Foreign films and TV shows are gaining popularity in the U.S., especially with streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime adding more foreign language content to their roster. With this rising trend, there has been increased demand for dubbed content.
Dubbing, also known as lip sync dubbing, is defined as replacing the spoken language of a media project with another language and matching the lip movements of the character on screen. Dubbing gained a schlocky reputation in the 1960s and '70s when Hong Kong martial arts movies were dubbed in English with little regard to lip syncing. Along with over-the-top performances and awkward wording, films with poor dubbing were called too "dubby".
Since then, lip syncing has become a key feature of dubbing and the art of dubbing has improved considerably (though some are still nostalgic for those Hong Kong dub films). Here are some key tips to make sure your dubbing project excels and doesn't fall into the category of being too "dubby".
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Having a Great Team, Equipment, and Recording Space
For any project, having a reliable, professional team to back you up is essential in creating the best product and meeting deadlines. As mentioned in a past blog post, a professional localization studio is extremely beneficial in raising the quality of your dubbing project.
A studio project manager would make sure that all the tasks needed for a dubbing project have been delegated and completed properly, from translation and lip sync adaptation of the script to quality assurance of the voice recordings, as well as establishing a timeline for delivery. The project manager is central in making sure a project is accomplished and delivered on time.
Another key team member is the engineer. Working with the voice director and the voice talent, the engineer is essential in making sure that the audio file is recorded correctly into a professional audio program (such as ProTools). The engineer will have a good ear in catching any pops, clicks, or other sound hiccups. A localization engineer will have experience working with multiple languages and will know how to time the recording properly based on the language.
Having high quality recording equipment can also make your voice go from sounding like an old voicemail to a clear, cinematic voice-over. Make sure that you're using an excellent mic from a brand you trust (some notable brands: Sennheiser, Rode, Audio-Technica).
Recording spaces: An outside dog bark or car honk sneaking into an emotional dubbing performance can really destroy the mood. A professional recording space should have wall to wall soundproof padding as well as multiple doors to block outside noise. If you're unable to go to a professional sound studio to record, there are tutorials online on how to soundproof a room in your home with sound curtains, carpet, and acoustic foam products.
The Importance of Directing and Casting
It's a Hollywood truism that 90% of directing is casting; finding the right voice actor for a role is more than half the battle. But, how do you get your project to 100%?
The actor is concentrating on reading the script accurately, lip syncing to the video playback, and delivering emotion. It's hard to juggle all these things and at the same time be able to gauge the quality of their own delivery.
That's why having a voice director is an incredible asset. "You have to truly love actors and their process," Batman Beyond voice actress and director Andrea Romano shares is a key characteristic for voice directors. Being an actress herself, Romano understands the pressure actors have to perform well. By being able to empathize with the actors, directors can get to know the actors more, their skills and strengths, and guide the performance better.
A director, who should be a native speaker of the language being dubbed, offers a more objective, bigger picture view. For example, when dubbing a film, maybe the actor says, "I love you" to another character. There are many ways to say "I love you"; it can even mean "I hate you" depending on the context. The character may be trying to lure the other character into a false sense of security so that, two scenes later, she can steal his doomsday device and run off.
Now add to that complexity the nuance of language. In Japanese, to say the direct translation of "I love you", 愛してる (ai shiteru), is incredibly serious whereas it's more common to say 大好きだよ (daisuki da yo), meaning "I really like you". But 大好きだよ could mean anywhere from "I like you like I like red bean ice cream" to "I like you because I love you." A good director would have a firm grasp of this linguistic nuance while also knowing the full context of the scene.
Tips for Voice Actors to Improve Their Performances
Even with great directors, actors are creative collaborators that bring their own voice (figuratively and literally) to a dubbing project. How does an actor stay in top form and make sure the dubbing goes smoothly?
SPEAK WITH CONFIDENCE. Now, this is not to say to always speak with bravado. Maybe the character is shy and can't express his feelings. A voice actor must make a choice and present it confidently. If the actor chooses to hide their emotions, he/she must play that choice fully. If the character is braggadocious...go for it! The key is to have clear, confident choices.
When dubbing, the original performance can be used as a guideline, however, there may be an extra sound or word that needs to be added to the translation to match the lip sync. Here the actor, the director, and the engineer must work together to help fill these small gaps while keeping in line with the integrity of the project.
Also, talented voice actors, instead of trying to transform one's voice to match the original language, are able to adapt their voice and their vocal strengths to help bring life to a character. Here's an example of Homer Simpson dubbed in multiple languages, with each language's voice actor bringing their own interpretation of Homer to the table (some becoming famous in their home country for their talents).
In addition to performance and interpretation, a voice actor should be well rested, hydrated, and warmed up before a recording session. Voice acting is at the intersection of art and athletics. Like a professional athlete, voice actors want to make sure to do their own vocal exercises and warm ups so that they don't hurt their voice.
Voice actors that have maintained a long career know to treat their voice with self care and to always be learning.
Reach Your Audience
If you've taken the steps above, you'll be able to reach your target audience with an awesome dubbing project that sounds natural and captures the feeling and meaning of the source content.
To summarize, an excellent dubbing project should have: a professional localization studio behind it, high quality recording equipment and recording spaces, a director that understands the script thoroughly and how to work with actors well, and prepared voice talents that are able to bring their own creativity to the project.
With all those points in place, you're well on your way to exceeding expectations and raising the bar for dubbing from "too dubby" to high art.
Want to know more key voice-over and dubbing terms to help you with your own project? Click the link below for a free Voice-Over/Dubbing Glossary.