Remote voice acting: when technology saved the day (and the voice) | Culture

In a country where very few people speak English, dubbing is important, necessary. You may not like it, prefer the original voices – which, by the way, is my case – but it is important that international products are launched in Brazil with adaptations for our language. And that also includes series, movies, programs, everything that is available in streaming, physical media, cinema, games and derivatives.

There are some surveys and data that point to dubbing as a national preference. In 2015, the Filme B portal, which monitors the cinema market in Brazil, released a result that pointed out the following: in 2014, 59% of people who went to see movies on the “big screen” watched dubbed. Still according to the data, foreign films in our language represented, at that time, 57% of the total box office income here, against 32% subtitled and 11% of national productions.

Despite being an old survey, the numbers don’t seem to have changed that much.

On at least two occasions, Netflix showed similar results and even with higher percentages. In 2019 the company announced that the series 13 Reasons Why had been watched by 84% of the public with the audio dubbed in Portuguese, against 16% subtitled. In House of Cards the scenario was divided, 50/50, but still with a large number of subscribers checking the program in our spoken language.

Brazilian audiences prefer, and like, a dubbed film and series (Image: Felipe Vinha / Tecnoblog)

Want a few more numbers? Quite quickly: let’s play with this equation the fact that the British Council, an institutional organization of the UK government, has already prepared a survey stating that only 5% of the Brazilian population speaks English, while a mere 1% are fluent.

So, during the pandemic, how did the dubbing studios manage to continue their important work, so as not to delay premieres or leave professionals out of the market or the public without content?

The growth of streaming

The pandemic in Brazil affected several areas, professional and personal, in an unexpected way in many aspects. With more people at home in their first months, media consumption via streaming increased.

According to a survey released in late August by the Kantar Ibope Media group, there was a 73% increase in streaming consumption in the country, adding all platforms, between paid and free content, during the pandemic.

In October, Globoplay announced that it had reached the mark of 20 million unique users and claimed to be the leader of the streaming market in Brazil – it is worth remembering that the platform does not offer a free plan, but has some freely accessible content.

Globoplay was a platform that had immense growth in the pandemic (Image: Felipe Vinha / Tecnoblog)

Globoplay was a platform that had immense growth in the pandemic (Image: Felipe Vinha / Tecnoblog)

Still, these are impressive numbers. And with this huge increase, we always have to think about a very important point: the accessibility of these platforms. And then there is the dubbing in Portuguese, for foreign programs.

The total stop

The dubbing area was heavily affected by the pandemic. Great voice actors and beginners alike suffered in different proportions, but along the same path. There were those who lost roles, or those who had to set up studios at home, to remain in isolation.

Many series, films and even games were released without the expected dubbing, or with the exchange of voice actors. Platforms like Netflix and Apple + displayed warnings that the voices in Portuguese of a given program could be delayed, due to the health issue of the professionals involved in the production. The game Overwatch launched his last character, Echo, with voices in English, while everyone else spoke Portuguese.

It was precisely to recognize and give due importance to this area of ​​work so necessary that I decided to talk about using the theme “dubbing in the pandemic” for this article. Little did I know that some voice actors, especially beginners and veteran studio owners, would be afraid to talk about it, due to a live controversy held in the first half of 2020, by presenter and comedian Fábio Porchat.

Also in March of this year, more or less at the beginning of the pandemic here, the voice actor Wendel Bezerra, the voice of Goku, from Dragon Ball Z, published a video on his YouTube channel to talk about the impact of Coronavirus in his area of ​​expertise.

Wendel Bezerra (Goku) speaks to the public on his channel, about the pandemic and dubbing (Image: Wendel Bezerra / YouTube)

Wendel Bezerra (Goku) speaks to the public on his channel, about the pandemic and dubbing (Image: Wendel Bezerra / YouTube)

According to Bezerra, the dubbing stopped completely not only in Brazil. “For example, dubbing is stopped in Italy, Spain, Mexico and Argentina are stopping … In the Philippines there is also dubbing, and they stopped there,” he said.

In theory, all the studios stopped and closed their doors. Even at a time when the pandemic aroused a real dread in most Brazilians, many people have truly isolated themselves and companies that do not work with services essential to life had to pause for at least a few weeks.

In the same video, “Brazilian Goku” also explained what many people may not know: voice actors are freelancers. There is hardly a voice actor with a guaranteed work contract. They work on demand. That’s why they spend the day going from one studio to another, all over the city – sometimes even in other cities – to be able to do the work.

He also remembers and warns of the fact that voice actors are actors and that, in addition, the work is not only done with the actor in the studio, there is at least one director, sound technician, editor, among other components.

For this reason, studios closed as soon as the quarantine was decreed in different parts of the country. But the resumption did not take long.

Insulation as far as possible

About two months after the quarantine began in Brazil, some dubbing studios were beginning to resume their activities. Always following the “security protocols”, or what was known about them.

It was about this time that I talked to some people, between professional voice actors and others who are just beginning. Among them, Ricardo Juarez, the voice of Kratos, from the saga God of War, in Brazil.

Juarez has a studio at home, set up four years ago, long before we even considered the possibility of a pandemic in 2020. With this home studio, his focus was the voiceover, a job that many voice actors also perform, but it came in handy for the time where we live.

“I just made some adaptations in the studio. I put a new monitor on, very punctual, very fast. My studio is a cabin made of wood, the size of an elevator. It has internal light, monitor, keyboard, mouse, audio table, microphone. The computer, due to noise, is outside ”.

Ricardo Juarez, voice actor for Kratos

But unforeseen events happen and not with all the sound insulation in the world it is possible to handle some types of noise. “My acoustic treatment is very good. But even if you are in a professional studio, if there is a very loud noise, external noise can leak, ”he said.

Ricardo Juarez shows his studio at home (Image: Ricardo Juarez / Personal collection)

Ricardo Juarez shows his studio at home (Image: Ricardo Juarez / Personal collection)

The actor recalled a case that happened at the old Herbet Richers studio, which closed its doors in 2009, in Rio de Janeiro. “That was a bunker! It was armored, had several doors, deep, even so, it didn’t always work. Once, a truck honked its horn at the last volume, on the street, and the audio leaked into the recording, ”says Juarez to Tecnoblog.

And it was precisely because of these unforeseen events that the isolation of the actor could not last that long. “I stayed 55 days without putting my foot out of the house,” he said. According to Juarez, a work in his neighborhood prevented him from working, even at home, due to the very loud noise, to the point of leaking any type of insulation he had set up.

But Ricardo Juarez assured that he attended studios for face-to-face work with all possible care. He traveled only by Uber, avoiding public transport, and, in the studio, following all possible and imaginable precautions. Today he follows a middle ground, but continues to work at home, using his equipment and also acting with voiceover.

Reality speaks at the door

But Ricardo Juarez is an established voice actor in the market, with great curriculum and important productions in his career of more than 30 years. Many, on the other hand, are starting now – some started in the middle of the pandemic, practically.

I talked with some beginning voice actors who chose not to identify themselves, but who told several similar stories. People who spent more than R $ 3,000 in personalized booths to voice at home, people who had to move to perform tests for different roles and even others who accept very small tasks, even if directly with studios, risking themselves in the middle isolation between March and April, when the pandemic was at its peak.

It was common to hear reports from friends who came together in the same house to share the costs of the home studio. It is an effort that not everyone can make, which led other beginners to “give their way” when it comes to creating a way of working from home.

One of the “beginners” that I can name, but who remained isolated, is Leonardo Camargo, or Leo Kitsune, as he is also known. The quotation marks for “beginner” have a simple reason: Kitsune is an actor with DRT, the professional record, since 2015, but he takes dubbing as a secondary job, as a dream he still intends to realize. In the pandemic, he had to manage as he could.

Kitsune is a comic book editor and translator, responsible for Marvel Comics in Brazil. In 2019 was in the cast of the film My Hero Academia: 2 Heroes, in the role of the hero Sero Hanta, his first official role in a major production. In 2020 he returned to the same role in the sequence, My Hero Academia: Rise of Heroes, where he voiced from home.

Leo Kitsune is a comic editor, but hopes to achieve the voice acting dream (Image: Leonardo Kitsune / Personal collection)

Leo Kitsune is a comic editor, but hopes to achieve the voice acting dream (Image: Leonardo Kitsune / Personal collection)

“Because of the translation work, I had to change computers for some time. I took advantage and decided to invest not only in a ‘home studio’, but in new equipment to dub from home, in the middle of the pandemic ”.

Leonardo Kitsune, Marvel Comics editor in Brazil and voice actor for Sero Hanta

Kitsune bought a new computer, foam insulation and better control of the ambient sound, microphone and followed. The investment was about R $ 4,600, according to the actor and editor. “I bought a Blue Yeti microphone, which is not the top of the line, but the others were very expensive, it had to be him”, he lamented.

As he still doesn’t have many papers available, and still keeping the insulation at home, as far as possible, Kitsune considered the equipment an investment, which he hopes to recover in the future, getting other jobs in the dubbing. “It is a high investment that can go nowhere. I’m starting, I’m not required. In the end, I bought to enjoy it ”, he added.

Technology barriers and solutions

Another point that Kitsune pointed out during the conversation is that he was consulted by a friend, Veridiana Benassi, also an actress and voice actress. According to Kitsune, Benassi was one of those responsible for a type of “committee” that helped voice actors who were in the home office.

In May, a group of professional voice actors who are highly relevant to the market decided, in a virtual meeting, to stay in a home office and, at the same time, create what was called the Dubbing Solutions Management Commission. It is a non-profit organization, to help beginners and veterans who were experiencing the same type of problem, not only for artists, but also technicians.

One of the professionals who participated in the initiative is Fernando Mendonça, from Rio de Janeiro, who was recently in the animation cast SCOOBY! The film, like Salsicha, and also has its own studio, Combo Studio, responsible for recording original voices, in its own productions, such as The Real (Sur) World of Any Malu.

Fernando Mendonça voiced Salsicha in the recent SCOOBY film (Image: Fernando Mendonça)

Fernando Mendonça voiced Salsicha in the recent SCOOBY film (Image: Fernando Mendonça)

In a study, surveyed by the organization, it was found that 72.3% of the voice actors consider themselves to be at risk or live with someone who is. To make matters worse, many of them did not get any support from the emergency aid offered by the Federal Government.

Mendonça talked to me and drew attention to these problems, but especially for elderly professionals. From another era, which did not follow technological developments as well.

“Voice actors who are older do not have accessibility to this technology and do not know how to invest, how to organize themselves and capture the sound. From then on, we created a fund in the ‘hello project’ to raise funds for these people, who wouldn’t be able to record remotely or in person ”.

Fernando Mendonça, voice of Salsicha in SCOOBY!

The project was launched under the name “Alô, Quem Fala?” and took advantage of yet another technological solution, online crowdfunding. Hosted at Catarse, the project offered phone calls from famous voices, in addition to other benefits, in exchange for cash support given by fans, with contributions starting at R $ 10.

The money raised would be used to create an emergency aid fund for voice actors, technicians and other professionals in the area, to cover eventual medical expenses, food, hygiene products, among other basic needs.

Hello, Who Speaks? developed its campaign throughout August and raised just over R $ 63 thousand. Big names have joined the cause: Flora Paulita (Ariana Grande), who co-organized the campaign, Guilherme Briggs (Superman), Fábio Lucindo (Ash from Pokémon), Mauro Ramos (Pumba and Shrek), Angélica Santos (Cebolinha), among others.

With that, the dubbing could have some relief, while everyone could normally continue dubbing from home, helping each other, right? Not so much.

The “uberization” of dubbing

Uber was born as a technological solution highly praised by the public, even though it has already lost a good part of its initial “glamor”. Over time, however, there was no shortage of controversies surrounding its operation, mainly accusations by taxi drivers and other transport professionals, about how the application of drivers could cause a general precariousness of professions.

Apparently, a similar concern was born with the dubbing in this period of the pandemic.

“Like everything that happens today, there was a polarization. Some voice actors were against each other, because, in theory, who was going in person was taking the work of who was at home. Others said that dubbing a home could set precedents for having untrained people doing the work. ”

Fernando Mendonça

“I consider it to be unfounded. I didn’t feel a drop in the number of jobs I was doing, I’m dubbing a lot from home! This has been good, as this way I don’t spend on transportation, the dubbing studios are spread around the city ”, he said. “I think that, like any other technology, remote recording came to complement. When the radio came, people thought the printed newspaper was going to end, when the TV came, they thought the radio was going to end. People are afraid, but everything is complementary ”, added Mendonça.

The voice actor also thinks that remote dubbing should not end after the pandemic. On the contrary, he thinks he can gain even more strength. In our conversation, we remember the well-known example of actress Fernanda Baronne, with whom unfortunately I was unable to contact.

However, it is known that Baronne lived a long time in Europe, from where he voiced the series The Big Bang Theory, in the character Penny, without any type of impediment to carry out the work and without the pandemic scenario that we live in today.

That is, remote dubbing is not even an exclusive novelty of 2020.

Okay, but how does it work?

I talked a lot about scenarios and situations that the voice actors went through during the pandemic and isolation, but I still left the space on “how it works” in technical terms blank. The remote dubbing process is quite simple, actually. Having the right equipment, it works like almost any other home office job.

At least three people are required: the voice actor, director and a technician. From his home, the voice actor opens a link that connects him with a program – Source Connect is the most used – which displays an image of what is being dubbed, audio and text directly on the screen.

From another point, the director accompanies everything while it is being recorded, while the sound technician receives the audios and, with the OK of the direction, makes the necessary adjustments – quality, speed, fit, among others possible.

Of course, the process also involves a series of repetitions, like any work that includes actors and actresses. Rarely is a recording approved at first and adjustments and readjustments always happen.

All the voice actors I spoke with reported a similar or basically identical scheme for remote recording. But what about the studios, how are they working in the pandemic, which, incidentally, is not over yet?

The Brazilian arm of Keywords Studios, which is located in São Paulo, was one of those who needed to plan the return after the first month of quarantine. Cristiano Prazeres, director of the studio, explained why: “In the first month it was a total home office, but after a month they started to paint jobs that we needed to come in person, not because of the quality, but because they are very large processes , which were not possible at home ”.

Example of one of the dubbing rooms of the Keyword studio (Image: Keywords Studios)

Example of one of the dubbing rooms of the Keyword studio (Image: Keywords Studios)

Keywords was responsible for dubbing some video games that came out during the pandemic, among them Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 and Marvel’s Avengers – the latter was already 80% recorded before all problems involving Coronavirus started.

To return, and record these and other important projects, Prazeres told me what kind of investment the company made:

“When we resumed, we adopted the health protocol that the company was following internationally, from Italy. We installed UV lamps in the booths, which we turn on to sterilize the environment, everyone wearing a mask, plenty of alcohol gel, no one keeps changing inside the studio… ”.

Cristiano Prazeres, studio director Keywords

Thus, the process was very simple: when requested, the voice actor came to the studio and did his job, accompanied by a director and sound technician, all following the necessary care. An interval of half an hour was performed on each recording to clean the room and the text was on the screen and no longer on paper, as is common in studios. All these precautions, according to the businessman, made the professionals who worked with them have a great confidence to attend the place.

To find out if, in fact, the studio’s care seemed adequate, I consulted the infectious disease specialist at Grupo Pardini, Melissa Palmieri, who is also a specialist in health surveillance by the Ministry of Health.

One point that intrigued me was the question of UV light. According to Palmieri, this solution can be more effective when it comes to reducing the risk of contagion and less so with a focus on cleaning the place. “High temperature is one of the unfavorable factors for the proliferation of the virus, as well as an increase in UV rays. Perhaps it is a device that can support risk reduction. All the strategies you told me seem to minimize the contamination of people who work there as much as possible ”, he concluded.

But she also makes some alerts:

“The ideal is to leave the studio at rest for about four hours. Maybe make a recording in the morning and another in the afternoon. Whoever is in the studio, without recording, keeps the mask as long as possible, preferably an N95 or surgical masks. And if the person is going to have the punctual voiceover work, of course, it is good that they prevent themselves 14 or 15 days before, and that the studio tests their professionals 48 hours before the work is done (…) There is no way to leave the 100% virus free environment, are risk reduction measures ”.

Melissa Palmieri, infectologist

The new normal voice acting

Of all the professionals I spoke to on this subject, whether they are voice actors, studio owners, newbies and veterans, there is a consensus: this will not pass anytime soon.

As much as commercial establishments are reopening for normal operation every day, care must remain, since we also do not have a concrete forecast of the effective vaccine.

Dubbing seems to have resumed the tracks, in most of the works. Programs no longer open without the Portuguese language and, even studios that previously did not accept home offices, started to accept them under pressure from fans, in rarer cases.

So, the ideal is to continue taking care of yourself, whether at home or in the studio, and hoping that the “new normal” becomes the “good normal”. Meanwhile, dubbing and technology continue to move closer and closer, in a symbiotic relationship that serves all types of audiences.

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