As dubbing studios shuttered with COVID-19, Europe’s broadcasters were forced to pull U.S. shows that they couldn’t dub – France’s TF1 with “Grey’s Anatomy” – or, in the case of global platforms, sometimes release foreign series with subtitles but no audio dub.

Dubbing studios are now cautiously returning to work in Spain, France and Germany, though respecting sanitary protocols, such as eliminating physical scripts and installing screens karaoke style.

As the global industry begins gingerly to re-open audio facilities, however, two post-production facilities, both part of the Mediapro Group, have come up with a long-term answer to dubbing challenges that aims to facilitate post-production during and after coronavirus, allowing actors and artists to work remotely, opening up multiple technical and even creative possibilities for post-production audio.

Telson, a 40-year-plus Madrid-based VFX and post-production facility, and Unitecnic, a broadcast S.I (System Integration) and multimedia engineering company, have for several weeks now been employing a new ADR system, christened ADRAH (Additional Dialog Replacement at Home), which offers real-time studio-based dubbing sessions to actors currently in self-isolation who dub foreign-language series into Spanish.

The system is being used to complete “The Head,” a large-scale Antarctic survival thriller starring “Money Heist’s” Professor Alvaro Morte, which is one of the biggest titles ever produced by Telson fellow Group company The Mediapro Studio and a banner statement of the company’s ambitions (see trailer).

It also employed ADRAH on “The Paradise,” one of the first of TMS originals to bow on telecom Orange in Spain as part of a multi-title deal – so again demanding high-tech production levels – as well as on Daniel Calparsoro’s feature “Hasta el cielo,” starring Luis Tosar (“Miami Vice”).

“The aim, and what we’ve achieved, is to have the actor at home exactly as if they’re in the dubbing studio,” said Juanjo García, general manager at Telson’s Tres60, who heads up Mediapro’s services facilities with operations director Nacho M. del Campo. “The actor doesn’t touch anything. They just look at the screen, and talk into a microphone.”

As at any dubbing studio, actors use Neumann microphones, or something of a similar standard, which are dispatched to them by Telson and Unitecnic, along with a customized laptop computer.

That, like the microphone, is operated remotely by studio technicians. A multi-conference video line shows out takes allowing for full simultaneous interaction between the dubbing team, directors, supervisors and the actor, in order to correct the distance from the microphone, acting, and so on.

This is hugely different, García argued, from an actor recording himself on any mike he has to hand, regulating levels on his own computer via software sent to him, then uploading to Cloud.

Director, technicians and actors can all interface online from their own homes. To ensure security, Telson-Unitecnic employ SRT security technology operated by Overon, the Mediapro Group’s telecom company. The system can be used with low bandwidth connections of 20 Mbps, said David Vivas, director and CTO at Unitecnic.

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Nacho M. del Campo, Juanjo García and David Vivas The Mediapro Studio

“The key to achieve the highest sound quality is we’re working with the actor using PCM linear audio at 24 bytes and 48 khz in sample rate,” he added.

One of Europe’s major TV markets, Spain is large enough to justify the costs of audio dubbing for non Spanish-language fiction. 60% of Netflix foreign-language titles bow dubbed into European Spanish in Spain, according to a study by media research company Ampere Analysis.

As Spanish broadcasters and platforms have had to halt dubbing on key drama drama series, Telson executives have now begun initial talks with third-party major players in Spain, said M. del Campo.

ADRAH’s launch comes as, in very recent years, the escalation of production standards required of top-level Spanish fiction has also revolutionized the complexities of VFX work for Telson, whether it’s transforming the Canary Islands into the Antarctic on “The Head” or creating a soccer stadium in match day in “Todo por el juego,” he added.

Recognized by Netflix as part of its post partner program in creative post picture and sound, Telson, along with Unitecnic, will shortly make a dubbing test with its offices in Miami to see if different time zones create any problems of delay, García said.

The dubbing drive comes as Telson had upped its movie/series post-production, tapping Pelayo Gutiérrez – whose credits include “Open Your Eyes,” “Marshland” and “Pain and Glory” – as sound supervisor. Recent Telson audio credits include Movistar Plus’ “The Plague” Season 2, one of its biggest original series ever.

“Telson’s postproduction services are a reference in the market, and ADRAH is a system for a post-COVID-19 future,” García enthused. It’s the longterm utility of the technology which indeed is now particularly engaging.  That may cut several ways:

*Currently, if, say, Gael García Bernal has promised to dub a cameo role in a Mexican film to boost its profile but is shooting a big U.S. series in the Amazon, he’ll have to travel to the nearest dubbing studio available. Now, with ADRAH, all he requires is an about-20 Mbps Internet connection, which is hugely timesaving for actors.

*Sessions can take in actors who, for whatever reason – parental obligations, advancing age, illness – cannot or prefer not to travel, said García, pointing to the case of a 78-year-old Spanish actor courted for his ability to dub characters of advanced age but who was reluctant to leave his home. “With this new system, we don’t lose his voice.”

*The system reduces budgets, eliminating huge expenses incurred bringing stars to studios for just two takes.

*Doing so, it also opens up artistic possibilities, facilitating far broader voice casts, in global terms. “If the Miami tests go well, ADRAH would allow Mediapro’s production houses around the globe to make remote dubbing in any place of the world,” García anticipated.

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The Head Jacques Mezger