A look into the world of professional voice-over recording, as seen through the eyes of behind-the-scenes linguists, VSI London’s in-house language directors.
In London’s Fitzrovia district, a female voice-over artist gesticulates excitedly inside a vocal booth. Reading aloud from a script, she delivers her lines with buoyancy, echoing the upbeat tone of the children’s TV promo that she’s recording. With clarity, the young actress announces the airdate of the returning animated TV series – a favourite amongst children aged six to twelve years.
Beyond the glass wall of the vocal booth, in the control room of the recording studio, an engineer expertly adjusts the sound levels to complement the English voice-over. His fingers fly over a sequence of keyboard shortcuts in quick succession, bringing to life the audio workstation software before him.
On the opposite wall, an accompanying 60-second promo video plays on a large-screen television. A language director sits nearby, staring intently at her copy of the script, verifying that the female voice talent isn’t deviating from the approved dialogue, that her delivery is clear and her pronunciation flawless.
This is a familiar scene at the VSI Group’s London headquarters, renowned for professional voice-overs for commercials, TV shows, movies and documentaries. Who better to speak on the matter than some of VSI London’s in-house language directors and qualified script translators, Hannah, Anne-Sophie, Sari and Mathias? They’re part of a wider creative team that ensures brand integrity on every level.
Why is language direction part of VSI’s voice-over service?
Hannah: The main purpose is to ensure that no lines are omitted from the script, that the pronunciation of names, acronyms, numbers and any other specific terms are correct. When a language director receives a script for proofreading prior to a recording, they must research all pronunciation or query any terms with the client.
Sari: You’re there to give the voice talent direction on their delivery. I work with Japanese voice-over artists to help them echo the original English audio, which is there to guide them on their timing and the speed at which they must speak their lines.
Mathias: There’s a difference between a script follower – a person who checks that each line has been read out by the voice talent – and a language director, who has linguistic understanding and knowledge of both the target language and the voice-over process.
Anne-Sophie: If I notice grammar mistakes in a client’s French script, it’s my responsibility to point this out.
What do you enjoy about language direction?
Sari: I enjoy learning interesting facts. I assisted on a Japanese voice-over project for a special exhibition at Windsor Castle dedicated to the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. I discovered that, although the Duke of Sussex is best known as ‘Prince Harry’ in the UK, which is how he was referenced in the client’s Japanese script, he’s commonly referred to as ‘Prince Henry’ in Japan. For accuracy, we opted for ‘Prince Henry’ in the recording.
Anne-Sophie: I like watching the sound engineers do their job. I’ve seen them speed up audio and slow it down by stretching it on-screen in Pro Tools. If you blink, you’ll miss it! It’s fascinating to watch. VSI’s technicians are very talented.
Mathias: It’s great fun to work with VSI’s voice-over artists. They’re some of the best actors in the business.
Hannah: I’m always in awe when actors can read a lengthy script in one go, from start to finish, without stumbling over any of the words.
What are the challenges involved in language direction?
Hannah: For one project, the German voice artist had to read out information about hundreds of cities all over the globe, including their populations. It was my responsibility to research the pronunciation of numerous tiny islands across the world and ensure that the voice actor maintained the same tone of voice throughout.
Mathias: A client once made last-minute amendments to the script before the recording. I had to translate the new lines into German, on the spot, before we could record the voice-over. Fortunately, I was able to quickly provide a voice-over translation that suited the client’s brand and tone of voice.
Sari: When sound engineers don’t speak the target language, we need to assign each line of dialogue a number. The engineer then uses this as a reference in the post-production editing software, Pro Tools, for sound mixing purposes.
Anne-Sophie: Commercials are tricky because they’re very short. Just by looking at a script, you know when the text isn’t going to fit; not just by a few words, but sometimes by a whole minute of extra text, so that it’s almost twice the acceptable length. That’s when we’ll assist the client by making cuts to the script.
What are the advantages of having language directors based at VSI London?
Hannah: Clients have the option of using in-house staff, which is convenient if they’re unable to attend recordings or they require linguistic assistance.
Anne-Sophie: Clients request language directors for voice-over recordings as they would a proofreader for a translation or transcreation project. We can do both because we’re also trained linguists.
Mathias: If I’ve created the translation for a voice-over script from English to German, then I can provide better assistance during the recording because I’m already familiar with the material.
Sari: I agree. For an English-to-Japanese project, I translated the audio for a commercial and provided language direction for the voice-over recording. The Japanese voice-over artist thanked me for my translation because the length of the script fit the duration of the video, and this sped up the recording process.
Whether they’re instructing actors on their pronunciation as they deliver a professional voice-over service, or offering the company’s audiovisual engineers linguistic assistance during recordings, VSI London’s in-house language directors provide an important service to clients.
If you’re seeking voice talent to provide narration services for your localisation project, or you require language directors for a recording, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to provide you with a quote.