How lockdown has accelerated change in dubbing

Posted by

Jonny Stringer

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of cloud dubbing and remote recording environments faster than any ZOO Digital pitch or presentation ever could. When lockdown hit the entertainment industry, it became abundantly clear that the traditional dubbing industry wasn’t prepared to react.

However, with cloud-based platforms and an established network of talent, ZOO was well placed to adapt to the needs of the biggest names in entertainment. Content owners who required resilience, choice and, ultimately, business continuity. Still able to deliver technical and creative quality, but with the versatility to work outside the confines of a physical studio setting.

So, how has the dubbing industry adapted? Here are the biggest factors that have accelerated change in dubbing.

1. Acknowledgement that technology really does work

Building a technology platform that assures creative performance, audio quality and security takes time, but we’re convinced that the technology is where it needs to be to deliver the highest levels of dubbing production.

For ZOO, this has been years in the making. Our ZOOdubs platform is the technology that brings in-studio and remote recording together. We’ve heard it called everything from the ‘future of dubbing’ to witchcraft.

In the early days of cloud dubbing, and throughout the years since, we’ve heard from people in all areas of the industry raise questions about what can be achieved through remote recording and a cloud-based dubbing platform. It’s often hard to imagine how the quality that comes with a studio set-up can be neatly packaged into a software platform. How a home recording environment can reach the same levels as a studio.

Dubbing Mic v4
However, lockdown has given many on both the content and talent side the prime opportunity to see how cloud dubbing works for themselves. How audio captured within a cloud platform from a home recording environment can be monitored, assessed and treated in a way that delivers a high-quality product. How dubbing directors can work closely with voice actors to deliver captivating performances while collaborating from separate continents. Either by creating an intimate one-on-one, highly-focussed relationship between director and actor, or supporting a large ensemble cast of up to 50 actors from anywhere in the world.

Lockdown has accelerated the adoption and appreciation of cloud dubbing – and how specialised production platforms can get the very best out of an entirely dispersed workforce. For many, this technology has moved from a theoretical concept to the tangible next step of dubbing.

2. Need for industry-wide business continuity

As we all know, early in the pandemic, dubbing studios were forced to close around the world and many dubbing projects that were in-progress or scheduled were severely disrupted.

COVID-19 hit the industry hard, as the traditional dubbing process was so heavily reliant on physical recording studio time. With access to these studios cut off, dubbing service providers looked for business continuity solutions.

Content owners were prompted to explore alternatives to in-studio dubbing such as remote recording – whereas previously they may have been unwilling or unmotivated to explore these solutions. Suppliers with remote recording capabilities in place saw a surge in demand for these services, while others looked to rapidly put in place their own remote dubbing solutions in order to fulfil the immediate demand from content owners.

But established business continuity solutions were few and far between. By far the biggest acceleration of change for the dubbing industry in lockdown was adapting to the requirement of remote recording. Moving the recording studio online and outside of the traditional confines of the four-walls of a dubbing studio became essential in giving content owners the supply chain they needed.

3. Need for a resilient dubbing supply chain

Lockdown and a lack of business continuity has demonstrated that the dubbing supply chain is vulnerable. Most service providers own and operate studios around the world, and during lockdown, those studios shut down. What we and the industry as a whole saw very quickly was that there was not a lot of resilience in the supply chain.

The shutdown of the traditional dubbing model has been a wake-up call for studios, and content owners, but it’s also acted as a catalyst for change.

More recently, we’re at a stage where there is a lot of sanitizing and social distancing requirements, with actors coming in and out of the studio. As more service providers look to remote recording studios, we’re now sitting in an industry limbo. One that understands and adopts the principals of remote recording but with wildly varying levels of capability.

This is because many service providers are still looking at remote recording as a reactive, temporary, business continuity solution. A back-up plan, rather than a resilient and high-quality way of working long-term.

Accelerated Change in Dubbing v2
At the start of lockdown, ZOO was able to operate business as usual, but this isn’t because we were first to react. It was thanks to technology and talent networks that have taken years to establish, nurture and evolve.

Now that productions are beginning to open again, with various unions agreeing the safety protocols they will adhere to going forward, we need to ensure that cloud dubbing doesn’t take a backseat. In an industry that regularly alleviates risk by working with a number of vendors, this thought process should be applied to the means of dubbing production – proactively building a resilient hybrid model into the dubbing supply chain as a long-term safety net – knowing that the quality and security is there now.

4. Discovering that a global workforce is ready

For voice actors all around the world, lockdown has throttled the craft and livelihood of dubbing. It’s also been an eye-opener.

We’re seeing ongoing scenarios with talent often unwilling, with good reason, to travel to dubbing studios. The studios that have reopened are often situated in the centre of major cities, so the travel involved is a real deterrent for voice artists – especially when there are alternative means of working.

Since March, we’ve seen a surprising and encouraging number of voice artists utilise their own suitably equipped home recording environment, already established with the correct microphones, internet bandwidth and soundproofing. ZOO has been working with an ever-expanding talent network and getting to grips with the experiences of working with cloud dubbing for the first time.

During lockdown, these actors and directors have proven to us that the talent is ready. Not only through the technology that is being used in home recording environments, but in the mindset to adapt and evolve dubbing in a way that respects the craft.

While there are hurdles to address – such as adoption of remote recording in more unionised regions – the quality of our cloud dubbing platform is giving voice actors and directors the comfort that their work is in safe hands.

This is more than a business continuity solution or a short-term fix, but a high-quality dubbing service backed by cutting-edge technology – and the dubbing talent is ready for it.

What’s next for cloud dubbing?

Throughout lockdown, ZOO didn’t skip a beat as the whole situation unfolded, because everything we do operates in the cloud. Having access to a dispersed, fully-equipped workforce and a resilient model was part of the norm, not a new benchmark to aim for.

While lockdown has certainly accelerated change and the adoption of remote recording practices, it’s also highlighted that ZOO stands in strong position. Not only years ahead of what is available elsewhere in terms of technology, but also wholeheartedly believing in the practice of cloud dubbing.

During this time, we’ve seen the practical implications of our dubbing platform stretch across ADR, video games, animation and audio description. This isn’t theoretical or a pipedream, this is lip-sync and VO dubbing done to the highest quality standards.

Content owners should no longer see platform-based cloud dubbing as a stopgap or quick fix. It’s more than that. It enables resilience, high quality, security, scale – and is the future of media localization.

This article was originally published in the M&E Journal Winter 2020 Edition