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Video Translation and Voice-over – Tutorial

Blog, March 13, 2015

To blend into the sci-fi obsessed (geeky!) society of USSR, a boy had to: know where carbide is hidden; love Alisa Selezneva; aspire to become an astronaut. We were no exception and, so to say, fitted in completely. As time went, a lot of have changed, but the interest in outer space remained. Eager to find out news about Mars rovers, since January 2004 for one and half year we had daily frequented a special NASA website page. That’s why a documentary film Death of a Mars Rover was destined to be a great success among our audience.

Unfortunately, the only existing (until recently) Russian voiceover was not of the highest quality. We did not really care, since we could always watch it in English, but we felt sad for non-English speaking countrymen. That’s why we decided to make a translation and a voiceover of this fascinating movie by our own means and help in our own small way to knowledge dissemination to people. We thought it would take very little time — only 45 minutes to consider! But, the process took far more time — for more details about how we did it read under cut.
So, the stuff on hand was:
— Microsoft Word for written translation;
— Sony Sound Forge for a narrator to read out a text and for sound processing;
— Sony Vegas to add voice on the video and levels equalization;
— MKVToolNix package for video conversion into .MKV file to upload a movie on torrent sites;

And the hardware: condenser microphone with a pop-filter, external sound card and, of course, a computer. We could not afford to have a mixing console at home.

1. Translation. Since there could not be found any subs for the movie at that time, the only option was to translate it by listening. The best way was to upload the movie into Sony Vegas, so that a picture was right in front of your eyes together with the audio equalization curve. One could clearly see when a voice actor finished one phrase and started another, which is very convenient for the work. During the recording process we were making notes for the next round of voice-over: here a little bit slower, there a little bit faster. We will explain later, why we did this. Wherever possible we tried to find out Russian analogues of English proper names. Thus, the plateau Home Plate, for example, turned into «Основная база» — we even had to edit a Wikipedia article in the process, in which there was a home stove «домашняя плита» instead of the baseball term. On the whole, this stage of translation took about 8 hours.

2. Voice-over. The main problems were room reverberation and exterior noises which could not be removed that easy, because a condenser microphone was extremely sensitive and there was no anechoic camera available. To minimize reverberation, we had to speak rather quietly, which created the feeling of a little bit dull and tired voice. To escape noises we а) went to the country-side where it is usually quiet in winter, b) took a microphone further away from the computer so that the noise from the computer cooler would not be registered (it is quite noisy). As a result, the translation was to be read out from the print-out, without looking at the screen and the video. That’s when the notes «slower/faster» were of use. The voice-over took around two hours, because we repeated it several times, revisions were made on the spot.

3. Audio processing. The amateur quasi audio-studio does not provide a great quality sound, of course. But, since the voice-over will be put over the original audio track, there is no reason to worry about small defects and noises — they will not be heard. But, to play it safe, after having deleted all the defected tracks, we also brushed over the background noise with a Noise Reduction function and deleted all breathing sounds. So far, we spent another one and a half hour on this.

4. Voice overlay or audio and video merging. Let’s go back to Sony Vegas and add the ready voice-over audio track in the project. You needed to cut it in sentences and scatter them around in accordance with the original. Here we had to spend a lot of time, because obviously somewhere Russian words were too long, and we had to create wide spaces inbetween, chopping them in the middle of the intonation. Since the Russian voice-over was provided by a single artist, we had to make our voice-over narration and the voices of the original movie actors easily distinguishable for our future viewers. For this purpose, we set Russian voice-over with some delay from the original audio, so that English was heard within the first moments.

When we were done with putting translation phrases in the right places, suddenly our perfectionism kicked in and we decided to toy with the sound level by muffling the sound of the original track where the Russian voice was planned and turning it up during the breaks with the help of Volume Envelope. The effect was not very noticeable, but the overall audio became more pleasant to hear. The work was tedious and painstaking. This step took about four hours.

5. Making the final files. To create MKV we had to just use Vegas to convert the mixed sound and MKVmerge to add the audio track into a container with the original. It did not take much time, after which our movie was ready for a Rutracker torrent website. However, apart from torrents there was a problem of online video hosting! YouTube, which respects and protects copyrights, refused to host the result of our hard work, just like its counterpart Vimeo. Thus, we chose RuTube for video hosting. However, the domestic service did not support MKV which obliged us to convert the movie once again, including video- and audio tracks, into the supported on Rutube format MP4. Another hour passed.

In result, the translation and voice-over of 45-minute movie from scratch took sixteen hours. It does not matter whether it is too much or too little. The only thing that matters is that we enjoyed doing it.
[For Russian-speaking people ] You can download it from RuTracker or watch it on RuTube .

Original in Russian