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Dubbing for film and TV

Learn details about workflows, technical requirements and human talent for dubbing for film and television.

Cecilia Gomez*

Dubbing is the backbone in the culture of content consumption in Latin America, and in Mexico it is part of an adaptation of work that permeates other countries. It is able to give a local identity to the content, make it more relevant and, in this way, make it more personal to the audience. 

The dubbing of contents began as a weak assistance to the reader and became a rich work of tropicalization. It is currently a wide industry recognized worldwide for the quality of its voices, and the experience of its technical processes that bring together several professionals in its flow: actors, screenwriters, announcers, audio engineers, voice directors, translators, etc.

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In the Localization Department of Labo, a Mexican studio that does dubbing for audiovisual and theatrical productions, the flow begins with the reception of the projects. At this point the studio makes sure to understand the requirements established by the client and their needs. Subsequently, the technical, talented and creative teams that will participate in the project are scheduled and selected.

Once the creative team has been selected, the generation of the script for dubbing is in the hands of a translator who will be in charge of a correct translation from the original language. Its task will be to achieve a tropicalization that takes into account the psycho-social characteristics of the target audience, and apply a rigorous use of language in a neutral way that allows the final product to be brought to the largest number of viewers. 

In this adaptation process, the dubbing translator must consider the "rhythm" with which the original actors speak, to respect the number of syllables per dialogue. Also consider whether phrases are ended with open or closed vowels, and whether the lipsticks are labiodental or fricative, to find the most appropriate lip sync.

Translation times are variable; a half-hour episode can take between two or three days, while a theatrical feature film can reach up to a week. The neutrality of the language varies from the client's requests and, in general, the creative licenses that he is allowed will depend on the distribution that will be given to the content.

Since the complete translation is available, the chosen director, under the artistic characteristics of the project and his experience, chooses a cast that will give life to the characters. For this selection, you must consider that the voice of the dubbing actors coincides in timbre and tone with that of the original actors, in addition to the fact that their acting capacity must cover the creative needs of the material. 

Unlike the studios with sponge coatings, unicel, wood, cork or fabric decorations, the dubbing recording booths in Labo were built with a strict and artisanal process. Thought and designed acoustically not only to comply with international standards -which under audit certify Labo- but to achieve the pristine capture of the qualities of the microphone used and the phonetic spectrum of the human voice. Thus, low and high voices, of men, women and children, urban and mezzo-sopranos, screams and whispers, are recorded with the best quality, microphones, flat and expressiveness for the contents of the clients. 

When the actors enter the booths, the technical team has already carried out many processes that will dress the recording: a Pro Tools session with the video of the content, the M&E and the dialogue stems. They make the choice of the microphone that from the voice audio record will give the sound more similar to the original, such as using a shotgun microphone to perceive inside the recording a little quarter and try to simulate the direct sound on a set.

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Actors as a rule memorize their part of the script. This allows their physical attention to focus on synchronizing their lip movements with those of the original actor in the image and thus print more emotions. The director takes care of the intonation, the rhythm and sometimes will cut or lengthen dialogues of the script so that they sound more natural and according to the narrative context. 

At this stage the environments or wallas are also recorded. Respecting the original sound design, a group of actors record the incidental lines, background talks or call outs. Although they are in the background, they are performed with the same professional firmness as that of the main stages.  

Once the vocals have been recorded, two key processes for flawless dubbing occur: audio editing and mixing. The editor will adjust the audios so that there is a perfect synchrony between the image and the sound. In the same way, he will do a cleaning so that the joint sounds of speech are minimized, such as wheezing, nasal noises, snaps of the tongue or impacts between teeth.

In the audio mix, the sound engineer will have to join the dubbed voices with the M&E to find the same balance as the initial content. Leveling the volumes of each track at the same point is a millimeter task with the goal that the elements do not "splice" one on the other and shine the one who must do it.

On average the time it takes to edit and mix a 30-minute episode is three to four hours for each activity. However, depending on the type of content and window to which it is directed, this range can be raised. 

With the processes coupled a film would be ready in about three and a half weeks. Approximately 40 dubbing actors, a director and a translator participate in the dubbing of a film. Adding to the technical staff between mixer, editor, recording engineer, department manager, project manager, audio lead and data manager, you have the collaboration of a staff of more than 50 people.  

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To do dubbing is to do magic; it is to deceive the eye and the ear to see and hear what we want: Spanish as if it were the original language. When doing dubbing, not only is it translated, it adapts a culture and interprets an emotion. Words are transformed into emotions and given a new meaning in another language. 

Dubbing is a communication tool whose main advantage is to allow more audiences access to a certain content. This profession must be a responsible and true window to the world in which we live and to the interior of people. Television, and mainly the screens on the go, are par excellence the companions of life and path of many people. The content represents us, the dubbing projects us.

The regional success of many programs or feature films would not have been possible without a timely adaptation, because a dubbing without excellence ruins the audiovisual experience. In Labo we understand this perfectly and that is why we meticulously take care of each part of our processes, because we are also spectators, and very demanding.

*Cecilia Gómez is Location Manager at Labo.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2010), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de TecnoTelevisión&Radio.

One thought on “Dubbing for film and TV”

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  1. Juan
    Monday, 19 September 2022 09:37
    Quiero hacer doblaje, creo que tengo muchas voces para demostrar.

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