Joseph Gordon-Levitt was excited and honored when he got the call to help redub the animated feature film "The Wind Rises" from legendary Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.
Gordon-Levitt's no stranger to animation voice work, having done Disney's "Treasure Island" and the video game "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." In those cases he did his job before the animation started.
For "The Wind Rises," he saw working on the film as a chance to be part of the much-heralded work by Miyazaki and to face the challenge that comes with providing dialogue for a movie where all of the animation had been completed.
"It is a different challenge but I have been doing voice-over work for years with the short films I've been making for my website HitRecord. The approach I took with doing the voice was that my position wasn't to create a new work of art. I was just there to service a masterpiece," Gordon-Levitt says.
The historical fantasy casts Gordon-Levitt as Jiro Horikoshi, a young Japanese boy in the early 20th century who dreams of flying with the birds and meeting Italian plane designer Giovanni Caproni (Stanley Tucci). Poor eyesight means Horikoshi can't become a pilot, but he becomes an aeronautical engineer who designs the fighter planes that the Japanese would use during World War II.
Gordon-Levitt spent five long days in the recording studio replacing the dialogue one scene at a time. It didn't matter that he doesn't speak Japanese, he was more interested in matching the tone and cadence of how the original actors delivered their lines.
The only problem with spending so much time looking at the film is that Gordon-Levitt - who's a big fan of the director's work - would get distracted.
"There is so much visual detail in his movies," Gordon-Levitt says. "You can stare at a single frame for a long time and keep discovering beautiful details."
That's another reason Gordon-Levitt was happy to be part of the redubbing process. He knows that if the film came with subtitles, the viewer's focus would be divided between the imagery and reading the dialogue. The actor likes that moviegoers can concentrate on the images while listening to the story unfold.
Along with working on the animated film, Gordon-Levitt has been busy with HitRecord, an online collaborative production company that uses photography, video, music, spoken word and graphic art created by artists around the world to produce short films, books and DVDs. It became a series that airs on the cable channel Pivot, with the season one finale at 10 p.m. Saturday.
HitRecord, just like "The Wind Rises," has given Gordon-Levitt the opportunity to work on projects that are special to him.
"It's a way that I can really work on a variety of eclectic things. And that diversity really makes me happy, and I think it's conducive to our process, where we have, you know, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world contributing to our collaborations," Gordon-Levitt says. "We're going to get a diverse range of material, and a variety show is a perfect way to fit all of that into a television show."