What is Dubbing?

Prof. Frederic Chaume
Prof. Chaume is a renowned researcher and teacher in the field of audiovisual translation. He is an advisor to Dubbah and is passionate about the impact AI-assisted and human-in-the loop dubbing will have on the industry.

Dubbing involves re-recording the dialogue of a clip or a show, typically in a different language from the original.

This process requires skilled voice talents, project managers, translators, adapters, dubbing directors, dubbing assistants and quality controllers to ensure the following standards are met:

1. The lip-sync matches the original mouth movements in close-up shots and the length of onscreen utterances
2. The translation matches the original atmosphere, images and on-screen actors’ movements
3. The language sounds natural and credible, without being unnecessarily offensive when the original version is not. 

Dubbing is a linguistic, cultural, technical and creative team effort for the translation, adaptation and lip synchronization of an audiovisual text.

Dubbing is a well-known example of the invisibility of translation, a truly domesticating practice that, through an artistic and technical exercise, consciously erases the original dialogue track and replaces it with another track of recorded target language dialogue exchanges.

In this creative and technical process, the industry strives to ensure that certain quality standards are always met.

Dubbing Industry Quality Standards
Observance of the three kinds of synchronization, and especially isochrony, when they are in opposition.

is the synchronization between the translated text utterances and pauses and the source text utterances and pauses.

In dubbing, isochrony means equal duration of utterances; in other words, the translated dialogue must fit exactly in the time between the instant the screen actor opens their mouth to utter the source dialogue exchanges, and the instant they close their mouth.

Kinesic synchrony is the synchronization between the translation and the screen actors’ body movements and body language.

Lip-sync, also known as ‘phonetic synchrony’ or ‘lip synchrony’ is the synchronization between the translation and the screen actors’ mouth articulation movements. The term lip-sync is also used in professional circles as a general term encompassing isochrony and phonetic synchrony.

Creation of credible and natural dialogue, spontaneous-sounding and convincing sentences, gestures, delivery and intonation that create the illusion of watching a ‘real’ story.

Fidelity to the source film, through the preservation of its relevant features, so the creative intent is kept; this would not apply to free-commentaries, such as fundubs or gag and parodic dubbing.

Consistency at all levels: semiotic coherence between words and images; observance of the creative letter and guidelines; consistent glossaries and KNP files: consistent register and language variation; consistent inclusive and offensive language, when need be.

Avoidance of overacted or underacted performances, since criticism of a bad dubbing is also generally based on dramatization.

Poor performances and synthetic voices are usually easily detected by audiences, who would reject the dubbed clip or show. Pitch, rhythm, tempo, volume and paralinguistic features are very important in a quality dubbing. Phonoaesthetics play an essential role in dubbing –i.e. avoidance or cacophonic words, repetition of phonemes, etc.

Technical accuracy – good sound, appropriate volume and voice quality, absence of noise and interferences, clear voices, etc.

Summary of Dubbing Quality Standards
Of these, synchronization is considered by many to be the most important feature of dubbing. Criticism of a badly dubbed film is mostly grounded in deficient isochrony, since it is here that the viewer is most likely to perceive the fault, although emulating spontaneous discourse in the translation is also critical.

Both skills are required in professional practice, especially when translators are responsible for the adaptation or dialogue writing process.

Traditional Dubbing Workflow
The traditional workflow starts with a dubbing commission to a dubbing company.

The script is translated and segmented into takes or loops (by a dubbing assistant, or sometimes the translator, adaptor or dubbing director) and dubbing tags are added by these agents to guide the performance.

Then the dubbing script is performed by actors or voice talents usually under the direction of a dubbing director, and recorded on a new soundtrack. The resulting soundtrack is then edited by a sound engineer and mixed with the other tracks of the audiovisual text.

Nowadays, the text is no longer split into takes and many companies do not add dubbing tags to the translated dialogues.

Instead, the translation is typed in a dubbing software and the sentences appear below the clip, in a "Rythmo Band", move from right to left, as rolling subtitles, and when they cross a vertical line, the talent starts their performance.

AI Assisted Dubbing Workflow
Most recently, human in the loop AI dubbing tools, like Dubbah, can make this process faster and easier, by automatically transcribing the original dialogues, automatically translating them and finally voicing them.

These technologies work when they include the human in the loop, in this case, to check both the translation and the adaptation, to achieve a quality professional dubbing.