Synchronization makes films, series or even video games accessible to a much larger audience. All those who lack the understanding of the original language can still enjoy the product to the fullest in this way. But tastes are different and a messed up dubbing can sometimes cloud the whole gaming experience. There is plenty of room for argument and discussion about dubbing, and for all the bickering, the really successful dubbing is often forgotten. We had the opportunity to talk to dubbing actor Jens Wendland, who is probably best known for his role as Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series. The result is a lot of interesting information about the job of the dubbing artist and their work, but also exciting statements about the quality of German dubbing. Worth a read!
Wall Jump: Players will probably know you best from the Uncharted series, where you play the role of Nathan Drake. Do you have any other video game experience as a voice actor?
Jens Wendland: Well, Drake isn’t my first video game role, but of course I’ve grown very fond of him. My first big role was a warrior in the PC game “Legend of Zord”. That got some bad reviews, especially for the dubbing. Nevertheless, I was cast again for “Need for Speed Underground”, “Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic”, “The Simpsons”, “Dragon Age”, “Mafia”, “Command & Conquer Red Alert”, among others. My first leading role was Fenimore Fillmore in “The Westerner”.
Wall Jump: How did you get the voiceover role for the Uncharted series? Are there any castings and auditions or do video game companies approach you specifically?
Jens Wendland: Of course there were auditions in advance. I recorded a few takes, as well as a number of other actors I didn’t know, and these takes were then presented to the client, who then decided.
I think, you inevitably give the character something of your own through the voice.Jens Wendland
Wall Jump: To what extent can you influence the character in such a role? Do the developers have clear guidelines or can you decide how they want to create the role?
Jens Wendland: Of course, the aim is to be as close as possible to the original. Translators, editors and dubbing directors pay attention to this. Since I also work as a voice imitator, I try to adapt my “instrument” to the character. Actually, there’s not much room for interpretation. It has to fit the lip movements as closely as possible. There are only sporadic individual “solo performances”. Mostly as alternative offers, which are taken up additionally and sometimes actually taken over.
I think, you inevitably give the character something of your own through the voice. When I played Uncharted at home, my wife said to me several times: “Just like you”, or even: “you would have said it like that now”. I did, except that I didn’t climb around rocks or buildings and I don’t usually carry firearms around with me.
A project like Uncharted takes several months.Jens Wendland
Wall Jump: How do we imagine your working day on such a big project like Uncharted? How many days / weeks / months does it take to finish your part?
Jens Wendland: A project like Uncharted takes several months. The translations are done in portions. Appointments are coordinated with the studio and speakers and off we go. Mostly in sessions of 4 to 6 hours. In total I spent about 50 hours in the studio for the recording of Uncharted 3.
Wall Jump: While researching for this interview, I noticed that your work on the Uncharted series is highly appreciated by the players – some even demand a voiceover award! How do you deal with the feedback – does such positive feedback help to land new jobs?
Jens Wendland: Like everyone else in this project, I naturally want to do a good job. When I hear or read that the dubbing has met with a positive response, I am naturally very pleased. But you must not forget that the voiceover artist only uses his or her voice to make audible all the work that translators, directors and technicians have done in the studio. It is a team game. Of course, I’ve also read reviews where the German version didn’t come off so well. You have to live with that. You can’t please everybody. But I can’t do anything with statements like, “I haven’t heard it, but it can’t be anything great”.
Wall Jump: Are there significant differences between working as a voiceover artist in video games and voiceover roles in audiobooks or dubbing movies?
Jens Wendland: Definitely: With audio books, you have more freedom at first because you’re not tied to the timing or the specifications of another speaker. You can set the pauses as they occur in the normal flow of speech. Since you can’t see any characters, you have more of a chance to imagine a character for yourself and then use your voice to represent it.
In film dubbing, you have the moving picture in front of you, the text in the script and take by take you ” throw your voice into the mouth” of the actor. Of course you must not forget the acting. If it works, and your voice comes out of the mouth on the screen, it almost has something magical about it.
With video games, there is another component to it. Many more takes have to be recorded. For Drake’s climbing parts, countless jumps, pull-ups, slides, “that was close” and so on were recorded. For a lead role in a film, you’re in the studio with two or three days of shooting. As I said: The last Uncharted episode took me a good 50 studio hours alone – not counting coffee breaks. But that’s no wonder when you consider that a feature film runs a good 95 minutes. I have been told that experienced players play through Uncharted in 8-10 hours. I’d rather not say how long I’ll need…
The statement that only the original track is the “right” track – in all cases and all productions – is a flat statement for me.Jens Wendland
Wall Jump: German dubbing voices are often criticized, not only in video games, but also in series or films. As a result, many people consume the respective products exclusively with the English voices. What is the reason for this? Is something of the “original mood” lost almost instantly during dubbing? Are the English language originals simply better? Are you annoyed by this – now quite common – opinion?
Jens Wendland: Those are several questions. First of all, I would agree with anyone who says they prefer to watch series or films in the original. It is their decision. I’m not annoyed if someone prefers the original version. However, it does bother me when people try to missionize about it. The statement that only the original track is the “right” track – in all cases and all productions – is a flat statement for me.
But I don’t think that this opinion is as unanimous as it is often presented in forums. I myself don’t think my English is the worst, but I still depend on subtitles for English language films. I think it’s a bit of a pity to stick to the bottom of the screen. I don’t have this problem with the dubbed version.
Of course there are annoying translation mistakes. In one production I experienced how someone wanted to translate the word “Mummy” (mummy) with ” Mommy” or “Mother”. The scene took place in front of a mausoleum. The scene had little to do with motherhood. But we could still correct that in the studio. Apart from that I know that translators and dialogue book authors work very diligently, not only to convey the content but also the atmosphere. This sometimes includes replacing content with other content. Some idioms can’t be transferred at all. Alternatives must then be found.
The fact that the English original is simply better, I think, by the way, is too generalized. In more than one cartoon production I experienced in the dubbing studio that the English sound tracks didn’t fit to the mouth movements. This means that the German viewer is offered a more synchronized version. I also find the German version of the series “Die Zwei” more successful than the original version. And all Bud Spencer and Terence Hill films would certainly not have been so successful in Germany if they had only been subtitled. As I said, everyone should experience the films and games in the version that suits them best.
Wall Jump: If people were to call you just a voice actor, they would probably be wrong – you also work as a voice imitator and presenter. Can you even tell which of these professions you enjoy the most?
Jens Wendland: I have never thought about that. All these activities are fun. It is a great gift to be able to do what you enjoy and what you have chosen for yourself. Okay, there are also jobs that I don’t enjoy. But in what field of work is there not? Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Wall Jump: During our research, we have found that the number of people who work only as dubbing actors, is very small. Many work as actors, presenters or authors. So are these professions – somehow inseparable – linked? Would you even be able to earn a living if you were only working as a dubbing artist?
Jens Wendland: Is there anybody who works exclusively as a dubbing artist? Sure, you can make a living from it – if you have enough jobs. But even if there were, I don’t think anyone would turn down a good radio play role by saying: “Sorry, but I only do dubbing roles.” But these professions aren’t inseparable either. It is rather the case that many people, before they came to dubbing, did something else like acting or moderating and thus expanded their field of activity.
Wall Jump: How did you come to dubbing? What qualifications do you need?
Jens Wendland: Originally I wanted to become a stage actor. But after one semester of acting school I had to do my community service. Then I went to radio and did a traineeship. During that time I spoke news and moderated. Then advertising was added. After my radio time the first radio play roles followed. Then I did a dubbing seminar and got my first small roles in the same studio. So it started slowly.
Wall Jump: Can you learn dubbing anywhere? Which way would you suggest to someone who would like to work in this field – is there a golden way?
Jens Wendland: There are some studios that offer seminars together with dubbing actors and directors. Here you can try out dubbing in different ways without any pressure.
Wall Jump: In which projects – even outside of video games – can we hear you?
Jens Wendland: I have spoken for Resident Evil, for example. Then you can hear me in animated series like Garfield, Marvel Avengers, Hero 108, Tough Puppy, Fanboy & Chum Chum, Hello Kitty & Friends, Ugly Americans…
In radio drama series I can be heard like Die drei ??? -Kids, Die drei !!!, the “Geister-Schocker” series, Traumwandler and in a new recording of “Schatzinsel”.
Wall Jump: Thank you for your effort and the interesting interview!
Jens Wendland has been working with his voice since 1996 in the fields of video games, radio, audio book/ -play, dubbing and documentation. He became known to video game fans primarily as the German dubbing voice of Nathan Drake. In addition, Wendland has been active in event moderation, radio comedies and as a voice imitator.
This post is also available in: German