So, you’re thinking about embarking on a translation animation journey, huh? Good on ya! It means that you’re thinking globally — allowing more users to reach your content and hear your message. 

In fact, whether you’re thinking about branding, e-learning, cartoons or anime, the same rules apply. A good translation opens the door for a good dub. One cannot exist without the other. The net gain you get from translating your animation is twofold.

    • If your animation doesn’t contain audio or voices, the translation acts as your direct vehicle. This includes both direct translations of the material or subtitles.
    • If, however, your animation is voiced, translation acts as the opening step to a, hopefully great, voice acting performance.

You want to give your audience access to great, localized content that feels tailor-made for them. The best way to do it is by leveraging the many moving parts that constitute a good translation. Let’s get started in our journey towards translation animation greatness!

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What is translation?

Translation lies in the middle ground between art and technique. It entails taking a text written in one language (the source) and conveying its meaning into another (the target). While it’s easy in theory, it’s not always so in practice. Translating a text requires much more than just converting a word into its different-language homophone.

You see, not all languages are built the same. Sometimes languages have structural, technical, and more intricate differences. That means that in some cases a translator will be hard-pressed to find a word that means the same in both languages. It’s definitely not as simple as swapping out words! In fact, that’s what’s usually called literal translation, and it carries its own pitfalls.

Word-for-word or literal translation is devoid of shades of meaning. It does not convey the greater intent behind a text, which a translator has to have a firm grasp on. It is just an attempt to find word analogs between two languages. A sort of textual “pin the tail on the donkey” game.

So, the work of a good translator is more about transferring intent and meaning rather than replicate word constructions perfectly. This gets really important when talking about translation animation.

Translation animation: what’s needed?

Translation gets slightly more involved when it comes to animation. First, we have the importance of timing. Regardless of the intent behind your animation, translation has to adjust to the visual and stylistic template you have set. That includes readability that your audience can follow. If the translation gets so long that you’re losing audiences, it’s always better to simplify.

For example, the BBC subtitle guidelines specify that around two lines of text should be enough. More than that, and you start to lose readers who don’t have the required reading speed to follow the words. Whilst subtitles and translation are not exactly the same thing, there’s an undeniable overlap. Simply put: through whichever means, you’re portraying readable material on-screen. While making sure that the translation fits the style and timing of the original is important, readability should come first.

Translation Animation for language localization

You’re also going to have to pay special attention to the quality of the translation. Just because it’s readable doesn’t mean it’s hewing closely to the original’s intent. Another thorny issue is localization. For brevity’s sake, we’ll include the two in the following point.

Localization and “keeping it real”

Nobody said this translation animation business was easy! In our Translation Theory: Between a Word and a Bad Phrase, we go about this in-depth:

Precision means replicating the original text in the greatest degree possible. Aesthetics or naturalness is about making a text beautiful, sometimes to the expense of precision.

This becomes especially relevant when we deal with the thorny issue of localization. It normally entails tailoring the translation in a way that befits the target market. Who’s the target market? Well, you decide! It’s not just about language, but region, dialect, and the preference of demographics! You may not have a perfect grasp (nor the marketing acumen) to go in-depth, but you can save time and money using the following:

  • Have the translator be a native of the language you’re going to be translating into. Bonus points if you’re targeting your translation to a particular dialect. Think “Bogotá Spanish” instead of just “Spanish.”
  • They need to be up-to-date on idioms, phrases, and ideas that can accurately portray your content.
  • No two ways about it, they need to know the culture they’ll be translating into.

What happens to your translation animation if you don’t follow these three simple steps? Easy: read this article about 5 cartoons that got lost in translation. You want to incur the love and adoration of your audience, not their eternal wrath. Believe us, forever is a long time on the internet. It’s as long as pages can be cached.

You don’t want an international incident on your hands, to put it another way. Know your target markets, and ensure your translator does too. Even after you’ve ensured these things, you may have a watchful customer or fanbase watching your every move.

Of course, this applies whether you’re directly translating, subbing, or dubbing your content. Now, for some more specific concerns.

When translation animation means “dubbing”

This could be another potentially tricky issue. As you’ve seen, translation and dubbing both carry significant challenges. Dubbing poses another beast for translation animation that combines their challenges for an extra-special treat!

Now, while this may sound scary, it’s not so much if you’ve got the right talent on hand, and are production-savvy. Still, there are some standard operations guidelines that you’d be wise to keep in mind. Ready?

  1. Remember: you’re now dealing with the challenges of the spoken word. That means that timing will become an even more important factor. Some translations may look good on paper but are utterly impossible to say out loud in a natural way in the allotted time actors have.
  2. This feeds into the previous point. Syncing the character’s mouth movements to speech is going to be a special kind of challenge. That means that some parts of lines or jokes will have to be edited for time and naturalness.
  3. Don’t fall in love too deeply with your perfect translation. It’s better to jettison non-critical parts of the original script to keep the flow going. You won’t make it otherwise.

As you’ve probably gleaned from the above, there’s no perfect dub out there. At most, it can attempt to be as faithful to the original as possible, but it still remains a second-hand version. This is no slight against dubs, as they require the incredible coordination of translators, scriptwriters, producers, coaches, and actors. It’s just that, for all the effort it takes, it’s best to know that it can never be perfect. A word-for-word, perfect dub does not and can not exist.

But great versions do, and that’s what we’ll highlight below.

Some great examples of translation animation

The Latin American Simpsons

The Simpsons were — and still are, despite claims to the contrary — a cultural powerhouse. The show has been translated into so many languages, it’d take another article to count ’em. In fact, Wikipedia has you covered for that.

The Simpsons are especially beloved throughout Latin America. An unquestionable part of that is due to the affable cast that voiced the first seasons. While they were replaced due to contractual issues, the switch happened to coincide with the show’s perceived decline in quality. Still, due to it still being broadcast on several public TV channels, the show remains well-known. Its main catchphrases, translated into a loosely Mexican slang, remain popular with children, centennials, and millennials even today. Now that’s a lot of staying power for what’s essentially a translation, right? It’s also a perfect portrayal of what happens when a good intellectual property gets treated right.

Translation Animation for content localization

And, by no means is the Simpsons translation perfect. A lot gets lost in translation, including popular jokes and puns. But, the memorable voice cast more than made up for it.

Dragon Ball Zeta

Yes, I’m referring to the ubiquitous, world-shaking hit of Dragon Ball Z. It actually arrived in Latin America in its uncensored, mostly-unedited form in the mid-90s. While its broadcasting history was muddled at best, with stops, starts, mistranslations, and cancellations, it ended up catching on. And catch on it did! With Mario Castañeda as Goku (or Gokú, as we call ‘im), the series gained a heretofore unknown height of popularity in the American continent. Without a doubt, millions of anime fans were made thanks to the performances of the main cast.

What do I do if I want actors for my translation animation project?

No problem! You can find actors easily online these days, whether on a freelancing site or in a voiceover hub.

A freelancing site hosts thousands of freelancers that sell their services through that particular platform. Among them, you can find voiceover artists peddling their trade. Try platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, or PeoplePerHour

The downside is that none of these, offers curated content, so make sure that these actors have a convincing portfolio!

If not, just go with a voice-centric hub that deals with voice actors especially. They’re well-organized, offer a wide range and variety of accents, and most importantly: they’re curated. What does that mean? That the QA staff on the site ensures that the pros know their stuff. You don’t get any second-rate talent with these!

Summing up

So, we’ve taken a small journey down the road to translation animation. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you’re directly translating, subbing, or dubbing; general rules still apply!

  • Pay attention to proper timing.
  • Know whether a more literal or localized translation would be preferable.
  • In the case of dubbing, this goes double. Ensure a good marriage of fidelity vs believability.

Pay attention to these, and maybe we’ll be talking about your stellar translation in the future!