While the principle of dubbing is simple to understand, in practice it can be more difficult and require more skill than many people realise.
Dubbing involves films, TV shows, computer games and other video content having the original lines replaced by a script in another language. This may sound simple enough, but in practice it’s anything but.
Voice actor Sarah Natochenny recently spoke to Vanity Fair about how dubbing works as an actor, and why it’s more than just reading lines from a script.
Ms Natochenny is best known for voicing Ash Ketchum for the Pokemon animated series. She also voices Ash Ketchum’s mum in the series, which means there are scenes where she has to seamlessly switch between characters.
The publication explained that simply translating the script from its native language (in this case Japanese) isn’t enough. As well as being translated, the script often has to be altered to ensure that it fits the animation and makes sense to the new intended audience. This may involve rewriting some parts of the script.
As Eurogamer revealed, the turnaround on the translation and adaptation of a script can often be so short that a voice actor has to do what’s known as a cold read. This means they don’t get to see the script in advance. They just have to read it and sync the words to the “mouth flaps” in the animation.
For a character like Ash Ketchum, that involves huffing and puffing as well as reading actual lines.
Ms Natochenny explained that she always starts the process by having a briefing from her voice director, who tells her the story of the episode. She then watches the scene she’s going to dub in Japanese, before she does her own version of the vocals. This is crucial, as it allows her to see the mouth flaps and work out when to say the words in the script.
She also explained that there is the option to digitally lengthen her words at times to make sure that it fits with the visuals.
One of the things that Ms Natochenny said she loves most about her job is receiving emails from people all over the world who have used Pokemon to help them learn English. “It’s really an important thing that helps bridge cultures,” she asserted.
Last month, an article for IndieWire suggested that dubbing plays a vital role in making cinema around the world accessible to a wider range of audiences.
The news provider stated that dubbing is becoming increasingly important as a growing number of people would prefer to listen to dubbed content than read subtitles. One of the things that’s given the sector a boost in recent months is the Oscar win for Parasite, which became the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar.
It also pointed out that localisation with dubbing and subtitling isn’t as simple as just translating a script from its original. Just as with animated series such as Pokemon, films and shows with real actors need to have their scripts adapted to allow for mouth flap. This is important because it helps viewers to get past the dubbing and become involved in the story they’re watching.
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