Dragon Con, with all of its many themed tracks that range from puppetry to urban fantasy and filk, has something for everyone to enjoy. At this year’s Dragon Con convention (which had 65,000 attendees), I sat down with Samantha Inoue-Harte and Brian Holder to talk about everything animation and anime-related, voice acting and voice casting-related, about running a small POC-owned business, and more.
You can see everything that Samantha Inoue-Harte has been involved with on IMDB.
My guests recommend that you check out joining the International Entertainment Partnership, a 501(c)(6) organization that focuses on the entertainment industry around the world, for free. They also recommend that you check out both Lion Forge Animation and Frost Giant Studios when you get a chance.
You can buy a membership for next year’s Dragon Con here.
This interview was edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, good afternoon. Could y’all please introduce yourselves?
Samantha Inoue-Harte: Yes! My name is Samantha Inoue-Harte. I’ve been working in the anime/animation industry since 1997. Started off as an animator, worked at Little Wolf Entertainment, did some work at Powerhouse Animation Studios for about six years. [I] started my own animation studio, Seiko Animation, back in 2005. Started working with different Japanese anime studios as partners on several productions and started development, writing, pitch productions. [I] worked in animation on the Japanese side of things, and then I started doing voice acted in the late ’90s – I don’t exactly remember what year it was, it was either ‘98 or ‘99. I did about eight years for ADV Films, also known as AD Vision Films. I did a lot of casting for them, handled scheduling for walla, did voice acting for them, did a lot of translation on the spot.
I did a lot of work for voice training for the voice actors on how to pronounce the different Japanese words in a way so that ‘Sakura’ doesn’t sound like ‘Sakuuuurah,’ or ‘Naruto’ like ‘NarUtoh.’ I tried to help the voice actors sound authentic in that sense. And yeah, now, I’m a producer, I do anime production – I do consulting. I’ve consulted for Disney, did some consulting for Nickelodeon, helped out different studios on getting projects done and getting different anime studios to work on their projects for American audiences, things of that nature. So I’m all over the place. I’m like that kid Mickey from Kix cereal commercial – ‘Get Mickey, he’ll eat anything!’ It’s like, I’m that character, where they’re like: ‘Get her, she’ll do anything!’ So yeah. [laughs]
Brian Holder: Hello everyone, my name is Brian Holder. I am an actor, a voice actor, casting director, and business owner. My background for acting came in 2013-2014 when I started applying to voiceover gigs on Newgrounds and small indie websites that were doing video games. I made a couple of them that I’m too embarrassed to mention, because that was some of my early work. [laughs] And some mobile games that were interesting, but fun. And that’s how I got my foot in the door as far as acting. I went into anime recently and [I] started doing voiceover work for background characters and small bit parts for characters for anime [like] One Piece, [The] Heike Story. I’ve done some for a couple isekai animes that have come out recently, as well as doing some voiceover work for some Korean anime that I have casted [for] too.
I’ve done live-action work for popular TV shows like CW’s Texas Walker Ranger, [The] Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and I am going to be in a couple of feature films further down the line. For my voiceover work in video games, I have done voices for Pirate 101, I’ve done voices for Wizard 101 for KingsIsle Entertainment, as well as doing some voiceover work for DC Online and DC Universe – which one of the main characters will be revealed in the near future.
And also, I own my own business with my own partner Nicholas Markgraf. We own LazuArts Entertainment. We are one of the first black-owned and POC-owned dubbing studios in the United States. We focus on casting and building a wider range to POCs as well as bringing more POCs into the anime and video game industry and entertainment industry where, in other cases, they are usually snubbed out. I, and my partner too, want to bring that to the table to get POCs into the anime industry as well as cast a more diverse background for our future projects.
“I love teaching. I love being able to help people create projects from start to finish. When they get to be accomplished and work in the studio, I admit- it brings a tear to my eyes sometimes, because I’m like ‘That’s my baby!’”
OR: From 1995 to 2008, you taught animation in Texas, and you started up your own animation studio in Cedar Park.
SH: Wow, you did a deep dive!
OR: Do you miss teaching, and what were the biggest changes to how you taught animation during that time period?
SH: Wow, okay. I’ve been teaching animation for a long time – and voice acting for a long time. I’m actually really surprised; I think you’re one of the first people to ask about that. So, there was a school that I taught out in Cedar Park that was mainly targeted for young children and homeschooled families, because animation is one of those industries where as long as you have the art skills – we’ve seen young animators starting in the industry as interns as young as 15. Actually – it’s kind of interesting how a lot of my students from 1995, even on the college level – there’s students of mine at different animation studios like Rooster Teeth Productions. One of the kids I used to teach over at ACC was Sam Deats, and he is one of the directors of Castlevania over at PowerHouse.
One of the differences in how I’ve taught, when it comes to teach younger children ages 10-15 – they are more accepting of information. So, they are kind of like sponges. It’s like you just sit there and say ‘Okay, to create a new keyframe, you hit F5.’ And they take you at your word, and they do it. When you’re teaching at a college, and you’re like ‘Okay, in order to create a new keyframe, you’re gonna hit F5 on your computer,’ and they’ll sit there and be ‘Well, ya know, actually, there’s another hotkey that you can hit and here’s the alternative.’ It’s like, ‘I don’t care, do this. This is the way we do it in the studio, and you’re actually making it harder.’ And you end up having to argue sometimes with adults. With adults, I have to dumb it down a little because then I have to break it down into the 12 principles of animation and then we’ll use Richard Williams’ The Animators’ Survival Handbook as the core book that we would use, or the Preston Blair Animation book. We’ll take each of those exercises and incorporate those into homework assignments.
When teaching adults, it’s a little more of an ‘I have to showcase my skill, because there’s always going to be somebody who is going to challenge me.’ Like, I’m a girl, it’s a male-dominated industry – I started working in animation where I was one of three women in Texas doing animation. And so, having a woman walk into the office and say ‘Okay, we’re going to be doing pillowcase animation, squash-and-stretch.’ And there’s always that one dude in the class who will sit there and challenge me on the spot. That’s something where I have to sit there and showcase my animation skills and shut them down. I don’t have to do that with kids. With kids, they will just be like ‘Oh, what are we doing today?’ ‘Oh, we’re going to do this – here is step-by-step.’ And they’ll be like ‘Okay!’ and then they’ll do it. And they blossom and have these amazing animations, and you’re just like ‘Wow, that is great!’ Whereas, with adults, a lot of times, we’ll have the situation where I’ll be like ‘For this animation, we’ll have 15 frames’ and they’ll do three. And I’ll be ‘Hey, man, that’s not quite a full animation. This assignment is that you have to do 15 drawings.’ And I have to challenge them to do work.
So, I do find that a lot of my younger students have progressed and started working in the animation studios, and I’ve got some students that worked on The Dragon Prince, which is an Emmy Award-winning animation for Netflix. I have several animation students who’ve worked with Aspyr on multiple video games. I’ve got a couple of students who’ve worked over at BioWare. And they’re all from the younger group. But as far as the adult groups, a lot of them – life would get in the way, and animation would become more of a hobby in that sense. There is a huge difference in mindsets. I guess what you can say is that having to change my teaching style based on the mindset of who that it is that you’re dealing with is what I have to do when educating.
OR: Do you miss teaching regularly?
SH: I do! I love teaching. I love being able to help people create projects from start to finish. When they get to be accomplished and work in the studio, I admit – it brings a tear to my eyes sometimes, because I’m like ‘That’s my baby!’ And I do have this mindset where it’s like ‘If I’ve taught you animation at some point, you’re always going to be the little person that started off.’ ‘How do I flip this paper?’ It’s like, to do flipping animation – I’m doing the physical action right now, this is flipping, and this is rolling – I don’t have kids, I have cats, but to me, it’s like having these students actually work in the studios.
I walk into the studios and I’m like ‘Oh, dude, you’re here!’ It happened to me on the set of Alita Battle Angel. One of my students was working on Alita Battle Angel, and he called me up ‘Hey! I’m going to be on set, I’m going to be doing this!’ And I was like ‘Oh my God, you’re my baby!’ So I went over to his computer, and I was looking over his stuff, and I was like ‘Okay, you need to add more frames here.’ And he was like ‘Okay, yes, ma’am.’ And he started adding more frames. I do kind of get that mother hen sort of thing on me, and I miss it a lot.
“What LazuArts likes to do – we actually present, or I like to present, the top five candidates to the client so they can have a say in the pick for the lead of a certain project.”
OR: You also started liaison work for Funimation and animation studios in Japan when Funimation began creating original programming in 2008. Can you talk a little bit about what this work entails, and your experiences with that?
SH: You’re one of the few people I know that’s heard of that! So me and my business partner, Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, and our lawyer at the time, we approached Gen Fukunaga and Adam Zehner at Funimation – Fukunaga is the president of Funimation. We were like ‘Hey, you guys want to start original animation production – that’s what we do. We work together with the Japanese animation studios, primarily Gonzo, and a lot of the folks at Production IG and Bones and all that. If you want help making those connections, let’s work together.’
Unfortunately, there are times when you have clients or partners who are very money-conscious. We had multiple projects that were either public domain or pre-existing IP – I cannot discuss the IP, they are very, very well known. We had been working on one Sci-fi project in particular and had been working with the original creator. It’s part of the big, top Sci-fi IP out there and we were working with several Hollywood people on that. And we had scripts, we had the model designs for the ships, Gonzo was all on board to get it done, and Gen Fukunaga actually announced it at the studio. Everyone at Funimation knew about it, and I was like ‘Well, you can’t really announce anything until you sign the contract.’ Unfortunately, they didn’t sign the contract on that project, and they didn’t sign contracts on a lot of other projects. So unfortunately, the creator was like ‘It’s taking too long, I’m getting a better offer somewhere else’. So that project unfortunately went away. I could say more, but that might give away what title it is.
Instead, what Funimation opted to do – they wanted to go the route of working with a video game studio on their IP, and creating anime movies. So, they wanted to ride on the coattails of a video game. And I was ‘Well, if you’re going to ride on the coattails of a video game, and that video game fails, what’s going to happen with that animated movie?’ So, we locked horns too much, and we walked away, and I just went on my own and started to do production on my own instead.
OR: You went and built your own dubbing studio in 2021 during the pandemic, and you also cast the roles for it. How do you balance being the co-owner of the studio and casting the roles that your studio records? Do you ever feel like you have to sacrifice more of one position to fulfill the other?
BH: Fortunately – and I’ve had a lot of people say ‘They don’t like casting’ – I’m one of those few people who love it, and I try to organize it using Excel and Outlook to essentially filter out actors and also have a short list of ‘go to’ reliable actors. But at the same time, for one of our first films that I casted, SEOBOK: [PROJECT CLONE] – which was a Korean live-action film – needed an English dub, we had a pretty diverse cast of people. I remember we had close to 700-plus auditions for that film. It was our first project ever, and I had to go through 700-plus different auditions. But at the same time, [I was] working as the co-owner and emailing back and forth with the client as far as getting the pricing right for the project and paying the actors appropriately, and finding more work for the studio [with] future projects. And at the same time, for myself, also auditioning and acting and running a full-time job too.
You have to schedule everything. So, for me, scheduling is very important – especially for casting. Typically, after the workday and going to the gym and eating dinner, I sit down behind my computer and all I do is listen to auditions on and on and on and on and on until like three or four in the morning. [I] start filtering out ‘Okay, these are the top out of 700-plus people, this is the top 100’ and start narrowing it down lower and lower and lower until we get to the top five for each role. What LazuArts likes to do – we actually present, or I like to present, the top five candidates to the client so they can have a say in the pick for the lead of a certain project. This gives the client ‘Oh, we don’t want to just leave it all in your hands, we want to know who the lead is going to be for the thing that we are paying you to dub.’
Brian Holder casted roles for SEOBOK: PROJECT CLONE as part of LazuArts Entertainment.
OR: I hope you both have been enjoying Dragon Con this year – I know this isn’t your first time coming to Dragon Con. Are you both loving it?
BH: Yeah, I am really enjoying it. My favorite thing about it is really hanging out with the fans and the staff and just people that I’ve met before last year. Hanging out, having dinner [or] lunch with them, and just talking to them.
SH: Dragon Con is kind of like family to me. All the staff are always so sweet, and what I like about Dragon Con is that even though the convention ends on Monday, I still chat with everyone. Mainly through messenger, but it’s like we’ll be geeking out about Alita: Battle Angel stuff or chatting about this and that or the other. It’s kind of like Dragon Con doesn’t end for me at the end of the con, and so I don’t have to worry about con depression.
OR: Thank you very much, both of you.
You can also buy a membership for next year’s Dragon Con here.
Have you checked out any of LazuArts Entertainment’s or Saiko Animation’s works before? Did you attend this year’s Dragon Con event?
Let us know in the comments below!
You can read my Dragon Con interview with Nolan North here.