The Language of Dubbing


Dubbing isn’t the most active, populated VO genre, but with the continuing impact of electronic communications, expanding genres, and international markets, it’s more relevant than ever. Or at least, more relevant since the early days of Talkies, when dubbing was its original heyday. Some dubbing terminology dates back that far, some is new. And some (surprise!) have been replaced.

ADR (Automatic Dialog Replacement, Automated Dialog Replacement, Additional Dialog Recording) – The words behind the acronym vary because the objectives and methods vary. But essentially this is the modern version of what was originally called “looping.” A short segment of film (or video) is looped, to repeat again and again. The actor speaks the line until able to say it exactly in synch. Using this technique, only about a dozen lines can be recorded per hour.

Rythmo Band – No, this has nothing do with R&B musicians. It’s a technology where the script and various vocal cues (e.g., laughs, breaths, lip smacks, whatever) scroll in synch with the video. This enables the actor to record many more lines per hour, but takes a lot more time to prepare, so acceptance of this process varies.

Job– This means the same thing in Dubbing as in any genre. But the nature of the jobs varies. Sometimes the original production is in another language. Sometimes it’s because the background was noisy. Or the script was changed, or the actor mumbled, or has the wrong voice or accent, or ... well, there are a lot of opportunities.

Lip flap – Lip movement. When dubbing, your words should match the movements of the original dialog. Sometimes it calls for skillful revision of the script. Sometimes it involves the actor adding various non-verbal sounds such as “um,” or “eh” or a grunt, in a natural-sounding way.

Localization – The process of adapting a production for use in another culture or geographic location. Usually this means dubbing it in another language or by a regional celebrity, but localization can also involve changes in editing, scripting, etc., to suit local sensibilities and interests. Whether a movie or TV show is dubbed or subtitled depends on economics, the audience, locally spoken languages, audience preference, politics or legal requirements, and other factors.

Synch (or sync) – Synchronization. It’s spelled either way. We prefer “synch” and “synching,” because without the H, “syncing” might be misunderstood or pronounced with a soft C, as “sinsing.” But it seems most people in the trade prefer it without the H.

Dubbing – 1. Loosely defined as adding a voice to any character talking.” Opinions vary as to the origin of the term, but most likely it comes from the word “doubling.” As with a stunt double or body double, the voice of a second actor replaced the original. Nowadays the film industry calls this “revoicing.” 2. In film and video post-production, the term “dubbing” has a more limited and different meaning – it refers to the final mixing of all a picture’s sounds to create the finished soundtrack.

Walla or Walla Walla – If not a place in Washington State, it refers to simulated crowd noise or murmuring in the background. The term comes from actors sometimes actually saying “walla walla walla,” although various other phrases are also commonly used, such as “peas and carrots” or “natter grommish.” However, a walla group will often just mumble or say nonsense words, since actually recognizing any of these stock sounds again and again would be artificial and distracting. The choice of vocalizations may depend on the scene – din in a busy hospital corridor doesn’t sound like a children’s playground. Another consideration is that real words in the background can be distracting in an audio-only medium such as radio, whereas in film the audience focuses on the visual, and background conversation might even be partially scripted.

Dubbing pro – Someone who can act, with emotion and energy, stay in character, do multiple characters, and probably has the special voice studio equipment used for dubbing efficiently.

Foley – This isn’t something that voice actors do. It’s the sound-effects equivalent of voice dubbing – where a piece of celery might stand in for footsteps on snow, or a heavy bag makes the sound of a falling body. So it’s not dubbing, but it’s analogous.

Incidentally, “ADR” also means “American Depositary Receipt,” but that has nothing to do with dubbing.

Also see The Long-Practiced Practice of Dubbing: http://www.edgestudio.com/blog/long-practiced-practice-dubbing

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