Living in a bilingual city (as I do), dubbing and localization are a big part of the work that’s available for voiceover artists. With the growing number of global streaming services, limits on production because of the pandemic and the begrudging acceptance of dubbed-language programming by audiences who used to reject it, there’s a lot more voiceover localization work. Most films, television series, and streaming shows are dubbed in at least seven major languages, while kids’ programming is often dubbed in 20 or more.
Localization vs Dubbing – What’s The Difference
So what’s the difference between localization and dubbing? The terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. While dubbing is the act of replacing a soundtrack in one language by one in another language, localization is the work of adapting a script from a film, TV, or animation series for other regions of the world. To simplify, Localization modifies the content to suit each audience – slightly altering phrasing or using local vernacular without losing any of the story’s throughline or emotional impact. Dubbing fits translations to picture.
A Boom In Localization
Since the pandemic, there’s been a veritable boom in localization. Thanks to travel restrictions and covid protocols, production on location have been impacted, for sure. But these same restrictions have kept audiences from traveling and having in-person exposure to new cultures. Localization gives them a taste of content from foreign locations in the form of “arm-chair traveling”.
In fact, there’s been so much interest, supply is hardly keeping up with demand. Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, all the big streaming services are curating more and more localized content. Because these services are global, the opportunities for skilled localization talent will keep increasing. Netflix now works with thousands of translation and localization professionals, managed through several language services providers, in order to deliver content to global audiences.
It’s a slower burn, however, to bring non-American content to the states (though it is happening). I asked one of the directors I work with often where the series I worked on would be airing (my most recent one was about the lives and work of adventure guides and their stunning cinematography that accompanied their stories). They said generally, dubbed work or series prepared for localization doesn’t sell well in American markets. But does very well in countries where English is their second language.
ADR Opportunities For Voice Actors
Because localized and dubbed content will only increase, there are many ADR opportunities for voice actors to work in this field. I have some observations from the studio on specific things to pay attention to thanks to the dozens of series for which I’ve been hired to provide localized voice over.
First, like with genres like gaming, automotive, and regular dubbing, budgets are tight on these projects so they look for voice actors who can narrate and match on the fly. Very often as I work through a scene, I may be reading and voice matching in the first take not having seen the action beforehand. It’s challenging. If you don’t catch it on the first try and do watch what happens in the scene before you cover it, then you have to really concentrate to make certain you notice where the person speeds up, pauses, slows down, etc. to match their pacing.
Keep in mind that the director doesn’t expect the dialogue to be in sync, but rather to match the emotional energy of the original speaker seen on screen. So you really need to bring your acting “A Game” to the microphone. The viewer knows the original speaker is being “covered” in fact, you can still hear the original language (unlike in dubbed films). But there is an illusion created that you are hearing the words of the original speaker (just in your own language).
Additionally, one actor may be used to cover all the male or all the female voices. When many women or many men speak in the same scene the actor has to use different intonations for each character so they sound separate and the illusion is not broken. If I have a scene where 3 or more women are speaking, I use a shorthand I’ve created for myself of anchored voices that I will use to quickly shift from one to another.
It helps immensely if you speak the language you are covering. Being fluent in French and having a good working knowledge of Spanish helps me hear the original and make certain I can match what is being said. Occasionally the translator misses something, so understanding the original line helps me work with the director and or sound engineer to come up with a suitable English alternative.
Be Good to Your Engineer
While this should be straightforward and standard practice, keep in mind that your engineer has a ton of work to do once you’re done to fit your audio into the original project. In contrast to the limited availability of dedicated dubbing studios, the potential for using alternative recording spaces, vocal booths and even home recording is significant. And with new developments from Source Connect and other connectivity vendors, access to suitable equipment in such spaces give almost limitless capacity for voice capture.
But it also means that they have additional challenges to mixing back audio from disparate studios into the original soundtrack without sacrificing quality, and likely a number of production schedules to coordinate. So be good to your engineer. Follow their instructions for your audio. Make their lives as easy as possible.