ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) and VO (Voice Over)

Oct 8, 2020

You only need to watch the credits roll at the end of a movie to know that an actor’s performance in front of the screen is the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds - if not thousands - of specialised professionals work together behind the scenes to bring Film, TV and On-screen Advertising to life. You may remember the opening scene to the 1993 film ‘Mrs Doubtfire’, in which the late-great Robin Williams, playing voice-actor Daniel Hillard, records the voice-over to a children’s cartoon. For many, this may have been their first glimpse into the world of the ‘ADR’ and ‘VO’ recording process that forms such an integral part of audio post-production. At Syn, our studio in the heart of Tokyo, Japan specialises in recording ADR and VO for projects in Film, TV and Advertising. We are proud to have worked with some of cinema’s greatest, including Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Ken Watanabe and Patrick Stewart. To understand the process behind the recording of ADR/VO, Syn invites you into the world of Syn Tokyo’s specialised studio in the centre of Harajuku to understand a little more about the fascinating world of dialogue recording.

ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement)

First, let’s explore ‘ADR’ and what it means. ‘ADR’ - or ‘looping’ as it’s sometimes known - stands for ‘Automated Dialogue Replacement’. As anyone who’s witnessed the filming process knows, recording perfect dialogue is not always possible on set/on location. Taking on board factors such as background noise, wind noise, crowd noise and other ‘spill’, it is common practice for the actor’s dialogue to be re-recorded at a later date in an ADR studio.

Revising the actor’s dialogue at a later date in a controlled environment, such as a recording studio, enables actors, directors and producers to focus specifically on dialogue without worrying about increasing the overheads of an expensive location, film crew and more. Whilst Syn Tokyo’s ADR studio can also be used for recording music, the recording of ADR involves a different technical approach. Syn works with a combination of Boom and Lavalier microphones, including Sennheiser shotgun mics as the main Boom microphones and Lavalier microphones from Sanken which run through Neve 1073 Preamps to amplify the signal and then light ‘transparent’ compression is applied from Tubetech / Urei outboard compressors to create the desired sound which is then recorded using the industry standard Pro Tools HD Ultimate Digital Audio Workstation. Paying close attention to the ambient sound of the room is important here in order to allow the dialogue to sound as natural as possible and to seamlessly integrate with the sound recorded on set in the final mix. Post-production effects, such as EQ, and creative compression are kept to a minimum to further ensure the dialogue sounds as natural and unprocessed as possible which is another difference from recording musical performances, where these kind of audio effects are often used at the recording stage to enhance the performance and recorded sound. There are other differences between the specialist skills required to record live music and ADR; Syn’s chief engineer Akaku Takashi continues, “During a musical recording session, musicians don’t stand far from the microphone, but for ADR we have to change the position of the microphone often. For example, if the cue has been shot from one specific side, we have to think about the microphone position and take this into account.” Also during a ADR session, depending on the scene, the actor can often have to deliver a wide dynamic range of performances, ranging from a quiet whisper to loud shouting which itself involves the engineer paying close attention to the scene being recorded in advance so that the recording can be captured in an optimum fashion without any overloads.

VO (Voice Over)

How does this differ from VO? VO - or ‘Voice-Over’ - is defined as ‘a piece of narration in a film or broadcast not accompanied by an image of the speaker’. In other words, Voice-Over is the dialogue you hear in a Film, TV or Commercial where the speaker’s character is not visually identified. Perhaps the most common example of this is in TV Advertising, where VO plays an important role in narrating a brand’s message. Whilst the essence of ADR recording is to create a natural sounding dialogue, VO recording puts more emphasis on clarity and clear delivery. A common request for VO comes from the production of instructional corporate videos, where the narrative is vital in conveying the message of the script. Unlike lip-syncing dialogue to the actor’s performance on screen in ADR recording, VO projects such as instructional videos require dialogue to usually be synced to subtitles, making the editing an integrated part of the process. Akaku Takashi shares some more insight into the technical side of VO, “For VO, we use a Neumann U87 Ai microphone to record dialogue, running through our Pro Tools Ultimate HD DAW”.

Working alongside Yumi Toma, who is an experienced and well known voice actress, who’s voice has featured on several Anime shows, movies and commercials, the foreign client can rely on this experienced pair to deliver a great script and performance in Japanese within the allocated time for the recording studio session. An important consideration when working to a budget and wanting to achieve the best quality of work.

Given the interconnectivity and internationalism of visual media in 2020, Syn’s location in central Tokyo’s Harajuku district has lead to a wide variety of work, ranging from recording local Japanese actors in domestic projects to working with Hollywood actors on high-profile movies that have a particular cultural/narrative focus on Japan. Syn has enjoyed credits including 2019 BBC Anglo-Japanese production ‘Giri/Haji’ (Sister Productions), 2014 Japanese classic ‘Godzilla’ (Warner Bros/Toho) and NBC’s hit series ‘Heroes’. Syn was founded in Tokyo in 1991 by friends Nick Wood (CEO & Creative Director), Simon Le Bon and Yasmin Le Bon with the intention of being a world-class creative music and sound resource. Being based in Japan for over 30 years, Syn works regularly with Japanese talent, regularly navigating the complexities of actors recording dialogue in multiple languages and sourcing voice-actors from a deep pool of world-class talent. Syn’s bi-lingual Chief Engineer, Akaku Takashi, tells us more about the nuances of recording ADR between languages: “I think one of the most important things to do as an ADR engineer is to make the actor feel as comfortable as possible. Most actors aren’t familiar with recording inside small rooms and it can make them nervous, particularly when Japanese actors have to speak English and focus on pronunciation and nuance. Sometimes I’ll have to explain what the director wants, and help translate for a better performance”. Akaku continues to compliment Japanese actors who can express themselves eloquently in both Japanese and English, “Most actors face quite a lot of difficulties to express themselves in both Japanese and English and it can be challenging, I think it’s a special skill”.

Source Connect and ISDN

How does this translate to an increasingly virtual world? By using technology such as ‘Source Connect’, as well as ISDN (Integrated Digital Services Network - a communication standard allowing the digital transmission of voice and video data), Syn is able to connect sessions to clients globally; giving directors in Los Angeles, New York or London an opportunity to virtually ‘sit in’ on the session in real time. Akaku reflects on a particular session for the 2016 movie ‘Silence’ with Martin Scorsese, “Usually big Hollywood movies have a dedicated ADR team, however, for ‘Silence’, Martin Scorsese joined the session himself using Source Connect and ISDN, and I worked directly with him”.
Source Connect is a technology that allows clear and fast communication between the recording location and remote locations during a recording session without having to need an ISDN line. This is fast becoming the industry standard for communication between the ADR studio and the Director and production studio, as it is more cost effective and easier to setup than ISDN.

Working in challenging times

It’s undeniable that the challenges of 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak have dramatically impacted the production of Film, TV and Visual Advertising. ‘Covid-compliance’ is now a byword for acceptable working standards, and Syn considers maintaining a safe working environment a priority.

Having a separate isolation booth is crucial, both for the safety of those involved and to ensure a ‘dead’ and manageable sound in the booth. Syn is fortunate to have a vocal booth adjacent to our control room, with separate access from the control room. Personal interaction can be kept to a minimum, with the studio being subject to a thorough ‘deep clean’ before and after every session. As the world of audio post-production adapts to a changed world, Syn considers it a responsibility to set the standard for safe and approachable practices in the recording of ADR and VO. As we all adjust to a more virtual and remote environment, it is worth considering how an effective and well-managed ADR and VO studio can compliment the smooth delivery of a project. Whilst recording a 50-piece orchestra in a totally remote environment is almost impossible, Syn has developed a system where recording ADR and VO in a safe and contained way can be achieved.

Syn's ADR studio is located in the heart of Tokyo and we'd love to hear from you.
Please get in touch at [email protected]"