Friday, September 15, 2017

Retro Friday : The Making of a Fan Dub

(originally posted August 2011)

Note : The following article was written 6 years ago. It reflects the technology available at that time. It's pretty much the same except for additional software used in the process.

Some have asked me how I create my Fan Dub versions of PEPLUM films.

Here's a quick rundown on how I create a Fan Dub.

Most PEPLUM films in English are in poor quality, whether it's the audio or the video, but mostly to do with the image quality. Many PEPLUM films, like SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS or MACISTE IN HELL (aka The Witch's Curse) are available on DVD in Europe in beautiful widescreen and more often than not are more complete than the US version, which, regarding those two titles I just mentioned, are in dire quality. The US cut for MACISTE IN HELL is a joke. The original, as seen on the French DVD, is a thing of beauty to behold and experience. Because practically all of these films are in the public domain in North America and the chances of getting high quality versions are, for the most part, almost impossible. It would cost to much to obtain a pristine print with a pristine English track. No distributors in Europe would want to spend money in distributing the hundreds of titles here this side of the Atlantic only for the films to end up being resold by anyone without any penalty. There are some DVDs currently available, like HERCULES from RetroMedia and GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON, from Image Entertainment. But those are more the exception than the rule. Being a PEPLUM fan and wanting to view classic films in English (even though I'm fluent in French and sorta get Italian, if they speak slowly) the only option is to create a Fan Dub version. And there are just about 200 films lined up now. Seriously, the number of Fan Dubs I have lined up is ridiculous so whenever I find a good to great quality of a film in English, I'm ecstatic. No Fan Dub needed. But alas, the number of titles ready for a Fan Dub is never-ending.

In addition to Fan Dubs, I also do other tweaks on PEPLUM films such as fixes, in which I combine different film sources in order to have the most complete version of a film, by adding missing scenes or opening/closing credits. It's less time consuming but still important. I've done this with HERO OF BABYLON, WARRIOR AND THE SLAVE GIRL and MACISTE, GLADIATOR OF SPARTA (aka Terror of Rome against the Son of Hercules), etc.

Before showing the step-by-step process, here are the tools I use to create these Fan Dub. I have a Mac so the tools I use are definitely different than those on a PC. The process should be the same but I'm not too familiar with what's available for the Windows platform so I won't even pretend to know which tools to use.


- Quicktime Pro

This is one of the most important tools of the bunch. I love Quicktime Pro. Not the free edition and certainly not the woeful Quicktime X version, which is a total fiasco. With Quicktime Pro, you can copy/paste clips on the fly, extra audio, create intro logos with photos, etc. It's very useful and a must in my creations.

- iMovie HD (or iMovie 6)

Of course this is the most important tool. It's what I use to edit the audio with the image. I use iMovie 6 HD ONLY. iMovie 7, 8, 9, whatever, are horrible. iMovie 6 HD is a thing of beauty. Super simple to use, does the job and even though it sorta has some bugs, it's the only video editing software I use for these Fan Dubs.

- iTunes

I only use iTunes in conjunction with iMovie 6. In iMovie 6, you can add music or audio tracks directly from whatever you have in  iTunes. Once I finish with processing an English track, I add it to my iTunes library and from there I can load the track in iMovie 6.

- WavePad

An audio-only tool. I use this to boost the audio, fix it as best as possible. It's not free. It's basically the same as Audacity but the audio filters are better than the free one.

- Audacity

I only use Audacity to change the tempo of the English track to match the PAL movie file(more about this latter on) with the NTSC audio track. There are other options, like removing hissing and humming sounds but Audacity distorts the audio so much that it's not worth using. It's free.

- VisualHub

Software to process video files into different formats; from DV to MP4 or MOV or AVI. This software is very buggy and has been discontinued but it's still very useful. It's free but good luck in getting a working copy.

- MPEG Streamclip

Same as VisualHub but more robust, as more options and it's still going strong. The files I can't process with this software I process with VisualHub, and vice versa. Not all video formats work with this software. It's free as well.

Step 1

English Audio

Because I'm basically adding the English dialogue unto a Euro video file, I need to extract the audio track from the best quality English version available out there. I use Quicktime Pro to do this. It's fast; I save the audio track in either .wav or .aiff audio files to be tweaked in Wavepad and Audacity.

Most PEP films last 90 minutes and working with a 90 minute long audio file or video file usually bogs down iMovie so I always cut the movie in half at a right spot (at a fade-in/fade-out for example). Once I have two video files, which I call file 1 and 2 (clever, huh, arf), I extract the audio from them. I then load those two tracks in Wavepad to amplify the sound and normalize them, etc. Options are limited because of the length of the track.

Changing the tempo of the English audio track is easy in Audacity

When both tracks are "fixed" I load them up in Audacity. Now this is the most important step of the process. Without getting too technical, films from DVDs or TV broadcast from Europe have a different frame rate than here in North America. Here, we still have the good old 24 frames a second(fps), which is standard for any film projected in a cinema. In Europe, the frame rate is 25 fps, which doesn't seem much of a difference but it adds up by the end of the movie. Because of this you can't just line up the English audio track smoothly with the Euro video track. So by changing the tempo (not the speed or pitch) of the English audio track (by 4.271%) in Audacity, I get the best possible match.

If you right click on the two processed English audio files, you can load them up in iTunes and they'll be ready to use in iMovie.

You can load music and other audio files, including audio tracks from films into iMovie via iTunes when clicking the "media" tab and selecting iTunes which shows your music library. Once you select your file, the "place at playhead" becomes available and it'll load into iMove where you want it to load.

Step 2

Transferring video and audio files into iMovie

The files needed for HERCULES Fan Dub: two MP4 files from the European version; two English audio AIFF files from the US version; and two individual iMovie files. iMovie 6 doesn't work well with very long video files so I need to split everything into two. Once finished, I join both finished files with VisualHub.

Once the English tracks are ready, I split the European movie file in two (at the same spot as where the English video file was split) then load the split videos into their own individual iMovie files (see image above). Depending on the length of the files, this is usually one of the most time consuming step. But you can do other stuff in the meantime while the video loads into iMovie. iMovie 6 has several different options for formats/aspect ratios and because most PEP films were shot in widescreen, I load the film files in DV Widescreen.

(As a side note, the audio track on the European transfer might be too low; for some reason this is a very common problem with DVDs from Europe; so you might have to boost the audio of those split video files first before loading them up in iMovie; I use MPEG Streamclip to do this)

When the video is loaded (this usually crashes iMovie but when you reopen it, iMovie saves the loaded file in its trash folder and you can drag it back into the clips section of iMovie), you can work with it and it's very easy now.

You need to extract the audio from the European video before adding the English audio into iMovie

The first thing you need to do in iMovie is to separate the audio track from its Euro video file. The option is under "advanced" in iMovie 6. This creates two tracks, one for the video and one for the audio. Don't discard the audio track from the European version of the film as the audio is often more clean, less hissy, etc. I try to use the music or background sound from the European track as often as possible. It's also a great guide to line up the English audio track when both visual references match.

After the audio has been extracted from the video, you need to add the processed English audio track. As already shown above, in iMovie 6, you go under the "media" tab and select iTunes and scroll down until you see the first English track. Click on "Place on Playhead" and the English track will load exactly where the playhead is.

Step 3

Editing and matching the stuff

Now starts the Fan Dub work. To get a good idea of what's going on, you'll probably need to study the English version and the European version and try to match things up first, see what differs from each other and such. More often than not, the opening credits in the US English versions are truncated or shorter than the Euro version (HERCULES is a great example), so I usually just use the Euro opening credits and discard anything to do with the US version. To line up the English audio with the Euro video, a single point of reference is important, like a slamming door or some noise or even dialogue. When the audio tracks between the US and Euro version match, it's a pretty easy process.

The audio tracks from the Euro version and the English track match; this part was easy to edit together but it's not always the case.

When matching things up, part of the English track is missing in the example above. This is where it gets complicated. Using the Euro track as a back-up for such spots usually works but more often than not, the music score is actually different between both versions which renders Euro track useless.

The longest process and the most fun (or tedious, depending on the film) part of the Fan Dubs is matching the audio with the video. If you're lucky and there are few edits throughout the film, the matching the audio and video should be easy. The easiest for me was A QUEEN FOR CAESAR. Everything basically matched. I didn't have to do any drastic edits to it. The hardest were HERCULES(1958) and SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON. There are a couple of films I've tried to do a Fan Dub with but I had to give up on them because there were just too many differences between both versions. In many cases, the US version is cut/edited so much that you can end up doing special editing tricks here and there so that the dialogue matches with the actors' mouths or the clashing swords on screen actually create a clashing sound. For every Fan Dub, I want to preserve the film's original length and cut but in some cases I had to do away with some scenes if the English track for that scene is missing/unavailable. In the case of HERCULES AGAINST ROME, there were a couple of scenes which lasted  longer than five minutes that didn't have any English track counterpart so instead of keeping it in, I simply cut that scene out entirely. It's not an easy process but I love doing this. I find it fun and discovered a lot of things and tricks along the way. I've been doing video editing since 1997 and doing these Fan Dub is a great way to relax and have fun.

Step 4

Finishing process

When both files are completed, the English audio matches as best as possible with the Euro video, than you export  it from iMovie 6 in Full Quality. This creates massive DV files. Because iMovie 6 creates 700x400 files under the widescreen option, no matter what the original aspect ratio was, I need to remove the black bars on top and below with MPEG Streamclip or VisualHub. I also need to reduce the DV file size down to more normal size and processing them into MP4 files does the trick. When both DV files are MP4 files, I can join them together (with VisualHub) and voila, you have a completely brand new film, not available anywhere else.

This is the second video file for SLAVE QUEEN OF BABYLON; look at all the edits I had to do in order to get the audio to match with the video. Crazy stuff.


Richard Svensson said...

This is truly mind-boggling work! Thank you for all your efforts :)

PEPLUM TV said...

Thanks Richard!