Over the years I cast a lot of great voices, from the Looney Tunes to the Star Wars/Clone Wars characters. I defined a methodology for dubbing actors worldwide to be able to recreate these iconic voices as close as possible to the original. But live-action media is a very different animal.
Unlike the most iconic animated characters who became international brands, worldwide voice consistency is not the main requirement for live-action media. The biggest movie stars rarely sound the same in the different countries where their films are dubbed. So where is the challenge if not in voice matching? It is in everything else: acting, recording speed, availability, location, and how to take direction.
The main challenges when casting for live-action language dubbing are:
In the biggest dubbing countries, like France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, the main film personalities (usually Americans), have an “established voice.” This means that they are dubbed by the same dubbing actor in all their movies.
This is not a contractual agreement; it’s just a cultural element. While it is good and logical to have the same voice always done by the same actor, things get trickier when a dubbing actor is the established voice of several movie stars. In this case, can dubbing directors choose different voice actors to dub different celebrities? Yes and no. Even if they are brave enough to choose a different actor than the established voice, potentially facing the ire of social media, they will also have to consider the financial aspect of things.
“Time is money” being a universal rule, dubbing actors often become a personality’s established voice, not because they sound the same but because they dub well and, most importantly, they dub fast. This is why a small group of good actors dub most of the movies, resulting in that feeling that a lot of stars have the same voice in movies or in TV series internationally. The dubbing director will also have to take into consideration where the dubbing actors reside. When an established voice is in a different city from the rest of the cast, the recording will have to be done in different studios and the engineers will do their best to use a similar set-up so the voices have the same sound quality and the same color, which is never an easy task.
Audiences in the United States don’t have the same approach as it is not yet a dubbing country. When handling the worldwide dubbing for Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, my main concern was to use the same voices that I cast previously for the Looney Tunes TV series. American voices have been changed over the years and no one has been too concerned about that. This different relationship with voices in America can be easily explained.
Foreign movies, up until now, were practically never dubbed in the United States as the distributors always preferred subtitled versions; and if they really liked a movie, they just made an all-new American version using the same scenario. 3 hommes et un couffin, a big hit in France, became 3 Men and a Baby. La cage aux folles became The Bird Cage. The Italian Profumo di donna became Scent of a Woman. The list is long.
But things are about to change. We’ve started seeing dubbed foreign movies and TV series, thanks to the streaming platforms that now offer their content in several languages, including English. In the past, storing lots of audio tracks on DVD could have been a problem. But that isn’t an issue anymore as the content is now stored on huge servers or, if preferred, the cloud!
Dubbing a motion picture is a one-time shot, generally done in one or two weeks. Dubbing a TV series is far more complicated. If the series is a current season, meaning that episodes are released weekly, the director has to make sure that the actors will be available every week for the rest of the season. Because of the very short timelines, the director often starts recording with temporary videos and dubbing actors need to return to the studio to record the missing lines that have been added or changed during production. This is happening for almost every episode, making the dubbing actors juggle their schedules and explains why the price for dubbing a current TV season is so high.
The platforms now offer complete series at once, which makes things much easier from a dubbing standpoint. Actors can be scheduled to record three or four episodes at a time, which lowers prices. It also created a new way to watch TV series: binge watching; but this is another story!
The best fit; to choose or not to choose
When casting for a new TV series, the director will have to make a critical choice: Take the best fit for the role or take an actor who will be available and easy to work with for the entire series. I have been in this situation several times and often know beforehand that the recording will be tiring, difficult, and will sometimes generate tension depending on the actors’ personalities. The natural tendency is to take, if not the best, the one who will be there each week and will not create any problems during the recording. The last thing a director wants is to have to change a dubbing actor from one season to the next, or even worse, within the same season.
If an actor must be changed, we’ll try to find a “sound-alike.” The challenge is to find another dubbing actor that sounds very close to the previous one. Things get complicated when we realize that the perception of a voice is not only based on the voice itself, but also on the way of speaking, the delivery, the accentuation, subtle little things that can give the sensation that two dubbing actors sound the same or not. A “sound-alike” will also have to learn the way of speaking and the intonations of the previous dubbing actor, which adds another level of difficulty during the recording.
The unknown factor
Casting is for sure, the most secretive, unpredictable part of the dubbing process. Realizing all the challenges that could face the voice directors, the casting process doesn’t appear so simple. As it is said: “Casting is not only voice approval.” In fact, it’s much more than that.
Ask the Experts
Interested in learning more about all things Dubbing? Visit the Dubbing Academy to learn more tips and tricks from the media entertainment industry experts.