ADR

The Democratization of Dubbing

May 6, 2022

The Democratization of Dubbing

How Technology and the Pandemic have Pushed Localization to be Better

by Steven Renata
Managing Director, VoiceQ

During the past two years, very little about the world hasn’t changed to some degree or another – change that has certainly come to the global profession of dubbing and localization.

It has been a change we can and should embrace, because as our worldwide professional community has risen to the challenges of the pandemic, we’ve also had a remarkable opportunity to improve many aspects of what we do. In the process, we have seen the entire process of localization become more open and inclusive of the full range of creative professionals who bring entertainment to the world.

VoiceQ began nearly 20 years ago with a mission that feels even truer today than it did when we started: To support cross-cultural connection by reducing the world’s language barriers. Our vision of that more connected world has come to life in ways we never imagined thanks to the recent explosion of streaming content – which was further amplified by the 18 months in which so many people stayed at home and discovered new TV shows and movies made in languages they didn’t speak.

Dubbing was particularly vital to the growth in popularity of “non-native” content, ensuring that people who can’t or choose not to read subtitles can still enjoy series like “Squid Game,” “Lupin,” “Killing Eve” and “Money Heist,” just four of the hundreds of popular shows VoiceQ has helped bring to global audiences.

Yet the dubbed show or movie you watch at home is only the end result of an international pipeline that involves dozens of people for a single episode. These professionals are part of a “talent pipeline” that has grown dramatically in just the past few years. Today, there are 3,000 global studios that work with more than 300,000 professional voice performers, directed by tens of thousands of creative directors as they perform scripts translated and adapted by thousands of specialized language experts, ultimately delivering hundreds of thousands of hours of entertainment content each year.

At VoiceQ, we’re committed to developing technology that is helping this talent pipeline acclimate to two enormous changes that have come to the industry simultaneously: There’s an overwhelming amount of new content in the form of streaming series and movies, plus games, advertisements, and other new material – and it’s coming to market just as the pandemic has changed traditional methods of working.

These huge changes have led to what we call a “democracy of dubbing,” expanding access to the technology that’s key to the dubbing process. Our goal at VoiceQ has been to use technology in ways that do more than simply make it possible to manage and produce dubbed and localized content in hundreds of languages. Our tools are intended to make that dubbed content better.

Since the advent of sound in the 1920s, dubbing has been an integral component of filmed entertainment – if mostly invisible. If the process has been noted for anything, it’s for anonymity, as performers, directors, technicians and producers of dubbed content labor – often mightily – in an effort to go unseen and unnoticed. That has led to confusion even in the entertainment industry about how dubbing and localization are accomplished.

VoiceQ aims to make the process more visible, at least to those within the industry, and more inherently creative, and we believe that when the process is more creative, the result is better for the viewer. Last year’s EGA study that found nearly two-thirds of viewers have turned off dubbed content because of poor quality showcased just how much we need to make this a vibrant, exciting, creative process – and how technology can be used to do exactly that.

Instead of merely serving functional roles, we want to support writers, performers, producers and technicians so they can collaborate in ways that lead toward better end results.

For instance, our VoiceQ Writer software allows script translators and adaptors to work with tools that allow them to create precision-crafted words that much more closely match what’s on screen in the original language. Using VoiceQ Writer, translators and adaptors can access technology-assisted frame-by-frame breakdowns of a shot or scene, so they can choose words that align with both the intent and with the images of the original. Adaptors, particularly, can experiment in real time with changing individual words to better match what’s on screen.

We think VoiceQ Writer is a lot like software that allows composers to better create music cues that match the scene, except digging even deeper than that into the all-important element of language itself. When language can better reflect the original intent, the emotion of the scene can be better felt by the viewer.

VoiceQ Actor similarly allows voice performers to be intimately involved in projects. Instead of walking into the studio at the last minute to receive lines and working in the moment to “replicate” the original performance, VoiceQ Actor provides performers with the immense and all-important luxury of time to understand and craft a performance. Working from their own home (or wherever they’d like), they can access scenes and scripts, rehearse their own performances, share their work in advance, and experiment with different timing. It’s all done with an easy interface that is easy for anyone to learn – VoiceQ provides training for users – that takes a process that was once the realm of studio engineers and makes it more interactive and even more fun.

Involving voice performers in the language-localization process is so important to us that we’re making VoiceQ available to voiceover professionals free until early 2023; all they need to do is sign up. We’re going this because it’s performers can focus on their creative work when they are more comfortable with the technical side of their craft.

These tools for writers and actors are further aided by our VoiceQ Cloud system, which allows dubbing directors and producers to have greater control over different elements of a project even before setting foot in a studio. Working remotely, VoiceQ Cloud mimics our in-studio professional VoiceQ software to allow better project management.

When it all gets put together, these individual software and technology components combine in ways that make the final in-studio recordings better in every possible way. By inviting writers, performers and directors to take part in the process earlier and more directly, studio time can be focused on even stronger creative results.

All of it may have been possible prior to the pandemic, but the last two years have only strengthened our commitment – and, we’ve seen, the entire industry’s – to making dubbed content better, faster and more efficient. Of course we do it to be better in our jobs, to meet deadlines and budgets … but more than anything, the reason we do it is to make the viewing experience better for audiences around the world.

All of us involved in dubbing and localization are involved in the remarkably important work of breaking down barriers between cultures and languages. When we do that, we show the world that the emotions of humanity – the joy, the excitement, the humor, the drama – are the same no matter where you’re from … and no matter what language you speak.

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