Hollywood’s Approach to Translation

I really enjoyed a recent article titled Studios try to lessen what’s lost in translation, by Glenn Whipp. The article covers the art of translation and localization as related to movies.

The article starts by posing the problem of properly doing a voice-over for the Mater character in Disney’s Cars 2. The issue is that Mater is characterized as having an aw-shucks, rambling redneck style that is not easily replicated in other languages. Being a redneck means absolutely nothing to anyone outside of the U.S.

The author talks to Rick Dempsey, Senior VP of Character Voices, who provided this quote, So we had to figure out what region of Germany, for example, has more of an uneducated population without being offensive.

Obviously, the studios want to retain as much of the original humor as possible without offending anyone. This is a delicate and difficult task but one that is increasingly required as studios now depend heavily on international audiences to earn more profit from their movies.

The article discusses how some countries still rely heavily on subtitling while other countries prefer to have native and sometimes prominent actors replace the voices of American stars.

The most interesting part of the article for me was the discussion on the difficulties in providing proper subtitling. The translator must condense dialogue by cutting out proper names and modifiers to keep the subtitles short. The challenge is to not overwhelm the viewer with too many words as that would detract from the experience of seeing a movie. But this crunching of the dialogue must not compromise the plot or important sequences as that would change the movie. This is very challenging as translations typically expand relative to their source text.

The author interviewed Elena Barciae, a Spanish linguist who specializes in subtitling projects who offered this quote, Good translators are really writers who love working with language.

This quote is perfect. One of the most important points when discussing translation is not to view it as a conversion or calculation but as an artistic process. The translation is indeed rewriting a text in a different language. A good translator is typically a good writer.

Here is an example of translation and voiceover work we handled for an animated version of "Who moved my cheese" for a corporate client.

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