmer – and by the way, this is information that’s out on the web. We don’t have materials, we haven’t started any recording, so I don’t want to misconstrue that. This is stuff I’ve seen on the web from various fans posting on my page in stuff. I was talking to my producer Justin and I had a different idea for how I wanted it to go, based on my own experience with the character. My original idea was that Goku would be told and everyone would seek him out as if we were the new Master Roshi. Then I thought: Vegeta goes through an incredible growth arc and Piccolo does as well, and a lot of characters grow and change and that’s what makes the story interesting. Goku doesn’t do a lot of changing personally or emotionally. So I thought it’d be interesting that since Goku got bonked on the head and lost his Saiyan evil-ness, that if through magic or some other means that was restored and Goku got more hardcore like Vegeta, and has to learn to be good. This is my own personal speculation.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I actually had the same exact thought: what if there were an evil form of Goku and Vegeta had to be truly the good guy?

SEAN SCHEMMEL: That would be a really interesting twist. Akira Toriyama’s so predictably unpredictable.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I’d like to see them bring Launch back!

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Yeah, Launch would be cool.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Apparently he just forgot her.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Yeah, apparently he did. He said in an interview he forgot about the character.

Q: In regards to Battle of Gods and its tonal change from how serious Dragon Ball Z was, you guys got to show your comedy timing chops a bit. Do you have any comedic influences?

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I’m a huge Bill Cosby fan, a huge Robin Williams fan, a huge Rich Little fan, George Carlin – there was lots of comedic stuff. I used to do stand-up comedy when I was a teenager, 18 or 19 years old, and I left because it’s an incredibly depressing scene surprisingly enough. I’ve always excelled at comedy, I tend to get comedic parts when I’m not doing Goku. When I wasn’t Goku and in New York, I got a lot of comedic roles. My favorite part of Battle of Gods is that I had to carry the Goku / King Kai stuff, because I was King Kai and a lot of people don’t realize that. Cynthia Cranz, who plays Chi-Chi, the other day said “I didn’t know you were King Kai this whole time.” And I was like “yes!” because I like to fool people, that’s part of the job. If you’re thinking about me then you’re not thinking about the character, so if I’m making my voice different enough to where you lose yourself in the character I’m doing my job right. Chris is a very funny person, he’s a hardcore prankster, and I think the only part that was difficult about the Vegeta comedy was the voice for the “bingo!” song.

Otakon 2015: Voice Actor and Director Christopher Sabat on "Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F", Broadcast DubsCHRISTOPHER SABAT: That was actually way easier than I thought it was going to be. When it was first told to me that Vegeta had a song in Battle of Gods, I was terrified. If you’ve ever listened to the voice of the Japanese Vegeta, Ryo Horikawa, he has a much higher voice than I have. I thought that if he sings, there’s no way I’d be able to sing the same song. For Kai they had different actors sing the theme song. Mine has never been released –

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Didn’t you do it like a country singer, or something?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Yeah. I couldn’t take it seriously, it just wasn’t a song I was capable of singing, it was too high of a song. I had to sing it an octave lower. It never saw the light of the day. One of these days we’ll hopefully just have it as an extra feature.

Q: Which characters do you feel more connected to?

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Emotionally I feel Goku is so synonymous with who I am and what I do, I often forget I’m playing the character. I have a lot of affinity toward Goku because of what he means to people. It’s not the funnest character to play because you have to talk like you’re on cocaine all the time, and you don’t have a lot of emotional depth. I’m jealous of Chris and Eric Vale and Mike McFarland, who played more fun characters. For me Goku is a separate emotional space that’s very personal to me. It was my first audition, it changed my life. Any emotional attachment I have to Goku – the rest of the characters I’ve played, I roughly feel the same way about, but Goku’s in a separate bubble from all that that’s very special to me.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: It’s hard to compare any character I’ve played to Vegeta, really. Every other character I’ve played has been, at most a few months of work. Vegeta has been literally 15 years of playing the same guy, and you just can’t shake that. That’s something that cannot be compared to, and it’s looking like I may end up doing this voice for the rest of my life. I joked at Comic Con that my grave is just going to say 9,000 on it with an arrow pointing down.

GiroroQ: What roles have you done that you feel people may not know about or are underappreciated because your bigger roles garner more attention?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I’ve been so lucky, I’ve played a lot of people who are really cool and people like a lot of them. It’s not because of me, I have a deep voice that sounds neat on really cool people. I wish that more people liked the show Sgt. Frog in America, I play a guy named Giroro. I know people at anime cons know who that is, but I feel like that show could be far more successful than it is in America. The episodes are far more international than you would think they are, it’s such a funny show. It’s going to be the first show I introduce my daughter to.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: There are a lot of characters I play that people aren’t aware that I play because I try to change my voice a lot. A lot of people still don’t know I did King Kai or Lucario in The Mystery of Mew. I played Sh’Okanabo in the previous incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is a kind of monster-y voice. A lot of people don’t know I was playing the Batman in The Dark Knight Rises video game. There’s some characters in Yu-Gi-Oh GX that people aren’t aware of…I was Tetsugyu in Giant Robo, which is really cool anime.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: People freak out a lot when I’ve told them I’m Kuwabara in Yu Yu Hakusho, which is a show they forgot they watched all the time until it’s brought up.

Q: In the future going forward, is there anything you’d like to do or something you wish you’d gotten to do?

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Now that I’m in LA and auditioning for more American cartoons, I really want to have a part that was a voice I created that’s not a dub that I’d do for a number of years, just like Mel Blanc. I did this on Kappa Mikey, which did okay on Nickelodeon, I thought it was underrated. It’s an animated parody so it’s very funny. But something like that would be very gratifying. Not just financially, but more importantly it would be [like] you’re the guy. Like when I was sitting in the room with Frank Welker he’s doing the Fred voice and I’m flipping out, and he’d break out into the Scooby-Doo voice in 2 seconds. You’re like “holy crap!” I’m 46 and I was four years old when I first saw Scooby-Doo, and he’s still doing it and sounding as good as he did back then. So something like that career path would be amazing.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: That’s a tough question because I’ve been very lucky and there isn’t a lot of original animation in Dallas. I love video game work, I like working on anything that’s video game-related. I did some work for Twisted Pixel in Austin, for The Adventures of Captain Smiley.  That was a really creative character where we didn’t have the video first. We really got to imprint our own characters into the game. It was animated specifically to my voice and it was one of the coolest things, I loved seeing that: someone else’s impression of what your voice looks like.

Q: If you could montage your career in one song, what would it be?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: “Kill Me Softly”, maybe? *room laughter*

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Gosh, I – a song that summarizes my career….

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: “Can’t Touch This”? *room laughter* *crosstalk*

SEAN SCHEMMEL: As far as Goku’s concerned maybe it’s a song that keeps getting louder and higher. I don’t know what to tell you. It’d be metal that screams louder and louder.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: If I had to pick a song for you it’d be some really weird, complicated Rush song.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Oh, “Marathon” – actually, that would be it! I’m thinking of the lyrics. It’s all about racing and being tired and miserable, and you still go…you’ve got to hold on until you finish the race. That would probably be representative of my career.

OnePiece_ZoroQ: Chris, you play Zolo [AKA Zoro] in One Piece. Do you ever fall back into a different character’s voice while recording?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: It has been complicated lately, because FUNimation has their new broadcast dub initiative where they’re bringing all these new episodes to the public really quickly. There’s only a handful of weeks between the time it’s aired and Japan and the time they’re airing it in America. Because of that the recording booths have been recording like mad, so I’ll come in and have nine different recording sessions in a day for vastly different things. Even just two days ago I had to do a split session where I was Zoro in the beginning and had to go do another character in Rage of Bahumut, a flamboyantly gay homosexual guy. And then I had to go back to the Zoro session for a makeup line, and had to adjust to where I was supposed to be. With characters like Zoro where we’ve played for a billion years, it’s not too hard to jump back into that. But it is really hard when you’re jumping onto smaller characters, they sometimes need to play references because I won’t remember.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: You don’t spend enough time in them to reference them quickly.

Q: Over the years working on Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball GT, how did you guys evolve your voices and evolve the characters? 

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Well, part of that is because we’re just naturally aging and using our voices a lot. The other part of that is, at least for me, I was very particular about – when we started the show, I had to give a take like Peter Kelamis from Canada because the show was being dubbed in Canada originally. I was cast based on my ability to mimic that voice pretty accurately. I remember when I got the part, I’d ask my producer Barry if I could take home videotapes and watch them over and over because I wanted the audience to have a consistent voice. And I remember meeting an old friend of mine who said, “Yeah, they replaced all the voices on Dragon Ball except Goku.” And I said, “Really? No they didn’t, they replaced Goku because I am Goku.” So I felt pretty validated that I was getting very close. But as an actor, at some point you have to own the character and make it your own. If you listen to early Simpsons, they were different. At one point during the Super Saiyan transformation, Chris told me after the fact they weren’t even sure I could do the screams necessary. So I get there and I’m still insecure about owning the character, meaning that you’re so comfortable with it that you know exactly how to play the character and you’re not taking influence from anybody but the director or the animation. So we did the Super Saiyan transformation and after that day, I went home thinking “this is the voice I’m doing, I’m done.” Now when we finished DBZ, I was concerned because I knew we’d go back to dub the beginning and Goku was 40ish at the end I think. Goku was much younger in the first 53 episodes, plus I had to dub 16-year-old Goku in Dragon Ball. So I had to go back and listen to where I started to make sure there wasn’t a weird dovetailing that didn’t make sense. As far as vocal changes are concerned, I think they happen naturally over time. What’s weird, and Chris will point this out, Vegeta in particular looks really different.

dragon-ball-z-resurrection-DBZ-061_FLAT_rgbCHRISTOPHER SABAT: If you compare a picture of him in the beginning of the series to the end, he looks completely different. I joke that he’s grown testicles between his eyes at the end. He just gets muscles between his eyebrows. Part of the evolution of my voice in that show, is that we were really trying to get through the show fast – and fast for us was really slow compared to now, because we were using archaic equipment, we were recording on tape. Once you were done with the take, as soon as you press stop, for whatever reason the whole system would freeze. Sometimes it would freeze for 30 seconds, sometimes it would be 8 or 10 minutes. And if you touched anything it would just freak out, so you just let the system do whatever it was going to do. I remember if you decided to leave the room and you didn’t catch it after it unfroze, it would go “oh, you’re not working on me anymore? I’ll just rewind the tape all the way to the beginning!” If that happened that took another 5 minutes as you get back to where you needed to go.

So part of the evolution of my voice of Vegeta was first uncovering what Vegeta was going through. As we were dubbing this we were experiencing this as the characters were, we didn’t know where the series was going. I didn’t have access to the manga, there was no Internet back then. When we got episodes in-house we’d go, “Oh, my character does that?” Or Sean’s like, “Oh, I’m in a recuperation tank? I guess I’m poor for the next month.”

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Yeah, I had to borrow money. “Dad, my Goku’s sick, can I borrow money for gas?” He’d laugh, he thought it was so funny I had to borrow money because Goku was sick.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: There was a point during the middle of the series when my Piccolo and my Vegeta were starting to sound very similar, because my voice was just so incredibly damaged from having to do all that screaming for both of those characters. And I wish I knew his name, but a fan at a convention comes up to me and goes “hey man, no offense at all, but I have noticed your Vegeta and Piccolo are sounding kind of close to one another”. And it really did dawn on me, I went back to the studio and saw he was absolutely right. So there was a moment where I kicked Vegeta’s voice up a bit higher, and Piccolo lower. By the end of the series, we were no longer mimicking the Canadians, we were just playing them the way we thought they should play. The cool thing is we got to do the whole series and then got to do it again.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: [Dragon Ball] Kai, right?

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Or even some of the overdubs and redubs, and we got to do them again and again because of the video games. As we went along we were getting newer technology that allowed us to reference the original Japanese, and we were never able to do that in the past.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I didn’t reference the Japanese until the third video game, I finally heard Masako’s voice.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: We didn’t even know what the Japanese voices sounded like when we were doing it. The only material we had was the Mexican dub, that was the closest place FUNimation could get the materials for Dragon Ball Z. They had to import the Mexican production audio equipment, and we used that to dub it. It’s even funny how Majin Buu turned out to sound very similar to the Japanese version without us ever hearing it. I think it helped Dragon Ball Z sound very unique.

dragon-ball-z-resurrection-DBZ-071_FLAT_rgbSEAN SCHEMMEL: What I think is really cool: as a dub actor, you barely feel like you have the right to be the character, much less sign autographs or whatever. But Japan, Toei, we got their attention big time with Battle of Gods. They came out and did a subtitled Japanese premiere in LA which was huge, and insisted I ride in a limo with Masako Nozawa and insisted we all go to dinner and they were incredibly gracious. And it’s unprecedented, I think, that they’d do that for Resurrection F. When we got to dinner, we had no idea it was this big and they saw the fans at the Egyptian Theater. And I said “Oh, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, this is a huge phenomenon and following.” So we feel incredibly validated and gratified that Toei and the cast members and producers and directors were like “Hey, we think you’re awesome too, go for it.” And we got word back that they loved the dub for Resurrection F.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: The director loves the American dub of it. So much so that they really wanted us to be at the premiere, they actually asked for us to be there.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I don’t think that’s ever happened in history for a dub.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: What else is unprecedented is that Battle of Gods was, to my knowledge, one of the largest if not the largest pre-sale theatrical events ever. Am I correct in saying this?

Unidentified voice: For the type of event that it was.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: It is officially a pop culture phenomenon and I don’t think it has shown any signs of stopping. So we’re just shocked and thrilled to be part of it. It’s so funny because when I got the part and it was #1 on Cartoon Network, it was going to be like it is now back then and it wasn’t. Then 15, 16 years later, I was right! It’s been a great ride and I expect to be – Masako is 72 now, I think, and she started in her 40s voicing Goku. So I’m like wow, okay, if I start doing  Dragon Ball Super and they do a bajillion episodes I’m going to be well into my 50s before I’m done doing this.

Q: Has working in anime fulfilled your bucket list goals?

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Yeah! Like I said, working with Frank Welker.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Working in anime created the bucket, it made everything possible for us. We actually turn down trips sometimes to the most amazing places, because we’re too busy doing things. But we’ve been to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, all over the world –

DBZResurrectionF_8SEAN SCHEMMEL: And we didn’t have to pay for any of it! That was the cool part. And I wouldn’t have met my girlfriend, who I’m hopefully marrying this year or next year. The people in our lives, [there’s] the friendship Chris and I have. I like to think about it in terms of cause and effect. You’ve got this Japanese guy, using his imagination, he’s never met me. The imagination of a pen and a story, made this massive explosion in having not just an effect on fans but also on us personally as cast members of the show. And Chris and I are just two of the cast members, [though] I think most if not all of the cast feel the same way: this was a dub that would radically transform our lives in a way that we couldn’t possibly have imagined. I remember when I was depressed before getting on Dragon Ball. I’m not a religious person really, but I just put a message out in the universe that I wanted something to make my life great and that if I got it I’d treat it like gold. And I got Dragon Ball.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: You know it’s funny you mention that, I had this really weird premonition. Before I got the job on Dragon Ball, I was dating this girl in college and she really wanted me to move with her, she was going to study opera in Chicago. I said I can’t do it, I can’t go. I feel like I’ve got to stay here for some reason, and I can’t leave – it could be I just didn’t like her. *room laughter* But there was something that made me not want to go, as if something was going to happen and I needed to be here for it. And it was not six months later that I got the offer to work on Dragon Ball.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: I was living in New York City for 10 years and I always had this quest, I didn’t feel like my career could go anywhere real until I had the right partner. I stayed in the New York area, my income was going terribly, the industry was drying up out there. I felt like I needed to stay for some reason and then I met Brie, and I was like “OK, now I can do what I need to do”. Toward the end of my time there it was getting really rough for me. Once everything started tanking in 2008 with the economy, 4Kids started tanking because they were having financial trouble for a number of reasons. I was doing 36 different voices in 6 different shows and went down to one voice on one show, and I wasn’t getting work even though I was good because nobody was making any new animation. So I waited and waited. Debi Derryberry, the voice of Jimmy Neutron, she was like, “Why don’t you come to LA and join the union, you can make some real money.” Because I waited I had all this material to choose from to make my demo [tape], so I cut my demo together and went to LA and I’ve been there for two years, and it’s been successful so far. And Chris and I’s friendship, I’m more like the Vegeta in our friendship, he’s happy-go-lucky and I’m grumpy and he’s very tolerant of me.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: I feel like I’m more Piccolo than Goku. I’m relaxed and I can hear everything.

SEAN SCHEMMEL: Yes, that’s true, but he’s less grumpy than Piccolo. He’s more Goku-y in terms of his playfulness. I feel like you’ve been constantly trying to get me to be good like Goku’s trying to get Vegeta to be good. It’s a beautiful and annoying thing, but I love him for it.

CHRISTOPHER SABAT: Sean has a tendency to get really angry about stuff that, in my opinion isn’t something to get angry about. And instead of making it easier for him, I sometimes like to poke just to see what would happen.

Toonzone would like to thank Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabat for taking the time to talk with us, and the team at FUNimation PR and Otakon for making it possible.