I’m leaving Prague right now and have spent ample time on the TV finding something to pass the time during the moments when your legs and feet hurt just a bit too much to keep the adventure going for the day. With a small selection of channels to keep my viewing attention, I was able to catch some Czech TV when the BBC Entertainment and news channels couldn’t hold my interest. This meant I happened across a few dubbed TV shows from the States and UK like Doctor Who, a minute of Big Bang Theory and some South Park among a few other shows and movies being rebroadcast over in the Czech Republic. If you were watching a documentary or a series of facts, the voice over seemed very normal. But because I was watching Dramas and Comedies, the movies were not-bearable.
Character Vocals Across Countries
It’s always interesting to see who they get to voice act certain characters that you’ve grown accustomed to. You get used to hearing a certain tone come out of a mouth that when a different sound comes out, there’s almost an immediate recoil. This is interesting because there are some brands that keep a cohesion among different nationalities of their characters. Disney, for example, keeps a similar sound coming out of many, if not all, of its characters so when you go to any Disney theme-park or watch any of their movies, you can recognize who each character is by sound alone and not just by face.
This realization came when I played the Japanese version of Kingdom Hearts 2 because I didn’t want to wait the six months for localization to come up and found it entirely amusing that every character that I recognized, from Donald to Simba, had an at least somewhat similar sound coming from them.
Having a similar sound was of no concern for the Czechs in any of the TV that I watched while I was in Prague. Matt Smith, Karen Gillian, Stan Marsh, Eric Cartmen. Not one of them had a similar sound and it made it difficult to process who was talking just by sound alone and I would have to wait for visuals to catch up to see whose mouth-flaps were moving at the time.
This is also a reason why people pick a camp in the Anime community between subs vs dubs (Subtitles vs dubbed over) because it’s hard to enjoy an Anime the same in one camp when you’ve already experienced and are used to the vocals in another.
See Cognitive Dissonance – A disagreement from what the brain expects to what is presented, McGurk Effect
Tones (Mood and Setting)
A larger disconnect to watching bad Voice Over (VO) is because the voices don’t match what is going on in-scene. We need to run away from the screen, but my voice is at the same volume through the entire scene showing no movement of sound across a landscape. I’m swinging a sword around and jump across tables to dodge axes being swung but my voice shows no strain being exerted in the slightest.
If you see actioned moving occurring, we expect there to be some coherence between action and exertion. Strain with movement, locality of sounds, distress when endangered. When that tone isn’t conveyed properly, it not only breaks your suspension of disbelief but makes it harder to take any of the drama seriously.
This can be extended to watching someone dryly read a script over someone actually acting out the script. Joy, pain, excitement, sorrow. Being able to convey these emotions while delivering your lines is important to develop emotional connections between your characters and the viewer. It went unnoticed when I was watching the news or a documentary because mood is generally consistent or nonexistent, but to build drama there needs to be conveyance and a connection of emotion.
This is why I am grateful for the vague distinction between Voice Actors and Vocal Artists where the prior goes in and gets the dubbing done quickly, but Vocal Artists are able to connect tone and emotion to the viewer. Vocal Artists also learn to manipulate their mouth and vocal chords the same way a seasoned musician would, able to produce whatever sound they wanted to by plucking and strumming in just the right way.
A smaller gripe but one that adds a large impact to a scene is how the VO Actors are doing their reads. Are they reading them together in the same room or are they reading them separately? Are they able to respond in a tone that seems like they are having a conversation or is the VO Actor trying to anticipate what the tone of the other actors will be?
If you are given a direction of act sad, it’s hard for another person to know how you will act when sad and puts them in the position of try to act consoling to your unknown behavior. Sometimes it works but when an actual conversation is being had, reacting to the conversation creates a much better flow than predicting where the conversation will go which ultimately makes the interaction feel contrived rather than authentic.
This is particularly why dialogue and story heavy games and TV can be so impactful to a viewer. The Last of Us, Animaniacs, Avatar all had their actors in the studio together for conversations so that they could react to the other actors instead of taking some vague direction of “how am I supposed to react to your lines”.
The Last of Us
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Catch “I know that Voice” on Netflix if it’s available in your area when you read this. It gives a great Behind the Scenes look at the industry and how good Voice Work is accomplished by many veterans of the industry.