Human talent is invaluable but sometimes it needs a little help from technology. ADR still relies heavily on the skill of an actor in matching dialogue recorded in a studio with the lip movements of a performance on screen. But even the most proficient at this process would probably admit a little refinement often makes all the difference.
In the days when film was king, semi-mechanical systems emerged to aid the timing of actors and engineers. These included the rythmo band, or lip-sync band, which was used primarily in Canada and France and is based on lines from the script being written on clear 35mm leader that runs in sync with the projected scene.
More recently New Zealand company KIWA International introduced the VoiceQ software program. This scrolls a script over the film/video image being projected and is synchronised with the original dialogue to provide precise cueing and, the manufacturer claims, makes looping sessions more efficient. Among audio post houses to use VoiceQ is Hackenbacker in London.
The latest contender in this specialised field is Revoice Pro, created by software development company Synchro Arts. This takes a different approach and is intended to be used after the initial ADR tracks have been recorded for fine synchronisation and, if necessary, changing the pitch, timing and even the inflection of the performance.
Synchro Arts is headed by managing director Jeff Bloom, who was part of the development team behind the DAR (Digital Audio Research) SoundStation DAW in the 1980s. He left to continue developing the VocAlign sound alignment software package, which was designed for ADR work on films and TV dramas.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Synchro Arts looked more towards the consumer market, adapting the technology for ReVoice Studio. This interactive program allows people to put their own voices to scenes and songs from films including Shrek and the Austin Powers series.
From there Bloom says he started thinking about ring tones for mobile phones, using VocAlign for timing. "It's the area where the algorithm started from," he comments, "and we thought about what else it could do. I had no idea that it might be used professionally and that people would want to re-tune voices with it."
But it seems that is exactly what music recording engineers and dialogue/ADR editors wanted to do. ReVoice Pro was introduced in May and has been both beta tested and then adopted by a number of UK audio facilities. The system is described as an audio-processing program that can be used during the editing of sung vocal, instrumental or spoken voice material. The aim is to reduce the amount of time spent in altering timing, pitch, vibrato and inflection.
ReVoice Pro comprises two main components: the Audio Performance Transfer (APT) process; and the Realistic Doubler. APT is based on an advanced version of VocAlign and automatically transfers designated characteristics (including pitch and inflection) from a guide recording to the re-recorded track. The Doubler generates natural sounding mono or stereo double tracks from a single input, as well as providing timing and pitch modulation effects.
The system takes the Guide and the new take (the Dub) to produce a third track, which syncs with the picture for ADR and has the same performance characteristics as the original but on a better quality recording. Bloom says there is also scope for ReVoice Pro to be used in radio and voice over work. In extreme situations, he comments, it can be applied to speech that has had its order changed, meaning the inflections and speech patterns sound unnatural.
Whenever processing is introduced into a recording there are concerns it will affect the quality of the finished piece. Bloom acknowledges there are elements of VocAlign that do cause artefacts but says any sound editing process can produce problems. "When you're measuring the pitch from two signals and producing a third, there is the possibility of faults occurring in any gaps," he explains. "So thre has to be a means of stopping the process or reducing the amount of processing, which is why there are protected regions that can be selected. There are also sliders to adjust the tolerance to what the user is happy with."
ReVoice Pro has already been used on a number of UK TV productions, including Garrow's Law and the forthcoming biopic of radio DJ and comedian Kenny Everrett. Among the facilities that have installed it is Deluxe 142 in Soho. Dialogue editor Chris Roberts beta tested it and is now using the release version for ADR on TV dramas.
"The key to really good ADR is the performance in the studio," Roberts comments. "But ReVoice Pro is a big help in fine polishing something that doesn't quite pull into sync or for making inflections fit better. It's something to have in the arsenal of tools but it's not going to put ADR editors out of work."