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Well-organized documentation offers various advantages: information is presented in a consistent way, data can be processed more easily and you don’t start from big bang for each new project. It’s also quite helpful when you want to run post production analysis. You can compare what’s comparable only.
If you want localization agencies to cast actors they need food for thought. But you’re lucky on this one: this document should already exist for the US version. It just needs a bit of revamping so that it answers questions relevant to localization. (You also probably want to have visuals a bit more elaborate than mine.)
Let’s take a closer look at the table’s categories:
It goes without saying: characters are not always humans; they may be animals, aliens, monsters etc. Voice ages are for voice range reference only. Remember: in most countries casting children is a real headache due to strict labor regulation and because young actors are less flexible and tire out faster. Studios know that and most of them have a pool of actors who will do a good job impersonating kids or very old persons.
Accents are trickier for several reasons: some work well for languages, but others don’t and good actors who won’t sound artificial are hard to find. I remember discarding all mercenaries’ Asian accents in all European versions of a first person shooter because it simply didn’t work. Tests showed it was way too cartoony for this type of game.
In other situations, accents need to be rethought because they are meaningless: In the U.S. version of Finding Nemo (Disney / Pixar 2003), Jacques the hermit crab was French and spoke “of cooorse wiz a verry heavy French accent”. Obviously that wasn’t going to work neither for the French movie nor for the French localized game. In the end, Jacques was given a south of France accent (Marseille) that kept the character's specificity and "cuteness".
Some games feature foreign language lines to give local color. That works nicely in war and action games set in realistic environments like Call of Duty or Splinter Cell. But if you have German lines what about the German game (where all characters should speak German)? Es klappt nicht! (It doesn’t work!)
If you decide not to localize those lines (mainly because you are not Croesus and are running out of smart ideas), sound integration might get complicated: you can swap mirrored audiobases because the number of files is identical. It won’t be the case with hybrid localized audiobases including original lines. Finally, you might not need recordings but remember you may need translation if you have subtitles (if it’s critical path dialogue) so do not take the lines out of the script.
Accents and cultural references work hand in hand. They are relevant if sonorities and tones are discernable in different languages: French people can tell Scots from Irish when they speak English (well some of us can) but it’s much harder when they speak French (I will eat my laptop if you prove me wrong). So in this case, you might want to go for a simple British accent.
Devil’s advocate: “So why bother? We should focus on the original version and subtitle everything for foreign markets.” These countries are – like it or not – dubbing countries and altogether they represent huge markets (for some franchises the main market). So you really want to be cautious with accent choices. Some can even be offensive for local minorities. The right Commonwealth pick may be totally irrelevant for the rest of the world. Discuss these issues with your publisher and local managers and poll your localization agencies: they have good expertise in dubbing.10
Don’t overindulge in Hollywood references. They help getting the character’s feel but they can be misleading if you are looking for something very specific. Dubbing cultures are different. Localization does not necessarily induce copying; it’s very much about adaptation.
I remember near-death experiences listening to Spanish voices because our hero created a new testosterone standard and sounded 15 years older than in the US version. When I checked with some of our Castilian crew, they were enthusiastic. Standards are different. That is the very purpose of standards. Bruce Willis’ Spanish voice doesn’t sound like Bruce Willis. We might as well get used to it if we want to sell movies or games in Madrid.
If you need a live casting, ask your game designer or creative director to select three or four lines archetypal of each character (it needs to cover a certain range of emotions unless you are looking for replicants). Even better, select a whole scene. Once lines are translated and recorded (usually three or four actors will test per role), edit a few files together so you can test chemistry between actors (it’s important if they share a lot of scenes; think buddy movies and good cop / bad cop routine).
This sheet assigns roles to actors. Because in big games there might be over a hundred parts and you can’t pay for a hundred actors you need to make sure that the breakdown is done in a way that no actor ends up speaking to himself. If Guard1, Guard5 and Colonel1 are assigned to Actor1, it means that Guard1, Guard5 and Colonel1 can’t have scenes together. You can use Excel’s cross dynamic function. This will greatly help organizing recording sessions.
10. Regarding specific licenses and movie tie-ins you may check my earlier article: Localizing Brands and Licenses.