Okay, be honest…when you hear the word “dub,” it’s either this or those old kung-fu movies that you think about, right?
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Ask any voice actor what inspired them to become a voice actor, and the stories are usually pretty similar. They were told they had a great voice, they began in radio, they listened to cartoons…stuff like that. I consider myself a tad different in that regard. Technically cartoons and video games inspired me to get in, which is why I’m not enormously different. What makes me a tad different is that the cartoon and video game performances that inspired me the most…were not the original performances of the source material. They were dubs.
Shows like “Dragon Ball Z,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” and “Pokemon” may not have quite the same name power as “Looney Tunes,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” or “Rugrats,” but quite frankly, they influenced me way more than any North American cartoon ever did. Even when I grew up, bought the DVDs, and was able to switch over to the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles, the original Japanese casts didn’t resonate with me nearly as much as the performances of the English actors who dubbed them. To me, the English dub casts will always be the casts that matter. Which is a pity, really, because while their appreciation has grown tremendously over the years, dub actors, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, “Don’t get no respect”…comparatively speaking, anyway.
In discussing last week’s audioblog entry, it became apparent to me that there is only so much “mainstream” respect and awareness for what we do. Voice actors are relatively obscure in the grand scheme of things. However, even within our industry, there are obscure parts, such as dubbing. The reason I’m using Godzilla as my featured image is because, in all likelihood, that’s what many people think of when they hear the word “dub.” They imagine the original Japanese actors talking for extended periods of time, only for atrociously lip-synced dialogue to ruin whatever mood was originally set up.
Well, in this entry, I’m gonna show some lovin’ for the dubbin.’ I don’t think it’s nearly respected as it should be. That’s partially because, up until (relatively) recently, the English dub actors were not allowed to be credited to specific roles, and instead the credits would simply say “Featuring the English Voices of…” and then list all of the actors in a seemingly random order. However, there’s also a lack of awareness of the process and art behind dubbing. It has come a long way since it originally started! Some of the stuff here will be “old news” to voice actors who have done ADR or dubbing before, but like I said, in the interest of spreading awareness of the job of the voice actors who inspired me most, I’m gonna talk about the three “Methods” of dubbing (and the third one, I bet, will surprise even the veterans).
METHOD 1: The “Three Beeps” Method
This is, hands-down, the most common method. This is used not only in anime, but also in dubbing for foreign films and ADR. First, the actor is played a preview of what they will be dubbing. Following this, the engineer will set up three beeps at a set rhythm to be played to the actor through their headphones. Based on the rhythm of these three beeps, the actor tries to imagine in their head where the fourth beep should be, and is supposed to start saying their line on this imaginary fourth beep, taking care to match the lip movements of whatever it is they’re trying to dub. This used to be a pretty long process in the days of laying everything to film, when so many analog machines had to be timed to be in sync with everything, but ever since things went digital, this process is much faster. Here’s an example of the talented Johnny Yong Bosch dubbing the main character of an anime called “Eureka Seven”:
METHOD 2: The “Rhythmo-Band” Method
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While the Three Beeps Method has gotten faster, it’s still not nearly as fast as the Rhythmo-Band Method. This is a rare method of dubbing. In fact, it’s almost exclusive to France and Quebec. And…that sucks, quite frankly, because this method is so much more effective and useful for the actor. Rather than cue the actor with beeps, the engineer takes a blank strip of film and writes out the revised dialogue by hand onto the film strip. This film strip, the “rhythmo-band,” is then projected onto a separate TV screen beneath the main TV screen that shows the visuals that the dubbing actor will dub. Towards the left end of the rhythmo-band screen, a static red line is projected. As the visuals of the main screen move along, so does the rhythmo-band. Because the engineer took the time to precisely calculate how long everything should be pronounced, and adjusted the size and length of their handwriting accordingly, the rhythmo-band’s text scrolls from right to left in sync with the picture, and the dubbing actor simply reads the rhythmo-band’s moving text as it intersects with the static red line.
In doing so, the rhythmo-band displays to the actor the exact speed and timing at which they’re supposed to say their lines. An example of this is shown below, using behind-the-scenes footage of the French dub of “Pokemon” (fast-forward to the 3:29 mark):
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Okay, actually, before I move on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I will thank all of my older readers and listens–and Herman Cain–to STOP mispronouncing the damn show’s name! It’s “POE-kay-MON,” not “POE-kee-MON.” It annoyed me when I was 11, and it annoys me now! Do you people not have ears? It’s in the theme song! Listen!
See, I’m not making this stuff up! So please, STOP it!
…Anyways. The reason the Rythmo-Band Method is awesome is because the guess work present in the “Three Beeps Method” is eliminated for the actor…
…But not for the engineer. The reason this method didn’t take off much beyond France or Quebec, is because it takes an exhausting amount of time to prepare for the engineer. Especially in the old days when they had to watch the film over, and over, and over, and over again so that they could calculate the proper length and size of their handwriting so that it would be in sync with the picture. Thankfully, they no longer write out the revised dialogue by hand, and have since developed software programs designed to mimic the rhythmo-band’s function and work in sync with audio editing programs like Pro Tools (one of which can be found here). I’ve heard rumors on the internets that a select few studios in LA use this method now. I’m all for this method replacing the Three Beeps Method, if only because I’m an actor and it makes the actor’s life much easier.
Well, that is, until we get to the third method…
METHOD 3: Revise The On-Screen Visuals
Since dubbing began, the idea has been that, since the on-screen visuals can’t be revised, dubbing actors had to do the best they could to sync their words to the mouth movements of the characters they were dubbing. Dubbing studios couldn’t go back to animation studios and ask them to draw alternative drawings to match the lip movements of the English actors, or ask film companies to shoot alternative scenes in which the actors on screen matched the lip movements of the dubbing actor. That would be absurd and impractical…
…And it…still is. But we’ve gotten a step closer to making it doable. Unfortunately, I can’t embed this video in my blog, but click this blue text to watch this video–fair warning, this is one of the creepiest things you will ever see.
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What you just saw (assuming you clicked the link–you DID, right?) is the result of a computer program developed by New York University called “Video Rewrite,” that uses CGI to rework the mouth formations of people on screen to match the mouth formations of the words spoken by the dubbing actor. They used Video Rewrite to dub an old video of JFK, making President Kennedy’s mouth look like he was speaking the words of the dubbing actor. The idea behind this is that, when mass-produced, needing to match lip movements in dubs will be a thing of the past, and the dubbing actors will finally be able to deliver their lines however they please, without regard for how the original actor did. This technology, though, is a long way off.
So for now, it’s mostly the Three Beeps Method and the Rhythmo-Band Method. Take some time to watch a foreign movie dubbed, or an anime dubbed (anything by Hayao Miyazaki will be good since Disney is in charge of dubbing his movies). For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the technology and artistic acting ability of dubs have evolved over the years, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
PS: From now on, I’m going to be doing something with my audioblog entries that I haven’t been doing before. Very often when I post my audioblog entries in social media forums, some GREAT discussions will come out of them. That’s good, for the most part…problem is, often some great material will come out after the fact. For example, in last week’s audioblog entry, I talked about how VO has zero presence in colleges except for Yale. Turns out…I was a tad misinformed. A few colleges do indeed offer it. They’re still few and far between, and I maintain that it needs to have a stronger presence, but more colleges were brought to my attention, and more elements of the issue were discussed. So, from now on, when I see a great discussion arise, I’ll post links to those discussion threads. Entry #20 has already been retrofitted that way, and I’m workin’ on the others. By all means, join in on the discussion! It’s not like you’re…actually, hold on a second…
It’s not like you have to wait for your time to speak!