For the second part of VSI's series of articles examining the less known aspects of audio-visual localisation, the marketing team sat down with Pete Lewis, VSI London's Director of Technical Services, to ask him about the day-to-day challenges he experiences as part of his role.
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what your role entails.
I’m in charge of technical services and I look after the sound studios, including all of the equipment. My background as an engineer means I also do recording sessions, working on mixing and editing.
What are the main challenges that you and your team face?
I have two teams, the sound team and the VT team, so the challenges are different for different teams.
The Sound team are ultimately responsible to our clients - who quite rightly take the very high levels of quality we insist on delivering for granted. So their biggest challenge is delivering the same level of quality to ever reducing turnaround times. Having said that, I must say that we’ve become very good at it and I’m really proud of the team for successfully meeting these challenges day in and day out.
The challenges with VT is time management, we’re usually dealing with around 50 to 60 jobs per day, so we’ll start off with one job and then quickly move on to something else. The people in there [the studios] have been doing this for a very long time, so it’s all about maintaining our level of quality.
Are some types of genre harder to work on than others?
From the studio side the harder thing is dubbing, when you have to go into lip sync. It’s more taxing than recording a corporate voice-over as you have to manipulate the words to match what is originally said
What are the challenges you face when dealing with such a high volume of inbound and outbound files?
Security, we’re extremely vigilant with making sure our files are secure as we’re consistently working with big corporate clients. Tracking files is another one, we might repeatedly get updated versions of files so just keeping everyone up to date is quite challenging
In your time working in the industry, what are the main things that have changed?
I’ve been in the industry for a long time so the main thing that’s changed is the computers. When I first started my career there wasn’t many of them, whereas now everything is file based. We were still using tape machines when I started and the idea of having these computers was a huge novelty. Now we don’t touch the tape machines, everything we use is file based.
Do you miss tapes?
Only from a nostalgic point of view, as it limited your options. You couldn’t do multiple takes, or nearly the level of editing that you do now with sound. You would always end up letting a lot more noise through, that now you would painstakingly correct.
Have audio standards improved in the same way that picture standards have gotten better? Do you think audio has been treated in the same way as video?
Not really – audio has far less data size than video, and it took a big leap very early on. Audio quality in terms of digital audio took a huge leap 15 to 20 years ago, going from compact disc quality to 42bit with very high sample rates. As the data size is much smaller, it’s easier for audio to improve, whereas with video every progression is quadrupling the size of the data. Audio took the jump a lot earlier on in terms of quality.
I think many people are unaware of the current level of quality, as it’s more to do with the marriage between picture and sound. Most of the time when you have picture, you blank out the audio. You hear it but you don’t notice the quality.
What makes a great audio-mix?
You shouldn’t hear it. You shouldn’t sit there and think wow that’s brilliant. If it’s with the picture it should be absolutely seamless, it should be completely one part of the image.
What is the one mistake you see most often in poor quality localisation files?
Timing. Going from one language to another means that the length of the phrase changes, so something that might take 3 words in English, will take 10 words in Arabic – like when a characters mouth stops moving but you can still hear the audio. You don’t get that too much with lip sync dubbing, as it’s vital to the entire scene that it’s accurate.
The problem is mainly with voice-over work when you have a narrator, and the phrase in on language might be shorter than in another. That’s one of the biggest challenges we have, and it’s ultimately a reflection of how good the translation is. Without going back and re-editing the picture, you can’t extend the scene. Usually when you go to do foreign language versions, it’s the last part of the process.
That’s why it’s really important within translation and localisation that the audio fits the picture. It’s the same with creative services and graphics, if we create the English graphics and change it into different languages it’s a lot easier – but if we have to match it to what someone else has already created it’s far more difficult.
Do you have any tips for would-be engineers looking to take their first steps into the industry?
Experience, get working somewhere and get as much training as you can get in a real world environment. You need hands on experience, all the education stuff means nothing without being in the actual environment.
Being an engineer isn’t sat in a back room without seeing anyone – our industry revolves around people and people’s opinions, particularly in audio. It’s a balancing act of being able to making everyone happy, and that comes from experience.