In filmmaking, dubbing or looping is the process of recording or replacing voices for a motion picture. The term is most commonly used in reference to voices recorded which do not belong to the original actors and speak in a different language than the actor is speaking. "Dubbing" can also be used to describe the process of re-recording lines by the actor who originally spoke them. This process is technically known as automated dialogue replacement, or ADR.
Although dubbing is most common with film, television series are sometimes dubbed as well (mostly popular Hollywood series and serialized Japanese anime that have received foreign distribution). Foreign-language films and videos are often dubbed into the local language of their target markets to increase their popularity with the local audience by making them more accessible.
Automated dialogue replacement / post-synch
Automated dialogue replacement (ADR) is a film sound technique involving the re-recording of dialogue after photography. It is called post-synchronization (post-sync) in the UK.
In conventional film production, a production sound mixer records dialogue during photography, but several uncontrollable issues, such as traffic or animal noise, during principal photography can cause the production sound to be unusable.
When the film is in post-production, a Supervising Sound Editor or ADR Supervisor reviews all of the dialogue in the film and rules which actor lines will have to be replaced using the ADR technique.
ADR is recorded during an ADR session. An actor, usually the original actor on set, is called to a sound studio equipped with video playback equipment and sound playback and recording equipment. The actor wears headphones and is shown the film of the line that must be replaced, and often he will be played the production sound recording. The film is then projected several times, and the actor attempts to re-perform the line while watching the image on the screen, while an ADR Recordist records the performances. Several takes are made, and based on the quality of the performance and sync; one is selected and edited by an ADR Editor for use in the film.
There are variations of the ADR process. ADR does not have to be recorded in a studio, but can be recorded on location, with mobile equipment; this process was pioneered by Matthew Wood of Skywalker Sound for The Phantom Menace. ADR can also be recorded without showing the actor the image they must match, but only by having him listen to the performance. This process was used for years at Universal Studios.
Although actors are trained to sing, few are of professional quality. Therefore, if a character must sing well in a movie, ADR is usually used to re-dub their singing. This technique was used by Billy Boyd and Viggo Mortensen in The Lord of the Rings.
Dubbing is often used to localize a foreign movie. The new voice track will usually be spoken by a voice artist. In many countries, most actors who regularly perform this duty are generally little-known, outside of popular circles such as anime fandom, for example, or when their voice has become in dissociable from the role or the actor or actress whose voice they usually dub. Many of these actors also employ pseudonyms or go unaccredited due to Screen Actors Guild regulations or simple desire to dissociate themselves from the role. However, famous local actors can also be hired to perform the dubbing, particularly for comedies and animated movies, as their names are supposed to attract moviegoers, and the entire Hollywood cast is dubbed by a local cast of similar notoriety.
Adding or replacing non-vocal sounds, such as sound effects, is the task of a Foley artist.
Subtitles may be used instead of dubbing, as different countries have different traditions regarding the choice between dubbing and subtitling. In most English-speaking countries, dubbing is comparatively rare. In Israel, some programs need to be comprehensible to speakers of both Hebrew and Arabic. This cannot be accomplished with dubbing, so subtitling is much more commonplace - sometimes even with subtitles in both languages, with the soundtrack remaining in the original language, usually English. The same thing also applies to certain television shows in Finland, where Finnish and Swedish are both official languages. In the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, films and television programs are shown in the original language (usually English) with subtitles, and only cartoons and children movies and programs are dubbed, such as the Harry Potter series, Finding Nemo, Shrek, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory etc. Cinemas usually both show a dubbed version and one with subtitles of this kind of movies.
In Portugal this has traditionally also been the case, but one terrestrial channel, TVI, dubs US series like Dawson's Creek into Portuguese. In Brazil, foreign television programs are invariably dubbed into Portuguese, with only a few exceptions, although films shown at cinemas are usually subtitled.
For the German or Italian-speaking markets, virtually all films and foreign television shows are dubbed. There are few opportunities to watch Hollywood movies in their original versions and even in the largest cities there are only a few theatres that screen original versions with subtitles, or no translation at all.
In France, movies are often released theatrically in both dubbed and original versions. Big-budget Hollywood movies are usually available in both versions and art house movies are often available in their original version only. However, the availability of the original versions is often limited to certain districts of large cities.
In Slovakia, virtually all foreign films and television programs are dubbed, often by well-known actors. Most movies reach the same quality as the original ones; sometimes even surpass the original, as in the case of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame where the dubbing actors were arguably better singers than their English counterparts.
In Spain, practically all foreign television programs are shown dubbed in Spanish, as are most films. Some dubbing actors have achieved popularity for their voices like Constantino Romero, who dubs Clint Eastwood and Darth Vader.
In Greece, all films are released theatrically in their original versions and contain subtitles. Only cartoon films (e.g. Finding Nemo, The Incredibles etc.) are released in both original and dubbed versions, for children that cannot yet read fast or at all. Foreign TV shows are also shown in their original versions except for most cartoons. For example The Flintstones is always dubbed, while Family Guy is subtitled and contains the original dialogue, since it is mostly for adults rather than children.
The same is true for Finland, where the country's bilingual status also makes subtitling more practical. Cartoon films and other films for children are usually released dubbed in Finnish, with the dubbed version from Sweden being made available at certain cinemas and later on video/DVD.
In Quebec, Canada, most films and TV programs in English are dubbed into French. This has the advantage of making children's TV series comprehensible to younger audiences, but many bilingual Quebecois prefer subtitling since they would understand some or all of the original audio. American television series are only available in English on DVD, or on English language channels. Most anime DVDs contain options for original Japanese, Japanese with subtitles, and English dubbed, except for a handful of series which have been heavily edited and/or Americanized.
In Thailand, foreign television programs are dubbed, but the original soundtrack is simultaneously carried or "simulcast" on the radio. This was also commonplace in South Africa, when programs were dubbed in Afrikaans, but this has declined as a result of the reduction of airtime for the language on SABC television, and the increase of locally produced material in Afrikaans on other channels like KykNet and MK89.
On DVDs with higher translation budgets, the option for both types will often be provided to account for individuals' preferences; purists often demand both types of translation. For small markets (small language area or films for a select audience) subtitling is more suitable because it is cheaper. For films for small children, who can not yet read, or not yet very fast, dubbing is necessary.
Dubbing is occasionally used on network television broadcasts of films which have dialogue that the network executives or censors have decided to replace; this is usually done to remove profanity. In most cases, the original actor does not perform this duty; instead, an actor with a similar voice is called in. The results are sometimes seamless, but in many cases the voice of the replacement actor sounds nothing like the original performer, which becomes particularly noticeable when extensive dialogue needs to be replaced. Also, often easy to notice, is the sudden absence of background noise during the dubbed dialogue. Among the films considered notorious for using substitute actors that sound very different from their theatrical counterparts are the Smokey and the Bandit and Die Hard film series as shown on broadcasters such as TBS.
Dubbing is commonly used in science fiction television as well. Sound generated by effects equipment such as animatronics puppets or by actors' movements on elaborate multi-level plywood sets (e.g., starship bridges or other command centers) will quite often make the original character dialogue unusable. Stargate and Farscape are two prime examples where ADR is used heavily to produce usable audio.
Since most anime series contain some extent of profanity, the studios recording the English dubs often re-record certain lines if a series or movie is going to be broadcast on Cartoon Network, removing references to death and hell as well. Some companies will offer both an edited version and uncut version of the series on DVD, so there is also an edited script in case the series is broadcast. Other companies also edit the full-length version of a series, meaning that even on the uncut DVD; characters say things like "Blast!" "Darn!" in place of the original dialogue's profanity (Bandai Entertainment's English dub of G Gundam is infamous for this, among many other things).
Although there are many fans that prefer the series dubbed in English, there are still many people who would prefer the undubbed version to air on TV, only with subtitles.
Dubbing into a foreign language does not always entail the deletion of the original language; in some countries, a performer may read the translated dialogue as a voiceover. This often occurs in Russia and Poland, where "lektories" or "lektors" read the translated dialogue into Russian and Polish. In Poland, a single person reads all parts of the performance, both male and female. However, it is almost exclusively done for the television and home video markets, while theatrical releases are usually subtitled. Though, as of recently, the amount of high-quality, fully dubbed films has increased, especially for cartoons and children's movies. If a quality dubbed version exists for some film, it is shown in theaters (however, some films, such as Harry Potter or Star Wars, are shown in both dubbed and subtitled versions varying with the time of the show) as well as on TV (although some channels drop it and do standard one narrator translation) and VHS/DVD. In other countries, like Vietnam, the voiceover technique is also used for theatrical releases.
In Russia, the reading of all lines by a single person only occurs nowadays with pirated copies of films. Professional copies always include at least two actors of opposite gender translating the dialogue (some titles in Poland have been dubbed this way, too, but this method lacks public appeal so it is very rare now).
On special occasions, such as film festivals, live translation is often done by volunteers.
Criticism and defense of dubbing
Dubbing has been criticized in several ways, particularly in countries where it is not common practice.
Those who dislike dubbing sometimes claim that it devalues films or TV programs, as original soundtracks are closer to what the director intended. In some cases dubbing can make the film or program less authentic. (For example, Nazi officers in WWII movies can be distracting to some if not speaking German).
Also, lip synchronization is normally lost when dubbing, even with quality dubbings between closely related languages. There are examples which have been re-shot or reanimated to remedy this problem.
It can also be argued that using subtitles is assisting in increasing the proficiency in both understanding and speaking the original language due to the ongoing translation between the foreign audio and the local subtitled language. Using dubbing completely removes this benefit. This may be a major factor in explaining why people from countries using subtitles generally are more proficient in English than people from countries using dubbing on television for English-audio movies. A practical example of this is Italy, where the majority of people receive some English tutoring and where the majority of people watch (a large amount of) television and yet the majority is not used to listening to spoken English. If broadcasters in Italy showed programs in the original English with subtitling in Italian, like the UK's BBC Prime or VH1 Europe, proficiency in English might increase considerably over time.
In countries with illiteracy in the television movies' audio language (whether dubbed or not), it can be argued that subtitling in the same language as the audio would increase the literacy rate by acting as ongoing spelling and informal language education.
Defenders of dubbing maintain that subtitling interferes with the visual experience, as it obscures part of the picture. Some people also find that the act of reading itself is distracting. Some viewers who understand both the original language and the language used in the subtitles say they find that it is confusing and distracting to mentally process the dialogues in both languages at the same time.
In many European countries, Hollywood movies are regularly dubbed and some people maintain that a creative translation (not necessarily faithful to the original English words) can bring more fun and depth to films, so that the supposedly more demanding European audience will not find them as tedious. In Hungary it is common for translators to create the Hungarian text to rhyme for comedies and cartoons with well-known local actors providing their voices to read it. The most famous example is perhaps the The Flintstones, with its entire Hungarian text in rhymes.
In the case of languages with large communities (like English, Chinese, German, Spanish or French), a single translation may sound foreign to some groups, or even all of them. This is why a film may be translated to a certain language more than once: for example, the animated movie The Incredibles was translated to European Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Venezuelan Spanish and Rioplatense Spanish. However, people from Chile and Uruguay clearly noticed a strong porteño accent from most of the characters of the Rioplatense Spanish translation.