Movie Dubbing: How It Works and Why It Matters

movie dubbing

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The biggest improvement in the movie industry has been breaking the language barrier: we were no longer limited by foreign languages in films, meaning that we could watch almost anything we wanted to.

This made people appreciate film-making more than ever because each country and culture added something unique to the table.

French, American and Chinese films took the world by storm, and with that, movie dubbing and subbing became a must for a movie to gain an audience.

Dubbing is the process where the original script sound is replaced with words from a different language. It is a common practice in animated movies, for example, as well as in news and documentaries.

On the other hand, subbing is just the transcribed text placed at the bottom of the screen so that people can read what the characters are saying.

Both techniques seem easy to perform, but they’re more complicated than it looks. Let’s find out more about how dubbing is done.

Scripting and timing

To get started with movie dubbing, a translator is needed to translate the original text into the new language.

This is the trickiest task because all languages have different sayings and meanings, so the text must be thoroughly checked before voice actors are involved.

The voice of the actors speaking that foreign language will be recorded and then audio-edited to the original film.

Besides being a translated version, it’s also an adaptation of the original, where tone and emotion are crucial factors.

Each language is different and voice actors must replicate those feelings relevant to their native country, which is not an easy task.

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One of the biggest challenges of dubbing is timing. First, a translator needs to be thoughtful about the sentence’s duration and not make it too long because the voice actor needs time to pronounce everything properly.

Plus, the words need to be fitted to the visuals that appear on the screen; work that takes hours to complete.

Casting and recording

The next challenge is finding the perfect person to fit the character and the movie’s vibe.

Voice actors should first mirror the tone and inflection used by the performer from the original film. You might notice these details even in the way voice actors speak in animated movies for children.

The emotion is still there including the excitement, the singing and the sadness.

Next is voice recording. There are two styles: the out-loud reading of the script by actors while they watch the original footage.

This is the standard method, where there will be three beeps with the performers saying their lines at the fourth beep. But to get there, performers go through rigorous training.

For example, a British voice actor will study a variety of acting approaches, like Stanislavski’s system, Strasberg’s method and Meisner’s technique.

Then there’s the alternative recording method, used primarily in France and Canada, where actors read the lines of dialogue at the bottom of the screen while the movie plays.


Getting to the most tedious work, editing, is converging the new dialogue tracks and recording with the original movie sound. It all starts by dismantling the original voices from the main soundtrack and creating a “music and effects track” (M&E).

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After the foreign dialogue is recorded, the editors will fit it in the right places of the M&E to blend with the sound.

The audio post-production is done in three distinct steps:

  1. Editing everything from the speech, music and live action. This is when the audio takes are chosen and combined and the music is cut to fit as close as possible without affecting the sound quality.
  2. Mixing music, extra sound effects and balancing natural speech. Editors will use audio equalisers, dynamic compressors and noise reduction features.
  3. Mastering the sound by levelling the video so that everything sounds equally good. Editors must consider the devices people are playing the sound from, and given that they’re mostly smartphones or laptops, they should master the sounds accordingly.

Why movie dubbing matters

Movie dubbing can be easily underestimated by people who watch subbed videos and movies. That’s because if you are used to a type of voice and talking style, it may sound weird to hear other voices perform.

But subbing takes away the essence of the movie. Besides the fact that you need to pay attention to the text and the screen, it may be tiring to follow everything that is happening.

A study by the British Film Council in 2010 concluded that fans of mainstream cinema prefer dubbing, while people interested in foreign languages want to see a subbed film. In the end, it’s a matter of taste, but watching a subbed video might alter your experience, which lowers the movie’s quality.

However, there’s a downside to dubbed movies too. If you want to learn a foreign language, it’s more challenging to do so by watching dubbed movies than subtitled ones.

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But dubbing can change the film by improving the sound effects and the dialogue, regardless of the conditions in which the audio was recorded.

Moreover, it can increase the reach of a film project since it can be released internationally, and people can view it in their native language.

Let’s take the example of Japanese animations called anime. The language they’re recorded from the start is quite difficult, but as soon as voice actors started dubbing anime, their popularity rose immediately worldwide, and now everyone knows about Naruto, for example.

Given that the mouth’s movements don’t have to line up with the audio, voice actors are not that limited when it comes to performing.

Wrapping up

Dubbing and subbing movies and video animations are the most remarkable changes in the cinematography industry.

Although they seem easy to do, each process is followed by many challenging steps in order to achieve the perfect audio.

Plus, watching dubbed and subbed movies can help people learn new languages better, as they get to see how voice actors interpret and talk.

Any Questions?

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