A look into this mysterious world
Have you ever wondered what goes on in the world of dubbing? In fact, what even is dubbing? Who are these voice artists and what is a voicebank?
Well, I’d like to invite you to pull up a chair and get a sneak peak of what happens behind the scenes of your favourite international and local movies and TV shows, voiced by our very own talented Mzansi artists!
Let’s start with a few terms you may have heard but you’re unsure of the meaning.
Dubbing is a post-production process where dialogue in one language is substituted for dialogue in another language. The voice artist works ‘to picture’ in a recording studio, to sync the on- and off-camera dialogue and recreate the performance in the new language. A German film for instance, may be dubbed into Afrikaans with local voice artists who re-enact the original performance, paying careful attention not to lose the original meaning and impetus. Dubbing is a very specific type of voice artistry that involves more than just the skill of performance. An artist also needs excellent sight reading and hearing skills. That’s why we affectionately refer to our top performing dubbers as ‘dubbing fit’.
The people we use in our recordings are referred to as “talent”, dubbing artists or dubbing actors. I’m sure you can imagine having so many incredible dubbing artists poses the interesting challenge of who to use where, in other words – ‘casting’. This is where the voicebank comes in. A voicebank is an innovative library archive which stores a variety of voices, labelled or tagged by things like age, gender, accent, tone and pitch (e.g. husky or high pitched). We put a lot of effort into ensuring the right voice is cast – after all this is what helps people around the world fall in love with some of their favourite on-screen characters!
When a character appears in a TV show, the Talent Department (the in-house department tasked with casting and managing the talent) casts an actor that has a voice best suited to the character on screen and best suited to the client specifications. We might scour through the voicebank for the type of accent or voice we are after, and then go through an audition process to find just the right fit. Or we may audition a new-to-the-scene voice artist and once chosen, they would be entered into the voicebank system for consideration for future projects too.
A professional dubbing artist knows how to convey the tone and emotion that was communicated in the original material. They are performers – actors and actresses. But more than that, they should have exceptional sight-reading skills, which allow them to read and act out lines really quickly and to the timing of the original material. Top calibre dubbing artists can perform a range of voices and character styles, as well as different accents. In some cases, they may even speak multiple languages.
The Talent Department assigns roles to dubbing artists based on their experience and skill set.
Some of these roles include what we call “featured” and “walla” characters. Featured characters occur consistently throughout the show or series, but don’t have plenty of lines. Think about Gunther in Friends. You saw him all the time, knew his name and so on, but he wasn’t a lead character. Walla characters are – using the Friends reference again – the background actors that may be sitting in the coffee shop. In other words, all the incidental characters and crowd scenes in the series or show. In dubbing, walla is also a sound effect imitating the sound of a crowd in the background. Legend has it that walla received its name during the early days of radio, when – to mimic the indistinct chatter of a crowd – the people in the scene would repeat the word “walla” over and over; apparently it made for the perfect background crowd noises. Nowadays, walla actors speak real words, and the sounds they make are tailored to the languages, speech patterns and accents that might be expected of the crowd in question. The name, however, has remained.
To ensure that we give viewers the best quality and experience, we have what we call reverts. This is basically a system that allows for talent to come in and do “line fixes” whenever errors are picked up during the quality control process. An example of this may be where we notice that a voice over is not perfectly synced, or an accent goes slightly wayward in one part of the recording. Reverts are an essential part of delivering a high standard product and voice artists know there is always a chance they may be called back for line fixes.
So there you have it – an insightful look at the inner workings of our studios. Next time you watch a foreign language movie dubbed into your home language, spare a thought for the dubbing process and the talented people who made it happen!