Ever heard the expression “We’ll fix it in post?” Maybe there was a re-write since the original record, or perhaps the acting wasn’t quite right in the final edit or effort sounds are needed for it to feel real. Maybe they need incidental or ambient voices to fill out the sound bed of the scene. Maybe an entire performance needs to be replaced. After the editing, animating, music and sound effects are all layered in, many projects still need the audio version of the “cherry on the cake.” That is looping or A.D.R.
Looping (also called “A.D.R.–” Automated Dialogue Replacement”) is the process of replacing or adding vocal performance to already produced video picture, where the existing vocal performance needs to be modified, added to or improved. It happens at the end of the production process in “post production.”
If it is called for, an A.D.R. session for an animated episode might happen six or eight months after the original record (that’s how long it took to animate it). The looping for one episode may be “piggy backed” at the end of another episode’s recording.
A.D.R. is very targeted, detailed, exacting work. You aren’t nearly as free to create a performance as you are at an original record of an animated episode, but it must sound as natural and free as the original performance. Voice actors must make their vocal performance fit very specifically within a number of already locked down elements. It must match exactly visually and in terms of tone.
A so called “loop troupe” is a group of voice actors hired to do an entire session of A.D.R. for television or movies. Loop troupes are run by one or two owners who oversee hiring the group, and may assist with the directing the actors, oversee the paperwork, and may participate in working the session as well. A group “loop troupe” session can be run sort of like an improve show, where the performers are selected from the pool of actors sitting around the room to take a run at the take, then another combination might take a swing at it. There is lots of switch up and variation in a loop session and improvisational skills are a must.
Movie and T.V. looping is a career niche for some voice actors. It generally pays a scale session fee (the minimum the union contract allows) that pays residuals as well, so you gotta wait for the show to hit iTunes or VOD before you start seeing anything beyond your original session fee (side note: Actors don’t get residuals from boxoffice sales, residuals only begin to flow once it goes to Blue Ray or VOD. This is why studios report box office numbers but not Blue Ray/ VOD specifics). A career looper probably needs a good number of gigs to pay the bills and qualify for their union health benefits. ADR is usually a longer day’s work than typical animation V.O., but can be creative, fun and challenging. It’s collaborative creativity, which we actors love.
Agents generally have no interest in facilitating or booking ADR, as they only see 10% of the session fee but no “backend” (residuals). It’s not worth their time. Loop troops or loop casting directors usually book their work independent from agents, calling their “posse” of trusted talent directly and booking them.
The entry level of looping is anime looping, which is one of the lowest paying union voice gigs there are, especially considering the amount of work and expertise it requires. It pays no residuals, requires hours of detailed voice work (often really rewriting and improving of lines) for a single low session buyout.
Some love the work as well as the shows, but generally, it is difficult to sustain a living doing anime voice overs. Much of this work tends to be non-union as well, making it even less appealing, in my eyes.
How looping works:
When looping a segment of video, you will almost always don your “cans” (headphones) so you can hear the lead up to your performance, as well as the all important three beeps. The sound level in your cans needs to be loud enough that you can hear the lead up to your performance, but quiet enough that it doesn’t bleed into the microphone recroding your voice. Sometimes you are given an single over the ear headphone that you must hold snug in place to contain the sound bleed.
You will first “preview” the take on a screen so you get the timing of the performance in your head. You then wait for the engineer to play back the video while s/he plays three beeps that count you down to the exact moment you should begin your performance. You begin speaking where the fourth “beep” would have been (if the engineer has timed the beeps correctly, that is).
Sometimes, your performance will provide them a sort of menu of sounds, dialogue or efforts that they can use or not use or even just use parts of. If you want to give them the choice, build in discreet breaks or pauses in your performance, so that they can pick and choose what to use. Also, sometimes, you can continue to give a few more takes after the video is finished rolling. For example, they may have you give them three more takes at the end when it is “still rolling.” The recording engineer will have to know this is going to happen, otherwise s/he will stop recording at the end of the video scene, rather than after you are done performing. This “multiple takes” at the end gives the engineer a bit more to do, but it can be a more efficient way to get the right performance, rather than trying to get it exactly right one run at a time.
It will often take a couple runs at this to get the performance just right– sometimes many takes are required to nail it. They may want a couple good choices, even if they’ve an acceptable one already.
Timing is everything! Occasionally, when they roll a preview of the scene, you may notice that the beeps aren’t placed accurately enough. If you follow them, you will either start your performance too early or too late. In this case, go ahead and suggest “sliding” the beeps a bit to better match the start point.
It is also sometimes the case that some needed coverage is missed when the video was originally “spotted” (when the engineer or voice director placed the markers of where they need ADR sweetening). For example, as they are rolling the preview, you might notice that there may be extra pre-life or even temp dialogue that they overlooked that also needs coverage. Feel free to ask about this. Usually, they are very appreciative to not have to circle back later and pay for another session to fix something they overlooked! If you see something that appears to need fixing, speak up! (e.g. “What about that extra lip flap before the beeps, did you want that covered?” “Was that dialogue finished or is that temp that I need to fix?” “Did you want some effort sounds at this part?”)
Working with a “temp track” in looping:
If you are looping to replace a specific line of dialog, the new performance must perfectly match the lip flaps and character attitude in the picture.
Sometimes you are replacing your own previously recorded performance, or perhaps the “effort sounds” of another actor. Other times you are replacing the performance of a writer or director who has edited in a temporary (“temp”) read to serve as a placeholder for your performance. Don’t let a crappy “temp track” cripple your acting, though! The temp phrasing you hear may match the lip flaps and even indicate the desired inflection, but the acting will usually be flat or stilted.
Your job in this case is rather tricky: You must match the phrasing and pace of the temp, but give a better acting performance and keep varying your read until you find the right performance. Don’t just copy the crappy temp read!
Sometimes the temp track can be played in your headphones while you read as reference so that you can match the exact pace. If that doesn’t hamstring your acting, that’s fine. But sometimes, it’s better to have them turn down the temp track (or “drop production”) out of your “cans” (headphones), once you are familiar with the timing, so you don’t have to work against the poor acting of the temp. The call is up to you as to what is most helpful.