ADR: Creating Emotional Realism in the Soundtrack—Part 2

by Christopher M. Allport

(click here for Part 1 of ADR—Creating Emotional Realism in the Soundtrack)

mic_icons1There are two main modes of ADR:

1) principal dialogue replacement cues [voice replacement]; and 2) general group walla cues [which may include pass-bys, call-outs and vocal texture].

As the soundtrack carries the story’s emotion, the actors selected to do the majority of ADR work in TV and features are some of the most highly-skilled actors in the industry.  They often have parallel on-camera careers, and have vast knowledge in a variety of other subjects.

Depth of knowledge in subjects unrelated to the entertainment industry is where many successful ADR performers can be competitive with their colleagues.

In ADR, working knowledge of specific subjects is needed to improv fluently with your colleagues in each cue. For instance, a scene in a big-budget feature may include a distressed airliner coming in for a dramatic landing. There are four types of specific ADR ‘walla’ I can think of (as a director) to emotionally involve my audience in this scene:

1) the sound of distressed and panicked passengers;
2) the flight crew performing their best under pressure (think of their specific dialogue and flight terms);
3) heightened conversation at the air traffic control center (very specific terms); and
4) the horrified onlookers on the ground or some other vantage point (less specific).

Each one of these four audio elements of the scene would be recorded in multiple separate cues and layered into the same scene to create the realism and underscore the emotion.
When recording dialogue on the set, usually only the main actor’s dialogue is captured to keep the dialogue tracks clean.

In the scene described above, you can imagine that there are many other characters on screen, both background performers and other on-camera performers who may be seen and recognizable, but not recorded well enough at the time of filming to be clear in the final dialogue tracks. This is when ADR comes in.

The director sometimes directs the ADR, and other times lets the post-production or dialogue editor direct it, depending on how ‘hands on’ the director is. As an ADR voice actor, you need to be prepared for anything.

On big-budget features, a group of 6-10 actors, usually skilled in improv, have a vocabulary of specific subjects (in this case, commercial aviation) and are very comfortable working with each other. The improv skills usually have little to do with improv comedy, and everything to do with the ability to perpetuate an idea, creating a tapestry of sound, mixed beneath principal dialogue to create a sense of auditory emotional realism, drawing the audience into the story.

ADR jobs are coveted for a reason. These performers are highly-skilled. Successful ADR groups work with unspoken ease and rhythm. Getting involved with one, while difficult, is not impossible. To some degree, it does require being in the right place at the right time. Additionally, you must demonstrate skill, ease and understanding of the craft, and the ability to be an ensemble player.

Emotionality in vocal performance is the common theme here. Its the main element that I find new voice talent struggling with. From commercials, to animation, interactive and of course ADR, every voice talent should consider honestly assessing their skills and talents and investing in serious acting and voice acting training that truly enables the performer to vocally display with ease various human emotional states on command.

Open to each possibility, I encourage each one of you to build these skills—based in technical training, acting training and real-life training—as we continue our vocal journeys side-by-side.

Christopher M. Allport is an award-winning director and performing artist, whose career has spanned all forms of stage, film and television.  He is well-known for celebrity voice-match, feature film and animated series regular work.  His vocal talents were recently featured in the Gareth Edwards summer blockbuster “Godzilla.”  Mr. Allport is also well-known for his ability to direct celebrity talent, like William H. Macy, John Williams and The Beach Boys, just to name a few.

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