Disney’s Frozen – How to Find a Voice That Fits

‘How are we going to do that in 41 languages?’

This was the question that Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of Creative Disney Characters Voices International, asked himself when he first heard the ice queen’s song in the new Disney movie Frozen.

Dempsey has the incredibly interesting (if you’re a language geek, like me) job of finding foreign language voice artists for the localised international versions of the movie. As the market for films, TV shows and games has become ever more global, companies like Disney are having to move fast in producing translated versions of their films. No simple task, considering the entire film must not only be translated, but also adapted to the culture of another country.

And, especially with a Disney film, the voices are incredibly important. Idina Menzel, who sings the original English-language songs, has a powerful, rich and warm voice. Part of Dempsey’s job is to find a singer with similar qualities to the actor’s voice in each country. Not only that, but the translations of the songs must be tailored as closely as possible to the animation. If you ever watch dubbed movies in another language you speak, you may notice that what the voice artists are saying doesn’t match up with the English subtitles… This is because subtitlers often have to change, adapt and tailor the language to match up with the actors’ (or animations’) lip movements, body language and what’s on screen at the time.

Watching the multilingual version of ‘Let it Go’, you can see how fantastically both the voices and the words have been matched up with the original animation, and how the singers have been picked to match the character and to sound as similar as possible to the English voice.

Nat and I often have the similar (but on a much smaller scale!) task of picking foreign voice artists for our apps, including Maths and uTalk. Picking someone for the task isn’t a simple matter of whose voice sounds good – although this is important! We also have to check that each voiceover artist’s accent is appropriate for the target country (i.e. not a regional accent, or that they don’t pronounce any words in a non-native or non-RP way), that the voice sounds natural and native to a speaker of the language (some people who have been in the UK for a long time may have slightly lost their native accent), and that the voice suits the product. For Maths, we look for warm, friendly and young voices with plenty of enthusiasm. For uTalk, clear pronunciation and a neutral accent are most important.

So, I’m definitely keeping my eye out for a job with Disney on localising their next movie!


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