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What are the best techniques for recording voice-overs for film?

Internet Filmmakers' FAQ

Based on recent experience in voice-dubbing my 40-minute film, I have a few tips on this topic.

Dubbing, of course, is the simple process of replacing dialogue recorded at the time of filming with a higher quality recording taken in post-production. Dubbing can help your film a lot, if done well. That being said, it can also come off sloppy if not handled carefully. There are a few things you can do to minimize the amount of time and trouble you'll put into voice-dubbing.

One key is simply this: Break it down. Re-voiced dialogue must be re-recorded just like the original take in order for the dubbing to look natural. You don't want viewers to notice that the dialogue is detached. Your actors will have a hard time re-voicing long strings of dialogue to identically match the original.

Here is my recommendation:
- Extract the audio containing dialogue that you want to re-record.
- Break the dialogue into short pieces (generally one sentence or less, and always break when there is a pause of more than 1 second... pauses are hard to judge and match when re-recording).
- Save each small clip as an individual WAV file with an informative file name (ie- "Nicholas - scene29 line05").
- Find a recording studio of some sort, or set up your own. All you need is a quiet room, a good microphone of some sort, and some kind of audio software that's user-friendly for your actors. Ideally, your actors can come in on their own and record their lines privately. To test your microphone and/or setup, simply record a line yourself, and listen to see if the quality is good. If it sounds good to you, then you're ready to go. Of course you can play with the microphone sensitivity and software recording options to work out quality issues.
- Meet each actor at the beginning of their first dubbing session and walk them through the process. If they don't have any questions, have them run a sample in front of you, and then listen to it together to test the quality. They might need to back off of the microphone, or talk louder, etc. Make sure they know how to save their newly recorded lines appropriately. Also tell them to practice each line BEFORE they start recording (this will save you from having to go through countless hours of sloppy samples). Once they feel like they have a line down, THEN they should record some samples. Tell them to get about 3 identical match samples for each line before moving on to the next.
- When it comes to editing in the dubbed dialogue, don't get discouraged. At first it will be tough, but you'll get better as you go. You want to get the old and new dialogue EXACTLY in-line (down to the frame). Once all your lines are added in, simply erase the old lines and you're finished.

Clean-up tips:
- You'll find that the volume levels of your new samples need to be just right for it to sound natural.
- You might find that there is a slight static sound or hiss faintly noticed before and after newly dubbed lines. If so, open each WAV file and fade in/fade out at the beginning/end of each line. This will take some time, but it is worth your effort.
- You might want to toy with environmental/acoustic audio effects to make your dubbing sound natural for the given scene. Cool Edit Pro 2 / Adobe Audition is a good program to use for such audio work (and for recording).
- You'll notice that when you delete your original audio track containing the old dialogue, you'll be losing your ambient/environment sound taken at the time of filming. There is really no way around this in post-production other than recording a sound sample at the location and adding it back in. You might also grab certain sound effects from the original audio as well, or even resort to a sound effect library (many CDs full of sound effects and ambient/environmental sounds are available on the market).

Answer by Alan Pitchford, AC Pictures  |  Last updated 19-Jul-2005


Older Comments

Parigi S Sreedhar  |  19-May-2006
I have myself worked along with my sound editor in including special location related sound effects like a breeze, flowing water or a rain effect. We could do this with the help of various spl effect CDs available in the market. Besides we also tried doing this with a mimicry artiste who cold recreate a location sound with ease. Record the sound and edit the starting and the end points of the recording and then cut & paste this sound wherever required. This would add lot of ambience to the scene sound. But nothing to beat a original recording of the location sound. So preferably, we should record a few minutes of location sound and keep it for post production use. in case, we do not have the location sound on hand, we can go in for a mimicry artiste or a special effect CD.