TABLE OF CONTENTS
Netflix views dubbing not as merely a language asset but as a production. In order to achieve the highest level of creative excellence, we encourage going beyond common practice of what is possible in a dub. The goal is to build trust with our content creators by closely aligning the global versions with their original vision and with our audience by giving them a seamless experience which will maintain the “suspension of linguistic disbelief.”
This highest level of creative excellence in Netflix dubbing is achieved through:
Contextual understanding of the creative intent of the original content
You think about what the creator is trying to convey here and not how we can adapt this content for the local audience. Contextual understanding of the background and premise of the story is critical. E.g: We will call a burger a burger and not wada pav, sushi is sushi and not rice balls or puttu, a resident of a shanty town doesn’t warrant Mumbai slang language. This is to avoid reinforcing archaic stereotypes. We are only helping tell the same story in a different language. This also means retaining cultural references of the place the story is set in like locations, names of traditional attire, appropriate adaptation of cuss words without toning it down from the original
Appropriate representation in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our workflow
Hire diverse talent right from directors to adapters to voice artists to engineers to create a more inclusive environment and work with people from different backgrounds. Include people with varied life experiences, cultural influences and regional expertise. E.g: A sports based title could have at least one person in the crew, most likely the adapter, with a passion and knowledge of the sport or a director who belongs to the state where the target language is the first language or expand the voice actor base to include more underrepresented communities for authenticity like women, kids, LGBTQI+, low-income group etc.
Natural phrasing in adapted dialogue to conform to target languages
The keyword here is ‘ease’. Right from the adaptation stage, the goal should be to provide the talent with dialogues that ease them into the performance. Construction should be true to the target language and at no cost should be compromised only to sync original words retained in the adaptation. ‘No literal translations’ is a non-negotiable requisite especially as we adapt content from more languages beyond English. Ensure the adapter is doing their due diligence to research the culture, common phrases and nuances of the source language rather than relying only on the PLDL. There is a lot lost in translation but a little research can go a long way in educating the crew and in turn the members about cultural undertones leading back to the creator's intent. E.g: Adding a layer of QC for Ep 1 by a K-drama fan may bring a new perspective to the table and help adapt further episodes more appropriately.
Highly accurate lip sync
As we dub in more combinations of source language - target language beyond English, we understand it gets harder to accurately match the syllables. However, as we do more, you will be able to come up with some tips and tricks. Here is where we encourage you to bring more diverse talent on board to help with the nuances of the language beyond the basic functions of translation, direction and recording. Aim to match the beginning and end lip flaps as much as possible without losing the ease of performance.
Authentic voice acting
It may sound contradictory but make the dub sound less like a dub. All the pointers above must lead to an authentic audio track, almost like hearing the dialogue track of an original film where the lines are spoken with ease, without being convoluted with too much passive sentence formation and literally translated expressions. Audio must be least distracting to the viewer so they feel like they are watching the original and can focus on the content rather than being distracted by the dub. Attribute importance to performance and personality match than a mere voice match. Stay true to the original dialogue even while adapting it for VTKs as a deserving voice actor can falter to capture the right emotions if they are made to perform on a poorly adapted script.
Immersive mixing of dialogue with the original soundtrack
Always use the original as the baseline. Traditionally, we have been adapting the mix to the cultural preferences e.g South Indian language mixes may have dialogues leveled up as compared to the original. However, as we dub from more source languages like Spanish, Korean, German, the baseline changes. We recommend staying closer to the original than adapting to the traditionally followed local preference to honor creative intent once again.
For a country as diverse and complex as India with multiple languages, there is no one size fits all. However, we do believe these will help you make decisions that will make watching the show in the dubbed language a joyful experience for our members.
The following are overall guiding principles for key creative players in the dubbing workflow,
creative guidelines per vertical/type of content and an overview of the Netflix Dubbing Story.
The dub or artistic director is the ship’s captain and is responsible for the project’s overall success. Along with the editor and mixer, they hear every word recorded, and their goal is to build a dub that sounds unified, authentic, and clear. Through adaptation review, casting, performance notes, pick-ups, and mix review, the dub director’s north star is the delivery of a dub that is as congruent as possible with the original content creator’s artistic intentions, and that lands in the most authentic way possible for the local audiences.
- The creative director or the director should articulate a clear and achievable goal to the adapter and voice cast and should be aligned with the mixers and partner project managers right from the kickoff stage.
- The director should create a positive collaborative environment, in which every team member feels empowered to do their best work for the good of the project.
- The director should maintain an awareness of the project’s timeline and casting budget, including note keeping of time taken to dub each character, casting and scheduling of all the cast including walla sessions, and reviewing requested pick-ups.
- In cooperation with the studio, the director should keep an accurate accounting of any dialogue which is rewritten, for post-project review and analysis. This involves changes made to the script while dubbing post a script reading session.
- Prior to recording, the director and adapter should have a live read-through of the adapted script whenever possible (in the case of a series, the first episodes only). Netflix Language Production Manager will join such reading sessions for select projects.
- If the title deals with space, technology, specific science or any specialized subject, the director should research the subject matter thoroughly in context to the title for a creative review of the script.
- During the recording timeline, the director should provide feedback to the adapter, as new scripts are being written.
- After early scenes or first episodes are recorded, the director should review those performances and consider revisiting / re-recording them, as characters and overall tone has become more established.
The rigorous practice of adaptation is equal in importance to the dub or artistic director, because without a great adaptation, additional time will be spent correcting problems during expensive studio hours and cultural misrepresentation will lead to viewer complaints and negative media attention.
The adapter is responsible for creating dialogue which:
- Honorsthe creative intent of the original
- Honors and appropriately adapts (if needed) important cultural references
- Achieves as close to “perfect” sync as possible (except for VO dubs)
- Sounds natural in the target language in its wording and phrasing
The adapter should be well versed in the target language and either the source language or the PLDL language (English) to authentically translate/adapt. Adaptation plays a crucial part when localizing cultural references, idioms & common phrases, slangs & colloquialisms that add flavor to the original.
The Pivot Language Dialogue List (PLDL) is as important a document as the adapted script as it forms the edifice of the latter. While creating a PLDL, make sure to
- Annotate as much as possible giving local refs and ample context. Eg. language specific jokes, script peculiarities (devanagiri/arabic/sanskrit) etc.
- Read-up information related to the subject matter Eg. political, science/tech, si-fi, zombies etc.
- Map the cultural nuances granularly. Eg. days of national importance, festivals, honorifics etc.
Exact voice matching of on screen talent is not always the primary goal of great casting, since vocal volume, pitch, articulation, and attack may vary widely from language to language. Instead, appropriate voices should be cast for the internal and external attributes of the character, as well as the specific cultural expectations of the target audience (for example, the pitch range of a character in one language would not necessarily work in the target language).
Since this is a subjective process, ideally the dub director or the Language Production Manager (where involved) should have the final word in voice casting (unless, of course, the title’s original creative team wishes to oversee selection). Attention should be paid to authentic representation of identity. We encourage the studios to make such inclusive casting go beyond the original representation. In the case of younger characters, Netflix prefers age appropriate voice talent, but understands this is not always possible in certain markets (and in certain kinds of content not appropriate or recommended for child viewing e.g:. Sex, nudity, voilence, horror as the case may be). Please use your discretion in such cases and it may also be good to drop the Netflix team (LPM/TM) a note as FYI.
Great voice acting in dubbing involves a unique skill set, as it never calls attention to itself, but rather seamlessly fits into the onscreen performance. To this end, the work of the dubbing actor is a balancing act between authentically embodying the onscreen character from within (through an empathetic understanding of the character’s motivations and backstory) and rigorously observing the onscreen physical behavior of the character from outside, including but not limited to lip sync.
Exceptional sync involves not only mouth movement, syllable count, meter and cadence, but also total body engagement, with particular emphasis on breathing. In the case of Nonfiction and Unscripted content, while sync is not a concern, appropriate attention should be paid to the creative intent of the title, so that VO supports the viewer's experience, rather than simply delivering the translation.
- Every title is an opportunity to expand our talent base to bring in more passionate folks from other creative backgrounds. Aim to use at least one new voice in every show and train them for bigger projects. We understand that bringing in new voices means training and more studio time but the next two points could be suggestions to help mitigate that
- After signing an NDA, the dubbing actor should be given access to the adapted script and video, if possible, in advance of their sessions. This enables them to prepare and perform with greater ease in the studio. Less time explaining, more time recording.
- A dry run should be practiced for each dialogue or scene where the dubbing actor scans the script to take a note of the pauses, emotions and meter for delivery.
- The dubbing actor should physically move in the booth to change perspective on the mic, in accordance with the onscreen performance (as long as sufficient recording volume is achieved). This is only for lip sync dubbing, not for VO.
The goal of a great mix is to make dubbed dialogue sound as close to production sound as possible. Since dubbed dialogue is recorded very differently than production dialogue (with the exception of ADR), care must be taken to blend dialogue into the physical and aesthetic environment of the content so that it doesn’t sound “on top” or “up front” of the original mix. As the final stage of the workflow, a bad mix can diminish the impact of every step of this creative process.
We encourage you to keep a lookout for any interesting technological developments that you might consider investing in to help scale the output and delivery better.
Guidelines and Recommendations per Vertical/Type of Content