What Is Dubbing in a Movie and How Does It Work?
Cinema has long been an international form of entertainment, largely made possible through the innovation and process of dubbing. While some films may make their way overseas with subtitles, many audiences prefer hearing dialogue in their native language, which puts quality dubbing in high demand.
Dubbing can also be used in a film’s original language. As much as technology has progressed over the nearly one-hundred years since the first sound picture, unexpected circumstances can arise that make unusable the sound that was captured on set. In such cases, filmmakers may choose to dub dialogue with that captured in post-production to ensure better quality.
No matter if it’s an aspiring filmmaker, sound specialist or Actor, anyone with a foot in the entertainment industry can more thoroughly acquaint themselves with dubbing processes as a means to better understand the practice and art of the technique, as well as how it can impact both the outcome and audience of a film.
In our discussion of dubbing, we’ll cover:
- Dubbing versus voiceover
- Creating a script
- Choosing talent
- Recording the dialogue
- Layering the tracks
- Dubbing for creatives
Dubbing Versus Voiceover
Before explaining how to best use dubbing to enhance or diversify a film, it’s important to understand what dubbing is and what it is not. In particular, individuals with an interest in filmmaking should know the difference between dubbing and another sound element typically referred to as voiceover.
Like dubbing, voiceover can be employed in more than one way. For instance, voiceover is often used as internal dialogue for a character. Whether that dialogue is being directed at the audience is up to the filmmaker. But regardless of the voiceover being used to enlighten audiences to the internal thoughts of a character or to communicate directly with them, it can help to inform story and character arc.
In some cases, voiceover is also used to translate dialogue spoken in a language foreign to the audience listening to it. In particular, this form of voiceover is used quite often in documentaries when someone is interviewed who speaks a foreign language. Typically, the voiceover will lag a second or two behind the speaker to inform the audience as to what the subject is saying to the camera.
Dubbing and voiceover contrast most significantly in terms of their noticeability. Voiceover is meant to serve a creative storytelling purpose, as is often the case in narrative film, or a more direct translation purpose, such as in documentaries. Conversely, the most effective dubbing is the kind that goes unnoticed by audiences. Whether it’s relaying dialogue in a native tongue or replacing unusable on-set sound, good dubbing is “invisible” to the ear listening to it.
Unless the filmmaker tasked with making a dubbed version of a film has considerable expertise in layering dialogue, it’s critical that they hire someone who is an expert to ensure the best possible outcome.
It’s vital to keep in mind that even the most experienced filmmaking professional cannot dub a film on their own. It’s an involved process that requires the expertise of several experts. So for any filmmaker who might require dubbing services for a project, the first step to success is collaborating with the appropriate professionals who can help to ensure the needed outcome.
That being said, the following guidelines provide a general breakdown of what the dubbing process looks like:
Creating a Script
Let’s say the dubbing requirement is to recreate dialogue for a film in the native language of a targeted audience. Of course, the script will then need to be translated into that language. However, this part of the dubbing process is more involved than one might initially assume. Why? Because in dubbing, timing is everything. The objective is not only to translate the dialogue but also to have it match in timing and/or sync up with that of the original language.
What can make this part of the dubbing process tricky is that what is said in three words in one language might require six words in another. But for a successful dub, the translated version of the dialogue must take approximately the same time to be spoken as that in the original language. As a result, it’s important to have onboard translation experts who can manage the timing needs of dubbing, as well as selecting dialogue that is still faithful in meaning to the original language.
Another critical part of a successful dubbing project is finding the right talent. Many creatives and performers specialize in dubbing for particular audience markets, which can be helpful for filmmakers looking for someone who understands the specialized needs of the process.
Specifically, dubbing talent has to be able to adhere to timing requirements. In many cases, they may be in a recording studio, watching the original performance, as they speak the translated dialogue to better ensure that they say their lines in sync with it.
Another consideration when choosing talent is selecting someone whose voice mirrors in tone and inflection that of the original performer. As mentioned earlier, the point of dubbing is to allow audiences to follow the film in their native language. To help ensure that they can enjoy the experience without noticing dubbing efforts, it can be immensely beneficial to find performers who have similar vocal qualities to that of the film’s characters.
“To get into the dubbing world, you would need to get into the voiceover world in general. For starters, you would need a solid animation/video game VO reel which can be created by professional voiceover facilities throughout major metropolitan cities, especially Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Vancouver and pretty much any major city that is a friend to acting work in general.” — Edward Hong, Actor/Voice Artist
Recording the Dialogue
Every step of the dubbing process requires some measure of technical expertise. Especially when the time comes to record the dubbed dialogue, though, it’s important that all filmmaking professionals involved take every precaution to guarantee a successful session.
That means finding an appropriate location to do the recording. While some dubbing and voiceover professionals do have high-caliber recording studios in their homes, filmmakers responsible for the dubbing process should do their due diligence to book a space that is equipped to handle all dubbing needs. In many cases, the answer is to use a professional studio.
Because the dubbing process involves many filmmaking professionals, including the translation specialist, dubbing talent and sound experts, having to organize a second recording session can mean a large expenditure of additional time, money and energy. So to ensure that the dub is successful the first time around, filmmakers should collaborate with those within their means who have the highest level of expertise.
Layering the Tracks
The script is written. The talent is hired. The recording is finished. Now what? Now comes the final part of the dubbing process — layering the new dialogue tracks into the film!
Filmmakers, take note: This part of the dubbing process is particularly heavy on technical expertise and may require both sound and editing experts to complete the job. Unless the filmmaker tasked with making a dubbed version of a film has considerable expertise in layering dialogue, it’s critical that they hire someone who is an expert to ensure the best possible outcome. As with every other part of dubbing, layering dialogue tracks is usually done in collaboration with specialized professionals.
Dubbing for Creatives
As the above information indicates, dubbing is often looked at from the perspective of its technical processes. But what does dubbing mean for someone who performs it? Actor and Voice Artist Edward Hong elaborates on how someone booked for a dubbing job can best prepare for it:
“If possible, watch the original material and see how the Actors did it as you will be asked to carry that to a faithful degree while still providing your own stamp to it. More often than not, you will not be provided with the translation until literally the moment you work in the booth, so in the meantime watch that material IF available and practice along by reading the subtitles provided in that programming while paying attention to the lip movements. Most likely, the dubbed lines will not be the subtitle translations but it is nevertheless a good place to start!”
Hong, whose dubbing credits include programs for Netflix, also has advice for individuals looking to break into the craft:
“To get into the dubbing world, you would need to get into the voiceover world in general. For starters, you would need a solid animation/video game VO reel which can be created by professional voiceover facilities throughout major metropolitan cities, especially Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Vancouver and pretty much any major city that is a friend to acting work in general. While voiceover classes are important to learn the business of that particular industry, it does not substitute training. So two (recommended that you do this before the first one), get into a good acting class, especially of the theatre caliber, as a lot of the work you will be asked to do in the dubbing world is to be able to emulate emotions and understand the situations presented to you. Three, be familiar with dubs in general, and with that, Netflix is a fantastic place as all their programming provides other language options that you can listen to and get an idea of how they are doing it on a professional level.”
Dubbing is a multifaceted practice that requires the input and collaboration of many filmmaking professionals. Whether an interest in dubbing stems from an ambition to translate, record or perform, it’s important to build a solid foundation of the technical and/or performance skills necessary to successfully carry out that particular aspect of the process. For the more technical side of dubbing, that might require formal higher education training or working up the ranks from Production Assistant to dubbing specialist. And for an Actor or performer who would like to enter or transition into dubbing, as Hong explains, it requires not only a prior background in voiceover work but also an understanding of the nuances of dubbing performance. With the right training and education, though, any aspiring filmmaker or entertainment professional with a passion for dubbing can find success in it.
- “Dubbing.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
- Parker, Sam. ”Two Sides To One Coin: Voiceover and Dubbing.” The Voice Realm. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
- “How Dubbing Works: Video Dubbing Process and Best Practices.” CMI. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
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