Breaking the language barrier

From Polish to Spanish, PPI's extensive dubbing efforts ensure nothing gets lost in translation.

Okan Bayulgen, Asgeir Borgemoen, Masatoshi Hamada and Alain Chabat probably won't sound too familiar to American moviegoers. In their respective countries, however -- Turkey, Norway, Japan and France -- they have the same popular appeal as Mike Myers, the voice of Paramount's popular Shrek character. These and numerous other talented actors use their voices to make animated fare come alive in foreign languages. So, while Antonio Banderas can lend some fluent Spanish to the title character in Paramount's upcoming "Puss in Boots," a feature-film spinoff of "Shrek," the other characters in "Shrek the Third" have to find new voices of their own. To that end, Paramount Pictures International is putting some serious effort into dubbing their films using the best vocal talent they can find.

"Polish, Thai, Hungarian ... you name it, we're probably doing it," PPI president Andrew Cripps says. "On 'Shrek the Third,' we are dubbing 36 markets, including -- for the first time for us -- Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia. Even if you have a live-action family film, you are going to dub in a wider range of countries than with regular films."

Take, for example, the live-action adaptation of the kids classic "Charlotte's Web," which has been dubbed in 30 languages. Luckily, thus far PPI has not had an actor turn down a role because he or she doesn't want to be a pig.

Given the challenges of dubbing film prints, Cripps says he is
looking forward to the advent of digital cinema. "You have one digital version of the film, and you are not marrying up the soundtrack to it as on 35mm, but you can have distinct soundtracks," he says. "It will give us more flexibility." Indeed, Cripps believes digital will open up the markets for even more targeted offerings.

"On 'Shrek 2,' we did Latvia," he recalls. "It comes down to dollars, euros and cents. We look at what it costs to dub the movie and what is it going to cost us not to. If there is a decent market in that country, in all likelihood you'll end up dubbing the film anyway."

With the DreamWorks Animation projects "Bee Movie" and "Kung Fu Panda" currently casting, Cripps says the process of finding just the right voice requires patience and meticulous attention to the smallest vocal inflections.

"You have to start well, well in advance of the project," he says. "Very early on, DreamWorks Animation provides us with detailed descriptions of the characters and their voices. (It is all) about the nuances and what kind of characters they are. There has to be consistency between the original and dubbed versions in the way the voices communicate the story."

Based on those descriptions and in conjunction with PPI's local offices, which obviously know their territory and available talent best, PPI then begins to make choices, compiling a list of possible actors for each character. "You can go down the traditional dubbing actor route or pursue the star talent route," Cripps says, adding that either way, there is no prescribed formula.

In one country, for instance, PPI and DreamWorks might employ a celebrity name, while in another market they might cast a regular actor. The voice of Eddie Murphy as Donkey in "Shrek" can, in fact, be different from the actor who dubs his live-action roles.

"It's got to be the right voice for the character," Cripps says. "Jeffrey Katzenberg (who is serving as the executive in charge of production on 'Shrek the Third') is very, very clear on this point. The voice match has to come first and foremost beyond any marketing input."

When pursuing local talent, Cripps says he always is looking for someone who can add to the campaign and even do some publicity work. "It comes down to economics," he says. "Are you getting enough publicity value out of that participation to justify what you are paying for it?"
PPI takes dubbing so seriously that Cripps recently set up a coordination team to work closely with voice talent from around the world. "Their job is to work on the dubbing of DreamWorks Animation and other family films exclusively, like some of the Nickelodeon movies that we will have. This is a very collaborative process between us and DreamWorks. Jeffrey Katzenberg and (DreamWorks Animation chief operating officer) Ann Daly will sign off on each and every major casting decision."

Interestingly, irrespective of the amazing job that local actors do in the dubbing process, original casts continue to be credited in and for local campaigns. Cripps says that Shrek and Donkey are so synonymous with Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy "that even in countries where we dub, we had publicity tours with those actors. They have become those beloved characters."