The ultimate guide to voice-over localization

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The ultimate guide to voice-over localization

Fact: for global audiences to connect with your video, film or multimedia content (such as video games), using localized voice over to replace original spoken-word audio will increase audience engagement and boost viewer retention (Netflix has a few thoughts to offer on this subject).

The growth in streaming platforms which can deliver content across multiple global regions has been huge. Certainly the market for lip-sync dubbing looks set to expand tenfold in the next five years.

There is a large variety in the types of voice-over localization on offer, such as:

  • Voice over
  • Dubbing
  • Lip-sync dubbing
  • Phrase-sync dubbing
  • Non-synced dubbing
  • Bilingual delay dubbing
  • Voice-over narration
  • Wild track recording

But which of these options will work for your project, your audience and your budget?

The Ultimate Guide to Voice-over Localization, which details the key differences between specialized services used instead of subtitling, will answer most, if not all, of your questions.

What is voice over?

In film, television and video, “voice over” refers to narration by a person off-screen who is providing commentary for the events taking place on-screen. Examples include a film narrator or a journalist’s script read over news footage.

In the translation and localization industry, the term ‘voice over’ is used to refer to any type of translated or localized spoken word audio, which either replaces or overlays an original spoken word audio track for film or video content.

There are different sub-categories of localization voice over, such as dubbing, lip-sync dubbing and wild track recording, and here you’ll find them described in more detail.

What is dubbing?

Wikipedia defines dubbing as “the substitution of the voices of actors shown on the screen by those of different performers”, also known as “revoicing” in the film industry.

Beyond film, dubbing can also be used to describe voice substitution of any people on screen who are not actors, such as presenters, interviewees, animated characters, or computer-generated characters in video games.

Within dubbing, there are different kinds of specialized dubbing which require varied levels of expertise, resources and budget. These include:

  • Lip-sync dubbing
  • Phrase-sync dubbing
  • Non-synced dubbing
  • Bilingual delay dubbing

What is lip-sync dubbing?

At the top of the voice-over food chain is lip-sync dubbing (also referred to just as “lip sync”), the most complex and demanding of all the voice-over formats. Lip sync is when the voice in the new language replaces and closely matches the lip movements in the spoken vocals of the original language. The aim is that the synchronization of new spoken word with the on-screen speaker’s lip movements is so closely matched that the audience barely notices the original audio has been replaced.

Lip-syncing involves a great deal of precision. Languages use different amounts of words to convey the same meaning; for example, Spanish dialogue is often around 25% longer than its English equivalent. It’s a complicated process to create new target language dialogue that has the same meaning, tone of voice and can sync with the original speaker’s lip movements.

Lip-sync dubbing involves specialist translators who are trained to work within these tight constrictions. For the lip-sync dubbing of big-budget movies, native speaking script writers and editors are also often involved in the process to ensure the dialogue is pitch-perfect for its target audience.

The recording process uses specialist lip-sync voice-over professionals who are experts at matching dialogue to lip movements, and an editing team to create the perfect synchronization of new spoken word to original visual content.

This is not a budget option and is mostly used for high-end film and television dramas, where the exact synchronization of new dialogue with on-screen action allows for a more complete audience immersion and emotional engagement.

Watch this video of Robert de Niro selling cars in Analyze That dubbed into German, which shows why lip-sync dubbing is the Rolls Royce of the dubbing arts.

Luckily, there are other voice-over choices which are quicker, cheaper and often equally effective for many types of multimedia content.

What is phrase-sync dubbing?

Because the level of synchronization is much less precise, phrase-sync dubbing is on average six times faster than lip-sync dubbing to complete. It’s a much cheaper option for when budget for full lip-sync is not available, or when it’s not necessary to “believe” that the speakers are speaking the new language, but when it’s still valuable for audiences to engage with the new dialogue in a close approximation of the original text.

What is non-synced dubbing?

In contrast to lip-sync dubbing and phrase-sync dubbing, non-synced dubbing does not need to match the new localized spoken word audio with any of the on-screen speakers’ movements.

The translated dialogue is still accurate and faithful to the original, but synchronization is not necessary, making this an even cheaper and quicker voice-over localization option.

This type of dubbing is commonly used for factual content (documentaries, training and educational programmes).

What is bilingual delay dubbing?

For bilingual delay dubbing, the spoken word content begins with the on-screen speaker delivering words in the original language, which is then overlaid with a translated version within a few seconds.

The original-language audio volume is lowered to allow the new-language version to be heard distinctly, but is still faintly audible in the background.

This approach is often used in translating speech in news reports. The benefit here is that a certain amount of authenticity is conferred on the dubbed track, as the start of the original-language spoken text is still present.

What is localized voice-over narration?

In contrast to dubbing, localized voice-over narration replaces any spoken word content which is not delivered by an on-screen speaker.

All types of content use this approach, including films, television, video games, corporate videos and marketing campaigns.

The key elements for localized voice-over narration is an accurate translation which engages its target audience using a voice-over artist to deliver the script in the appropriate tone of voice, which is synchronized with the on-screen content.

As there are no on-screen speakers to follow, synchronization timings can be more flexible. Without doubt, localized voice-over narration is a quicker and less expensive option than dubbing.

What is wild track recording?

At the other end of the precision spectrum to lip-sync recording is wild track recording.

In wild recording, the localized spoken word content does not have to be a word-for-word translation of the original, but rather provide an accurate gist or summary of what is being said.

Likewise, there is no attempt at precise synchronization; the new wild track only needs to match the on-screen content in a basic sense.

There are many types of content where precise translation and synchronization of the localized spoken word aren’t required. If all that is needed is for the main ideas in the content to be conveyed in a logical order, wild track audio is easily the most affordable option.

So, what does Netflix think?

Without the need to record audio, hire voice-over artists or sync audio precisely to the on-screen action, subtitles are nearly always cheaper and quicker than using voice-over localization.

For many types of content, voice-over localization has clear advantages over subtitles. In an article in Variety, streaming giant Netflix revealed that the default setting for its original foreign-language programmes, such as German drama Dark or Brazilian sci-fi show 3%, is always set to versions dubbed in English for their US viewers, rather than subtitles, which are still available via a drop-down menu.

Netflix employed a bit of good old-fashioned A/B testing to come to this conclusion. When they asked US viewers whether they’d prefer to watch foreign-language shows with dubbing or subtitles, there was an overwhelming preference for subtitles. But in testing this theory with the French show Marseille, showing one US audience group the dubbed version, and a second group the subtitled version, the results were paradoxical.

Netflix found that the group watching the dubbed version were more likely to complete the series than those viewing with subtitles. In the end, it was a simple business choice: US viewers would get original foreign-language shows with a default setting of dubbed English, but with an option for subtitles should they wish.

Ease of understanding, total viewer immersion and an enhanced “native brand experience” are some of the reasons why film studios, television companies, games studios and content providers prefer to use some form of rerecorded audio to subtitles when taking their products to new markets.

In conclusion

The world of voice-over localization involves a potentially confusing array of services and terminology. Knowing your lip-sync from your wild track recording will help you determine what the best options are for your particular needs.

Booking Your Next Project

If you’d like to work with a full-service team of professionals who have access to some of the best voice actors in the industry, as well as state-of-the-art recording studios in London, give our team a call on 0203 744 3558.

We’ll be happy to walk through your requirements and make sure your next voice project is the best yet! We look forward to hearing from you.

Alternatively, if you’d like to know more about our studios, click here.

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