Face to face with… Federico Zanandrea to discover the art of dubbing.

Dear friends of STUDIOTRE,

Today, we would like to start a new section to introduce you to our partners and to tell you about the different professions involved in translation, interpreting and multilingual communication.

We are launching “Face to face with…” together with Federico Zanandreaa dubbing director from ASCI Voice and Mind – so we can start exploring the world of audiovisual translation.

Federico is an actor, dubber, dubbing director and theatre director. He has directed the Italian dubbing for highly successful films and series, such as The Aeronauts, The Loudest Voice, The Crown, 13 Reasons Why and Kidding. He has been the artistic director of the Delfino Theatre in Milan since 2012, as well as president of Il Mecenate association, managing its theatre seasons. He is the official voice of the promos for the TV8 Italian TV channel.

The origins of dubbing

Cinema started out as a visual art. From 1895, when the Lumière brothers projected their first short film, to 1926, films did not have any music or dialogue.

A new challenge emerged with the arrival of sound film: how do you play films in countries with a different language from the one played by the actors?

Production companies initially shot the scenes several times in different languages; the actors performed by reading the lines on cards showing the phonetic pronunciation of the foreign words. It was a somewhat long and complicated process.

The turning point came in 1930: dubbing came onto the scene and started a new era of cinema.

Federico, what is dubbing for you?

As well as an amazing job that combines art and technology, I like to call it “interpreted translation”.

The art of dubbing started in the 1930s to localise American films, but it has actually become a tool for creating culture, to get to know more about different cultures from ours.

Imagine Italy at that time: illiteracy was still fairly commonplace and it was unthinkable that people could follow subtitled films. Almost hardly anyone knew English and the laws of the fascist regime banned showing films in a foreign language.

Dubbing can be considered a real tool of cultural mediation.

What are the steps for dubbing an ad, video or film when it arrives at the studio?

Dubbing is all about teamwork; each team member has a specific role during each phase of the process:

  • Translation – The text must be translated according to the subtleties of the target country. You need to convey everything in a language as close as possible to the original and, at the same time, stick to the target language culture. The language of a nineteenth century woman is different from that of a young person living in the Bronx, just like how the CEO of an Italian automotive company talks differently from an American sales manager. The translator has to be able to grasp all these nuances.
  • Adaptation – It is essential that the translation respects the rhythm of the original narrative (lengths and pauses), the interaction between the voices, gestures and, for synchronous dubbing like in films and TV series, the lip syncing. It is rare that translations are the same length as the original sentences, so the dialogue writer often needs to adapt them.
  • Casting the voices and dubbingThe dubbing director, just like the conductor of an orchestra with his musicians, casts and coordinates the dubbers based on the voice, character and message they want to convey. Once the dubbing is finished – which is constantly monitored by the sound engineer – the mixer deals with the audio tracks to realign all the sound levels.

How does a dubber prepare?

Italian dubbing has always been different due to its craftsmanship and creativity. The standard is different now. It is generally more “industrial” and the time available for dubbers has changed.

This is why time is an essential factor in a dubber’s preparation. While an actor has months to prepare, a dubber has a few days, sometimes hours, to study their character. They must be fast, intuitive and have a natural talent on the microphone.

Together with the dubbing director, they work on the subtexts, syllables and individual words because, when they are in front of the microphone – given the tight scheduling – their goal is often to nail it on the first take.

It is a complicated job which requires in-depth knowledge of dubbing and acting techniques.

What has been your most challenging dubbing project?

Re-dubbing old films, because you have to work with non-industrial recordings, with different sounds that do not belong to you because they are from another age, and with a very different style of acting from the modern version.

But this is the great thing about my job. You are lucky enough to dub brilliant characters and say amazing things.

… the interview does not end here: In his next article, Federico Zanandrea will tell us how they cast the voices for dubbing.


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