A Second Chance to Get it Right: A look inside Automated Dialogue Replacement

Engineer Karabo Mafojane, Cape Town Audio Post (Photo Credit: Cape Town Audio Post)


Film sets are noisy places. With scores of people bustling around in the background, the constant hum of generators and other electrical equipment – not to mention uncontrollable environmental sounds like strong gusts of wind or aeroplanes flying overhead – it is unsurprising that, at the end of the day’s shooting, sometimes technicians will discover that important lines of dialogue have been spoiled by these audible interferences.

This is where Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) – the process of re-recording dialogue after filming has been wrapped – can play a key role in the post-production process.

Karabo Mafojane is a dubbing engineer at Cape Town Audio Post, a company which has recently expanded its operations, moving to new premises located within the business complex of Airport City. He says that although most ADR requests relate to “cleaning up audio quality control issues that are flagged by the production studio”, there are a number of other potential ‘fixes’ that sometimes need to be done during the post-production process. These can include correcting imperfect accents, adapting the tonal delivery of certain lines to help them convey a different meaning, even changing lines of dialogue to aid the clarity of the unfolding story.

Ben Oelsen, managing director of Presto Post, a comprehensive post-production studio in Melville, Johannesburg, explains that, “ADR and foley engineers are found at the beginning of a long road which eventually leads to dubbing mixers, who are in charge of the final mixing process.” The director, the sound team and a dialogue editor will review what has been captured during the filming process, and then compile a cue sheet with written instructions for both the ADR engineer and the actors who are required to re-record their parts.

“Once this has all been decided,” Oelsen says, “the ADR engineer needs to manage the dubbing process. They have to loop the correct footage for each line that needs to be re-recorded, and then capture each take. They need to manage this workflow in an organised way to make editing and mixing as efficient as possible. Once each line is recorded, the engineer synchronises the audio and then plays the clips back for the director, who checks if the take is good enough, and if it matches the mouth movements (lip-flaps) of the performer.”

As far as Louis Enslin, head engineer and owner of Produce Sound, is concerned, a good ADR engineer possesses “a good eye, good communication skills and patience. Depending on the artist and the material, this process can be painstaking work.”

Rohan Olwage, production manager at Cape Town Audio Post, agrees that one of the key skills of the job “is being able to work with people, since you are most likely going to connect with different studios, whether they’re in Europe, or the States or here in South Africa. You need to be able to communicate effectively with different people and understand exactly what it is they’re looking for – and then it’s about attention to detail, following the proper process flow and building your understanding of different sound environments.”

In terms of the technologies and softwares involved in ADR engineering, Enslin says, “there are quite a few on the market, and often it depends on budget and personal preference. There are plugins like VocAlign that work pretty well with Pro Tools, and then you get tools like Sounds In Sync’s EdiCue and EdiPrompt. The latter works great for long-form work. On the short-form commercial side, often doing a manual synching process work faster and better for me, and I prefer to do it myself, rather than leave it to software.”

Olwage and Mafojane explain that, on the hardware side of things, although sometimes studios will supply a list of the microphones that were used on set – or else a list of preferred equipment they recommend to the ADR engineer – “a better approach is to invest time into understanding how different microphones operate in different room environments and recording situations.” That way, according to Mafojane, “you can rely on your own knowledge and experience base to get the quality of sound you need.”

Oelsen says that there are a variety of techniques that ADR engineers need to become familiar with to problem-solve some of the key challenges involved with the process, which he frames as follows: “Much like how cameras all have their own distinct looks and features, microphones all have their own characteristics and sounds. It’s highly unlikely that the microphone set-up in your ADR studio will ever be an exact match to the mic set-up that was used on set.”

Among these techniques, he mentions the need to EQ for differing bass or treble levels; the addition of what is known as ‘room tone’ (background ambience); and ensuring that the “right amount and the right quality” of reverb is added to compensate for the fact that most ADR recordings are done in soundproofed studios – which naturally produce a very ‘dry’ sound in recording situations.

As far as current demand for ADR is concerned, Olwage says that “most of our ADR work is based overseas, and there is a growing interest in what local studios have to offer. Over the last few years, the standards of local studios have improved and lots of overseas clients are bringing in work. Currently, there is not that much local content within the ADR industry, but this is also changing – there is a lot of growth and interest in the local production landscape.”

Enslin supports this idea, saying he doesn’t “believe there’s enough work out there to have a stand-alone ADR ‘shop’, as there are many great audio professionals who have all the tools and expertise to handle this aspect of the post-production process.”

However, both Olwage and Enslin are optimistic about the rise of video on demand (VOD) platforms – and especially the impact they might have on the related industry of dubbing, where entire vocal performances are replaced (most often recorded into a different language).

Enslin says, “I do believe that more work will be generated because of the VOD industry and the emergence of more production studios.” He also points out that, at the moment, “a lot of communication and entertainment remains primarily distributed in English.”

Olwage sees great opportunities for growth in this sector. “For companies and broadcasters, having a local content base is an increasingly important trend. More content always means more work, but in South Africa – where we have 11 potential language markets – there are some very interesting possibilities for the adaptation and distribution of content.”


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