Here at Voquent, we’ve seen a surge in ADR enquiries from studios all over the world.
Films, TV dramas and more all require ADR services but for many of our customers, it’s the first time they’ve ever had to produce ADR remotely and it’s scary. There is a lot that could go wrong.
Voice Actors too are often not used to doing ADR work in their own home recording studio. They will usually attend a professional post-production studio with a director and engineer present. Without this help, there is a lot to consider.
Alex, one of our senior producers here, has a number of these projects under his belt. So, I sat down with him to learn more about the production process in order to share his knowledge with producers and voice actors alike.
Q: For those who don’t know, what is ADR?
Alex: ADR stands for ‘Automated Dialogue Replacement’.
This is a bit misleading, because there’s nothing automated about it whatsoever. In fact, it tends to be one of the more tedious and time-consuming processes a voice actor will ever have to go through!
Now, ADR is technically only the process of syncing up dialogue to an on-screen actor. Most of the time, this is a screen actor replacing some of their own dialogue that either wasn’t recorded clearly on-set or maybe the script was changed. Sometimes there are tweaks in the performance of the line as well. For example, almost all of the dialogue in high budget superhero films is ADR these days because of the amount of background noise on sets from the props and special effects. Almost 90% of Lord of the Rings had the dialogue replaced with ADR!
However, a lot of the time, ADR is used as an umbrella term to cover all voice over recorded for characters in films and TV shows. This will include background chatter that’s not synced, or stuff coming through radios and TVs. So technically, it’s only ADR if it is lip sync to an actor on screen, but the term ADR is often used to just cover it all!
Q: What is the usual process for recording ADR?
Alex: For the non-sync ADR (i.e. not technically ADR), the process for recording is basically the same as every other voice over project. We just record a few takes, then the post-production sound engineers or dubbing mixer will implement the best ones.
The process for lip sync ADR, however, is far more complicated. There are numerous bits of bespoke software for this, most notably Nuendo, since it’s quite an involved process. There will be a significant pre-production process to create a comprehensive cue sheet for which lines need replacing, and the precise time codes. A single sentence of ADR can take as much as half an hour to record if it is difficult to sync with the lip movements on screen! So, plenty of time also needs to be scheduled in the studio and with the actors.
Then, the audio engineers will create specific project files (also known as ‘Sessions’ in some software, such as Pro-Tools) for the ADR recordings. Usually one per actor/character. In each session, there would be a count in for each cue’s start point, usually using tone. This will sound like “beeps”, usually three, but sometimes just one. Often, the video will be edited so there are bars that wipe across the screen to count in too. Sometimes the dialogue will also be put on screen as subtitles, and some software will even highlight each word as it is meant to be spoken, much like karaoke!
So, as you can see, the pre-production process for ADR is already very time consuming, and that’s before you even get to the recording itself! The engineer will be sorting out the takes while recording, saving the best ones and storing the backups to be able to cut together the perfectly synced take. Sometimes this may be one word each from 20 different takes.
ADR is the most time consuming and complex element of voice over recording.
Q: What are the challenges of recording ADR remotely?
Alex: Well, the main challenge is that generally, a voice actor will not have an engineer to do all the session management I alluded to before.
Stopping and starting recordings is vital for ADR. Most voice actors, when recording a wild (not time-synced) VO recording session, will just record one long file including all takes, and then edit it afterwards. That’s not possible with fully synced ADR.
The requirement to have the film playing in the booth can be tricky to set-up as well – many voice actors who do normal VO projects, and not a lot of ADR, will be unlikely to have this ready as standard.
And that’s without considering the particular skill recording lip sync requires! It requires, in no small part, lip reading and perfectly matching the movements of the actors’ (or your own) mouth on screen. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Recording ADR really is a skill.
Live direction can also be more complex when recording ADR remotely. A voice actor doing this by themselves in their home studio will have at least three things to consider – the video, the performance and audio recording, and the live direction. Normally an actor in a studio would only worry about the performance, whereas in this remote situation they are having to manage all the technical side of things too!
Forgoing live direction for these sorts of remote ADR recordings is usually best practice – it removes something that can cause an additional layer of complexity. Most voice actors would agree to one round of revisions after review of their recordings in this instance.
Q: What equipment do voices need to get ADR work?
Alex: The main bit of “equipment” a voice actor needs to get ADR work is something you can’t buy – experience.
Even if a voice has Nuendo and a massive screen in their booth, it won’t be much use if they haven’t had any experience of recording lip sync before.
This does lead to the age-old catch 22 of “needing experience to get experience”, but it’s not impossible to get this first bit of experience. Even before that, I would recommend a voice actor practices syncing up their voice to a clip from a film they had nothing to do with!
Re-dubbing like this is a skill that needs developing, so creating some materials themselves to practice is vital.
In terms of specific equipment to do ADR remotely, however, a voice will generally need a decent quality TV screen in their voice over booth, at the very least. If they are dubbing a character in a film or TV show then having a shotgun microphone (such as the Sennheiser MKH 416) will be a benefit too – this will help the dubbing mixer match the re-recorded dialogue with the other dialogue around it.
There is no need for a voice actor to specifically purchase Nuendo as recording software. However, a decent quality DAW that can support embedded video (something most of the high-end audio recording software can do) is a requirement. So basically, Audacity won’t work for this! A voice actor would realistically need something like Pro-Tools to be able to do synced ADR from home.
Obviously non-sync ADR (which again, isn’t technically ADR) doesn’t need any special equipment at all – it’s basically just a normal voice over project!
Q: What information do you need from clients to recommend voices for ADR work?
Alex: The onus is really on the client to provide a detailed cue sheet containing time codes, as well as the relevant video materials. This is not something that someone only coming into the process at a later date (such as us) can create, as these are entirely creative decisions.
The bare minimum is a script of the cues with time-codes and a video with burned in timecode (BITC). This video also needs to be picture locked – so the video edit needs to be completely finished with only the colour grading and any CGI left to do. Preferably this will just be a small section of the video that is relevant to each ADR recording, but the entire video will be fine if that’s all that can be provided.
Providing a video with the bars wiping on the (as I mentioned before) along with the tone beeps to count in, and even with the dialogue on screen as subtitles at the relevant times, would also be really useful, but this is not an absolute requirement.
We need detail of any characterisation for the voices as well – the more specific the better, and any audio references for the tone of voice would be extremely helpful. Without this, the voice actor is just guessing!
Basically, any files that a dubbing mixer or post-production engineer would create for a session they would run need to be provided to us and the voice actor.
Thanks Alex, this has been really insightful.
If you’re looking to get remote ADR sessions set-up we can help not only with casting, but also ensuring the voice actors are properly equipped for the job. Start by filtering your search for voice actors with home studios. There is a tick box in the advanced search filter to make the search easy.
Thank you for reading.
Al Black (Co-Founder)