Four years ago, Adrenaline Studios were something of an anomaly: an audio company focused on dubbing foreign language content into English. Now recently merged with VoiceArchive, they have opened up a five-studio facility and are pushing the boundaries of hyper-realistic dubbing. We spoke to the Director of Dubbing Emanuele Latina and CEO John Harley about the rise of English-language dubbing, the latest technology advances and becoming one of London’s first Dolby Atmos-certified studios.
It’s been a busy few years for you. How have the projects you’ve been working on changed as you’ve grown?
John: We are fairly unusual in that we were founded to do dubbing. We've since expanded to ADR and audio description and things like that. But three years ago it was a mad concept to start a dubbing facility in the UK, where we don't dub. People laughed at us quite a lot, because they thought English dubbing was not a thing. But we knew the work was out there, and now we're localising a lot of cartoon series from American English into British English.
Emanuele: We provide precision lip sync dubbing for our customers, but we’ve evolved from working mainly on smaller, quick turnaround projects to working on series and full-length features, and we dub those not only into English but also into foreign languages when it's required.
You were one of the first studios in London to get a Dolby Atmos Home Entertainment certification. Why did you choose to go down that route?
Emanuele: That was actually a room of many firsts. We wanted to start bringing in different types of projects and we wanted to be at the head of the game, so we were one of the first to get involved and we worked very closely with people at Dolby to make sure the room met the spec.
The information actually went both ways – we helped inform them on room sizes and specs, because the specification was being written as we were building the room. We’d come in and measure the tolerances set by Dolby to see how they would work in our space and then those measurements would go back to Dolby and there would be a conversation between Dolby, JBL and us on the next steps. As the specifications were finalised, the engineers would come back to us, we would have to relook at the listening position and re-measure and re-calculate the tolerances until we were 100% sure it was within the latest version of the specifications by Dolby.
Do you think you would have been able to stay competitive without that room, or are Atmos capabilities just something that clients expect now?
Emanuele: I think moving forward this is something that's going to be expected more and more. As OTT providers upgrade their codecs and requirements, I think Dolby Atmos Home Entertainment is just going to be the new standard that everybody will adopt. We're looking into providing not only Dolby mixes for clients, but actually somewhere where their Dolby mixes can be QCed and tested.
Do you think OTT providers are setting the industry standard at the moment?
Emanuele: I think so. There was a period where people were in limbo because the companies that would eventually provide the hardware for Atmos in the home had not yet released their offerings to the wider consumer. Now the two are coming together, and the more Dolby Atmos solutions are beginning to be released, the greater the demand for a wider range of programs to be mixed in Dolby Atmos will be.
Why did you think it was important to diversify? Do you think having a broader offering is something that studios need to do now?
Emanuele: I think you've got to be able to offer the client options, otherwise you're limiting their capabilities, not only yours. When a client comes to you, I think you need to be able to say "We can take care of your spectrum of needs, we can go from 4D immersive sound to 2.0 stereo and back. We're here and we can create all of those in one house.”
How long did it take for word to get out about what you could offer?
Emanuele: We'd quoted on some Dolby jobs while the room was being built. We had to turn some work down because it wasn’t finished. As soon as people heard we were even building the room they started being interested.
John: We're actually in a situation where we're turning down work rather than looking for work, because the major players in that market, like Netflix, are actively looking to dubbing as the method of conveying their product across the world. So rather than a few years ago, with dubbing almost being a dirty word in the industry and was always seen as a second class citizen, it's now up front, proud to be there as the localised version of people's content. The methods have improved over the years. The synchronisation between the voice and the mouth movement is so much better that now it's no longer a jarring experience.
What impact have OTT providers like Netflix had on the dubbing world?
John: The market’s very, very buoyant because of them! An exciting thing that's starting to appear with Netflix and others in the market is ultra-realistic dubbing. If you imagine a fictional series set in Paris, what we would do is take French actors in the UK, speaking with their French accents but in English, and use production microphones on the dubbing stage so that we absolutely matched every aspect of the original production apart from the language that they're speaking. If we have movement, we can obviously follow people as they're talking across a room if we want, or we can put them on a bike or whatever. But it's bringing up the standard of dubbing to that level that's interesting, and those sorts of things are being explored at the moment by major companies like Netflix.
You said people laughed at the idea of an English dubbing facility, but you were confident the work was there. How did you know?
John: I started the company in 2015. It was in my house at the time. We did a UK dub for a TV series from Mandarin into British English, and then they asked us to do the French dub, and I thought 'can I do that or not?'. I managed to do it in the house, and it was a great success and we won an award for it. At the same time we were dubbing exercise videos into eight languages for another company, so we knew that there was work in the UK.
I would love to tell you that it was all driven by insight and intelligence, but we were very lucky in that we immediately began receiving enquiries about our services. The stars aligned and we were doing something that the industry wanted, and couldn’t find anywhere else. We were very lucky in our timing, I guess.
What's the most difficult thing about running a studio in the current climate?
John: I thought it would be a lot more difficult to obtain work. I, probably naively, thought we'd be forever knocking on doors saying please give us work. It seems to be the opposite of that, and of course we want to work and we want to work as much as we possibly can. However, what we're finding is, unfortunately, we're having to turn down work because the work or the progression of the business is way exceeding the progression of our physical space. We have five studios here and they're all full up constantly. We're about to put on a night shift so we can keep the studios open 24 hours a day and can keep up with demand. We're increasing the size of one of our studios so that we can repurpose it to handle more upscale projects. These are all good problems to have, but they are problems.
Do you think flexibility is an increasingly important requirement of any given room or workflow?
John: We've always felt that way. Our flagship Atmos studio was always multi-purpose: we do live action recording in there, because it's a nice big space, it's Dolby accredited, it's got a great sound to it. We sync in there, we mix in there, we've got a row of cinema seats in there so we can use it as a screening room as well. The large room was very much built to be as flexible as possible, because when you're starting out you have to make as much use of your space as you can.
You’ve been using IP workflows and Dante hardware to build in some of that flexibility. How’re you finding the Dante workflow?
Emanuele: Very nice. I'm not sure how I'd do without our Dante setup. It's brilliant. It does everything I need it to, and it’s flexible to the point where even if I need to use the room for screening, I have the option to just bypass all the IP using the Dante virtual sound card and go straight into what I need to present, so it does keep the room nice and flexible. Also, I must say it never falls over. It's been solid. Which to begin with was something that we were a little worried about, but we must say that – fingers crossed – we've never had an issue with the actual Dante setup.
Did you have to change the way you worked at all?
Emanuele: Little things. The engineers had to be trained up on a different booting sequence. It caught people out that if the correct booting procedure was not followed 100% then certain peripherals wouldn't see each other, but that’s actually been resolved in the last firmware update. Apart from that, day to day it doesn't affect us, we just turn it on and it works.
What motivates changes like the move to IP? Is the main goal just to stay competitive, or are there other factors at work?
Emanuele: The build of the studio was one of our biggest challenges as a new business, and making sure that that was future proof was something we discussed. Trying to stay ahead of the competition was the reason we went Dolby Atmos, because we could quite easily have said we'd have a 7.1 studio, but actually taking that leap to 7.1.4 means that people are contacting us, and people want to know what we're doing.
The expansion to studio two will also be using Dante equipment, because over IP we can start borrowing the resources from other studios. If I have my sound card over IP, and have multiple actors I need to record in different areas, I could actually access studio one's resources to record them from studio two and vice versa. So we're always trying to stay ahead of the curve in order to make the studio as flexible as possible, and finding cool ways of doing that is exciting.
Is there anywhere you look for inspiration?
Emanuele: We always sit down and think 'how do we use this space?’ Yes, we do look at other studios for inspiration, but that’s more when we are looking forward and considering if we did move premises, what that would look like and what we’d do differently. While we're here, it's always about what this space can do for us and what can we do next? Because we're new, we're not bound by any of the history of some of the other establishments. So if a bit of technology works well and give us fantastic results or if there's a new faster way of doing things, we're right there, we're looking at it and seeing if we can implement it.
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