Special Issue: Building Bridges between Film Studies and Translation Studies

The role of dubbing and signifying codes in the portrayal of characters in transmedia films and video games

By Miquel Pujol-Tubau (Universitat de Vic-UCC, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords

Transmedia storytelling is in view of consolidating as a new way of telling stories that unfold across multiple media. Films and video games are popular platforms for transmedia storytelling and expansion of the franchise. Given its audiovisual nature, content in both media is portrayed on the screen as a synchronicity of sound, image and word. Taking these aspects into account, I carried out a study of the representation of characters through dubbing in films and videogames that belong to a transmedia storytelling. With that purpose, I chose three characters of the story The Lord of the Rings and analysed a selection of meaningful fragments extracted from three feature films, two video games and a fan-made short film, all of them in the version dubbed into Spanish. As audiovisual media, both films and video games are transmitted on screen through a combination of the acoustic and visual channels. I decided to analyse dubbed fragments selected from the six audiovisual texts in terms of the signifying codes described by Casetti and Di Chio (2007), as these codes may provide relevant or crucial information on the audiovisual text. The application of this Film Studies perspective led to a number of insights on the portrayal of characters through dubbing in transmedia texts. In this paper, I share the findings on the role of dubbing and signifying codes in the portrayal of particular character traits such as physical appearance, personality and qualities, together with the inner conflict that transforms each character over the course of the story.

Keywords: signifying codes, dubbing, film, video games, transmedia storytelling

©inTRAlinea & Miquel Pujol-Tubau (2017).
"The role of dubbing and signifying codes in the portrayal of characters in transmedia films and video games"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Building Bridges between Film Studies and Translation Studies
Edited by: Juan José Martínez Sierra & Beatriz Cerezo Merchán
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2248

1. Introduction

At the onset of the so-called convergence era in the early years of the 21st century, the appearance and consolidation of new media brought about new techniques for experiencing stories. In this context, transmedia storytelling arose as a new narrative technique in which stories unfold across multiple media, evolving from a primary text from which the narrative cues are expanded through further texts. Audiovisual media such as films or video games are among the platforms where such transmedia storytelling takes place. Regardless of its medium, each text is composed of four narrative elements: character, action, time and space. Given the audiovisual nature of films and video games, these items are transferred to the screen as a synchronicity of sound, image and words.

In this context, I aimed to carry out a study of these phenomena from the perspective of audiovisual translation, while transcending the traditional borders of this discipline. This could in turn open up new lines of research motivated by the expansion of audiovisual techniques of representation. This aim evolved into an interdisciplinary study combining Film Studies, Communication Studies and narratology with Audiovisual Translation Studies. I focused on the representation of characters through dubbing in films and video games in a transmedia storytelling project.

To meet the research objective, I chose three main characters in the story The Lord of the Rings and analysed a selection of meaningful fragments extracted from the Spanish dubbed version of six audiovisual texts in a sample of films and video games. Considering that audiovisual media are presented to the receiver through a combination of the acoustic and visual channels, it was decided to analyse the data from the point of view of the signifying codes described by Casetti and Di Chio (2007). It was assumed that these codes may provide relevant or crucial information on the audiovisual text and, in turn, may influence audiovisual translation choices. Qualitative analysis resulted in a number of conclusions regarding the role of signifying codes in on-screen character representation.

In this article, I share the findings on the active presence of signifying codes in character representation. This portrayal is expressed through a number of parameters including physical appearance, personality traits and the inner conflict which transforms each character as the story unfolds. First, I contextualise the concept of transmedia storytelling and briefly present a representative corpus of audiovisual texts. This paper goes on to explain and justify the focus on signifying codes, describe the codes taken into account for the study and comment on the most relevant findings for the presence of signifying codes in character representation in dubbed texts. The article concludes with a view on the use of signifying codes in audiovisual media and on the codes that seem most relevant for audiovisual translation in the light of the results.

2. Transmedia storytelling in the convergence era

The first years of the new millennium confirmed what Pool (1983: 23) anticipated as a ‘convergence of modes’, which he regarded as a process where the distinctions between media tend to blur and finally disappear. Corporate synergies in the culture sector, a greater flow and full digitalization of media content, and the changing roles of producers and consumers, are some of the changes in society that imply a shift and consolidation of the so-called convergence era (Hesmondhalgh 2007).

This new paradigm made room for the production of new forms of expression originating in two different phenomena: on the one hand, the availability and spread of new media (most notably social networks and state-of-the-art devices such as smartphones); on the other, benefitting from the connections between new and traditional media. One of the possibilities arising in this context was what Henry Jenkins (2006: 95) called transmedia storytelling, which he defined as follows: ‘A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole.’ This definition has received various interpretations, ranging from restrictive to broader views, especially in regard to what can be considered a ‘distinctive’ and ‘valuable’ contribution. Furthermore, though each text has to make its own contribution to the whole, it should also work independently as an isolated text without the need of others to be understood.

Further to this definition, Jenkins (2009a; 2009b; 2011) identified a set of principles to be fulfilled to organise and tailor the dynamics of this new way of storytelling. These principles have evolved into the characteristics on which transmedia storytelling is currently based. First of all, a transmedia project should address management through a twin resource. On the one hand, there is what has been called the transmedia bible, comprising the internal documentation, including the main narrative cues, and information about characters, places, and so on, in order to ensure content coherence, and technical information on the media involved. On the other, this documentation includes a licensing system to authorise and control the creation of new texts as expansions of the project. Secondly, such storytelling is carried out in a world of fiction open enough to enable expansion through texts with varying scope. All the content in the project should contain narrative or gameplay perspectives, or both. This component varies in each text and is strongly related to the characteristics of the medium. For instance, a film is commonly expected to provide a narrative expansion to a project whereas a video game typically contributes a more ludic experience. Thirdly, a project should include at least two media; there is no maximum. Finally, transmedia storytelling includes the active participation of users on different levels, not only as spectators or passive receivers. In other words, the user is regarded both as a consumer and as a potential producer, a double function for which the term prosumer has been coined.

Transmedia storytelling has also lead to changes in project development: ‘The process of film production and video game adaptation increasingly takes place simultaneously, as part of a single process’ (Fennessy 2003: 39). Thus, licensing gives way to co-creation, a concept coined by the industry insiders. In this cooperative production process, companies collaborate from the beginning to create content they know plays well in each of their sectors. This allows each medium to generate new experiences for the consumer and expand points of entry into the franchise. This is the perspective Electronic Arts actually adopted in the process of developing their Lord of the Rings titles. Neil Young, then Electronic Arts executive responsible on the franchise titles, expressed the following thoughts about their approach:

I wanted to adapt Peter [Jackson]’s work for our medium in the same way that he has adapted Tolkien’s work for his. Rather than being some derivative piece of merchandise […], maybe we could turn that pyramid up the side of its head, leverage those pieces which have come before, and become the pinnacle of the property instead of the basement. […] This system allowed them to import thousands of “assets” from the film production into the game, ensuring an unprecedented degree of fidelity to the details of Tolkien’s world. (Jenkins, 2006: 15)

As a consequence of co-creation, the project also contributed to the experience of the story by taking certain characters further. The following quotation concerns the expanded role the character Gandalf is given in the transmedia storytelling project based on Tolkien’s work:

In the case of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the added comprehension is the fact that Gandalf is the architect of this plan and has been the architect of this plan for some time. [...] Our hope is that you would play the video game and that would motivate you to watch the films with this new piece of knowledge which would shift your perception of what has happened in the previous films. (Jenkins, 2006: 31)

This statement is in line with Jenkins’ definition of the contribution each medium makes to understanding and experiencing the whole story. Bearing these aspects in mind, I grew interested in observing transmedia storytelling from an audiovisual translation perspective and chose The Lord of the Rings as a case study in its translation into Spanish.

3. Analysing audiovisual texts using signifying codes

Paraphrasing Jenkins’ definition, a transmedia storytelling project unfolds through a number of texts. The media involved in such projects range from the book or film to illustration, photography, comic books or video games, to name but a few. Given my interest in audiovisual translation, I focused on media with an audiovisual nature and opted for films and video games as my object of study.

In this study, text is defined as any instance of a communicative act generated through the combination of semiotic systems. Each text generated in any of these media is rendered as the result of integrated content resulting from the specific characteristics of each medium, be it verbal, non-verbal, visual, acoustic or dynamic.

In order to carry out a proper study of the translated audiovisual material in this transmedia project, I singled out a corpus of six texts deemed representative for subsequent examination. My first choice was Peter Jackson’s film trilogy: La comunidad del anillo (The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001), Las dos torres (The Two Towers, 2002) and El retorno del rey (The Return of the King, 2003). These films were instances of secondary texts with regard to the novel and, at the same time, primary texts for most of the related audiovisual products published in the digital era. The films make up a serial trilogy, providing opportunities for interesting intertextual relationships. Two video games were also selected with a different and complementary perspective. On the one hand, La batalla por la Tierra Media I (The Battle for Middle Earth, 2004), a strategy game for committed gamers with a clear emphasis on gameplay experience over narrative content. On the other, Las aventuras de Aragorn (Aragorn’s Quest, 2010), an adventure game with a good deal of narrative content intended for a very young audience. This video game was released under license by Warner Bros, which had obtained the rights some years after the release of the film trilogy. The corpus was completed with La caza de Gollum (The Hunt for Gollum, 2009), an amateur short film created by fans, included here as an example of active user involvement, as mentioned above.

Due to the amount of audiovisual content in these six texts, the study was limited to focusing on characters as a narrative element and observing the role of dubbing in their representation. The scope was further reduced to the three characters in the story that lead the three main narrative lines: Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn.

At this point, I decided to apply a Film Studies perspective in the research. As my primary goal was to study the presence of dubbing in films and video games, and considering that the selected media are audiovisual texts transferred to the screen as a simultaneous combination of audio and visual channels, I opted for this semiotic focus and decided to describe the role of dubbing, together with signifying codes, as described by Casetti and Di Chio (2007). This decision followed on from suggestions first made by Chaume in Meta (2004). There, Chaume expressed an interest in finding a method of analysis ‘focused on the signifying codes of cinematographic language […] to check whether knowledge of cinematographic components can better explain audiovisual translation operations’ (2004: 16). The author insisted on the semiotic perspective of audiovisual texts in further works (2013: 291):

Audiovisual texts are much more than simply the script behind them: a number of semiotic codes weave the meaning of these texts together (Chaume, [2003]) and constrain the translation; in other words, they must be taken into account when translating and they may even be prioritised above the translation itself.

This quote clearly points to the double role signifying codes may play in audiovisual translation: on the one hand, they weave the web of meaning in audiovisual texts and, on the other, they act as a restriction on translation decision-making.

In order to study the dual function of texts mentioned earlier in the definition of transmedia storytelling (see Section 2), I aimed to include the observation of the selected texts both in their uniqueness as texts and as intertextual artefacts in relation to other texts in the project. Here, it was assumed that proper detection of the different layers of meaning in the audiovisual text would pave the way to spotting intertextual phenomena. Thus, the choice of analysing data through the signifying codes could lead to further conclusions.

To complete this section I would like to make a brief comment on the nature of video games. Despite being a computer medium in origin, cinematographic language is increasingly being incorporated into video gaming. As observed by Manovich (2001) and Newman (2008), this film-oriented approach to video games can be perceived through the inclusion of film industry techniques into game production, for instance in the use of camera and photography techniques and the increasing relevance of the acoustic channel. As observed by O’Hagan and Mangiron (2013: 21), ‘[o]ne technological trend is to make certain genres of mainstream console games more like movies, where pre-rendered movie sequences (cut-scenes) and real-time interactive playing scenes seamlessly merge through the use of high definition graphics and dialogues voiced by professional actors.’ Thus, my analysis design was also intended to test the applicability of a Film Studies approach to video games, given their audiovisual nature and increasingly cinematic feel.

4. Description of the signifying codes used in the study

From a semiotic point of view, meaning in audiovisual texts is produced on a physical medium (video or Blu-ray player, computer, video game console, and so on) and transmitted through signifying codes. It is fuelled by the simultaneous action of the acoustic channel (audio waves), visual channel (light waves) and the kinetic and tactile channel (digital action or body movements). Each signifying code has a specific set of characteristics and is commonly conducted through one of these channels. In some instances, the code may be linked to the medium itself (technological code) or generated as a combination of them all (syntactic code). Apart from the technological and syntactic codes, most signifying codes are rendered by the acoustic channel (linguistic, paralinguistic, musical and sound effects, sound arrangement) and the visual channel (iconographic, photographic, mobility and graphic):

technological

Acoustic channel

linguistic

paralinguistic

sound arrangement

musical and sound effects

Visual channel

iconographic

photographic

mobility

graphic

syntactical

Table 1. Signifying codes in audiovisual texts

Signifying codes in this section will be briefly outlined by following the description offered by Casetti and Di Chio (2007). Information will be complemented with observations by specialists in the field and illustrated, when applicable, through examples from the case study.

4.1. Technological code

This code is related to the medium as a platform or device and includes both the physical recording artefact (for instance, the camera recording film images) and the reproduction device, that is, the machine playing the recorded text.

Casetti and Di Chio (2007: 70) identify three levels of intervention of the technological code when applied to cinema: support (sensitivity and format), reproduction (frames per second) and screen (size, transparent or reflective surface, brightness, and so on). When applying this code to video games, it should be remembered that this medium is not device-dependent. Following Manovich (2001), given their nature as software, video games are a set of files organised by type (text, sound, image, and others) converted to numeric data made accessible by means of computers, organised in databases and stored in a physical device. This numeric data is combined through elementary and sequential operations and algorithms to be presented to the user through an interface.

In the next section I go on to consider codes rendered through the acoustic channel: linguistic, paralinguistic, sound arrangement, musical and sound effects.

4.2. Linguistic code

In itself, the linguistic code is not specific to the audiovisual domain, as it refers to all the verbal information in the text and is found in all texts susceptible to translation. Nonetheless, in audiovisual texts it is subject to other codes from the acoustic and visual channel to construct meaning. According to Chaume (2004: 22), ‘despite its predominant role, [it] is but one more code at play in the construction and later transfer of meaning in audiovisual texts.’ From the dubbing point of view, the linguistic code is originally created in a written form (script) but is rendered on the screen as an oral and spontaneous text. Translators should be fully aware of its final function, especially because this is the code they are manipulating in the audiovisual text.

4.3. Paralinguistic code

Together with the actual words uttered, the non-verbal qualities of voice in an audiovisual text should also be considered. Intonation, rhythm, tone and resonance (Chaume 2003: 222) are some of the most prominent aspects in the paralinguistic code. These qualities become active in the text, especially in the expression of feelings which may be accompanied by shouting, sighs and laughter. Thus, the use of the paralinguistic code adds to the authenticity of character representation.

4.4. Sound arrangement code

The sound arrangement code comprises information on the arrangement of voices and sounds in relation to the screen. Voices and sounds acquire a different function depending on their location and this may have certain implications for the user. According to Chaume (2004: 18), ‘sound can be diegetic (or belonging to the story) or non-diegetic (belonging to a person or object which is not part of the story, as an off-screen narrator).’ Furthermore, ‘sound can be produced on-screen (associated with the vision of the sound source) or off-screen, when its origin is not present in the frame and therefore not visible simultaneously with the perception of the sound.’ Sound arrangement is strongly related to synchrony and affects decision-making in terms of restrictions. Off-screen voices allow for freer solutions, in comparison to on-screen lines, where translated dialogues have to meet the constraints of isochrony and lip-synchrony.

4.5. Musical and sound effects code

Music and sound effects may play an active role in the meaning-making process of audiovisual texts. Though I have presented them here together, their use is usually slightly different. The musical code is rendered through songs and the soundtrack, which most commonly colour the story and, in many instances, may provide meaningful information in the audiovisual text. Concerning the musical code, Garí (1995: 221) insists on the importance of cohesion between the soundtrack and the linguistic content. Carmona (1996: 109) observes a double function to this code, as it may be used as an intensifier or as a counterpoint to the image. Furthermore, the musical code may be related to a character or narrative groups by linking them with a specific melody and its variations. Sound effects also have a meaningful purpose in the audiovisual text. In the films, Peter Jackson explicitly used them in characterizing the Ring and its prominent influence on the onset of Frodo’s madness.

As mentioned earlier, narration in audiovisual texts is rendered by the simultaneous interaction of acoustic and visual content. Casetti and Di Chio (2007) extensively describe the cinematographic components. Their classification organises visual information into the following group codes, which I used in this study: iconographic, photographic (including type of shot), mobility, and graphic.

4.6. Iconographic code

Being the most prominent in the visual channel, the iconographic code comprises all the iconic content in the audiovisual text. Casetti and Di Chio (2007: 72) organise this group into a number of subcodes, including iconic denomination and recognition; iconic transcription; iconic composition; iconographic as such; and stylistic. The iconic denomination and recognition subcodes enable the spectator or user to identify shapes on the screen and couple them with a meaning, thus establishing a correspondence between these iconic traits and language semantics. For instance, in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, the Evenstar pendant becomes a love token and is actively used to portray changes in Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship. Iconic transcription implies the correspondence between semantic traits and the graphic aspect of the object or character. An example from the corpus is how the colour of Frodo’s face changes as the story moves forward, evolving from healthy and colourful to pale and void of life in the final scenes.

Casetti and Di Chio (2007: 73) define the iconic composition codes as those organising image display and how elements relate to each other in the visual space. They are subdivided into figuration and plasticity codes. I will describe them because of their importance in the study. The figuration code concerns the grouping of elements in the image. It is intentionally applied in Jackson’s trilogy to show Gandalf’s or Aragorn’s leadership over other characters, which proves to have importance in the trilogy plot. The plasticity code (2007: 74-75) refers to the specific relevance certain objects or image details are given on the screen. This relevance is acquired by providing movement to an object in a still image or by highlighting an object or shape in the visual space. The plasticity code is of paramount importance in the trilogy, for instance, to show the active presence of the Ring, or to make the spectator aware of Arwen’s mortality-immortality by means of a change in the Evenstar pendant’s brightness. The iconographic code as such refers to the construction of defined shapes or forms corresponding to conventions with a fixed meaning. It is applicable to icons, indices and symbols in the image having a meaningful role in the story. Finally, the stylistic code refers to the visual traits that can be associated with the personality, style or idiosyncrasy of the author, that is, the director. Regarding the film trilogy, this stylistic code can be perceived in certain horror-like settings such as Shelob’s Lair or the Path of the Dead. This style was Peter Jackson’s hallmark in works prior to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

4.7. Photographic codes

Casetti and Di Chio (2007: 76-79) observe that photographic composition is obtained from perspective, framing, illumination and colour use codes. Framing is defined by the frame margins and filming modes. The latter portray the perspective from which the object is presented, a point of view obtained through angle and inclination together with the shot code. The shot code is particularly relevant for synchrony restriction in dubbing (especially the closest shots), as it classifies the quantity of represented space and distance of the objects filmed. As Chaume (2004: 19) observes, ‘(i);n close-ups and extreme close-ups, the translator, by convention, usually has to find a text that respects the opening and closing of the lips of the character on screen.’

4.8. Mobility codes

Moving images are an essential trait of audiovisual texts. The mobility code comprises both camera and profilmic movements, the latter being the most relevant from a translation perspective. Chaume (2003: 242-254) makes a distinction between proxemics (distance of the characters from each other and from the camera), kinetic (character movements) and screen characters’ mouth articulation. These three types of movement may place restrictions on the translators and affect their decisions. Both proxemics and the screen character’s mouth articulation are strongly related to the shot code mentioned above (see 4.7). Kinetic signs are strongly cohesive with verbal language (Poyatos 1997: 258-259). Thus, translation may help to explain, strengthen or substitute these signs.

4.9. Graphic codes

The various forms of written verbal content appearing on the screen are grouped under graphic codes. Casetti and Di Chio (2007) separate them into titles, intertitles, text and subtitles. As Chaume puts it (2004: 18), ‘most of the time the translator needs to transfer their meaning to the target text, within the formal constraints that each one of them brings with it.’ The presence of graphic code instances is especially relevant for restrictions in video game localisation.

4.10. Syntactic code

All the codes described above are simultaneously active in audiovisual texts. The way in which meaning from all codes is integrated is also regarded as a signifying code and is known as the syntactic or editing code. This regulates the association and ordering of signs and structures them into more complex units articulated through the montage, by following the principles of continuity and discontinuity. Concerning this code, Chaume (2004: 21) states that ‘(b)eing aware of iconic associations can help the translator to better understand the audiovisual text, the relationship of one scene to another and the position of the scene within the development of the plot and the narrative.’

5. Findings on the incidence of signifying codes in the analysed data

In order to meet the study objective of describing the role of dubbing in the representation of characters, I performed a qualitative analysis of 281 fragments selected from the six audiovisual texts in the sample, distributed as follows:

 

Frodo

Gandalf

Aragorn

La comunidad del anillo

32

31

23

Las dos torres

14

14

14

El retorno del rey

15

17

12

La batalla por la Tierra Media

4

15

8

Las aventuras de Aragorn

23

18

32

La caza de Gollum

1

2

6

Total number of fragments

89

97

95

Total time

1:13:06

0:59:17

0:52:47

Table 2. Fragments analysed by text and character

Each fragment was described individually by means of an analysis grid specifically tailored to this study, in which I intended to scrutinize audiovisual instances from a transmedia project within a semiotic perspective. The grid is organised in four parts. The first row includes information on the character (A = Aragorn, F = Frodo and G = Gandalf) and the text (title and medium) the fragment is from. The second row indicates a minimal context for the clip.

Below is a transcription of the dialogue in three columns: (1) time in the video edited for the research, (2) the English dialogue and (3) the Spanish dubbed lines. The lines uttered by the character the fragment applies to are coloured blue.

The analysis is recorded in the fourth part, with a commentary on signifying codes in the specific clip, taking into account all the codes described above. Given that the grid is for dubbing, the analysis is completed with a further comment on synchrony issues. Below is included a model analysis grid to illustrate the description.

A1

Title the fragment belongs to (Medium: film / video game / short film)

Context: Contextual information on the clip

0:00:00

Transcription of source text line

Transcription of target text line

Acoustic channel

Comment on each acoustic code in the fragment:

  • Linguistic code
  • Paralinguistic code
  • Sound arrangement code
  • Musical and sound effects code

Visual channel

Comment on each acoustic code in the fragment:

  • Iconographic code (iconic denomination and recognition; iconic transcription; iconic composition in terms of figuration and plasticity; iconographic; stylistic)
  • Photographic code (angle and inclination; type of shot)
  • Mobility code (physical profilmic movement: proxemics, kinetic and mouth articulation)
  • Graphic code (subtitles; text; titles)

Synchrony

Comment on fragment synchrony requirements

Table 3. Model analysis grid

A detailed observation of all fragments resulted in a number of findings on the role of dubbing and signifying codes in character portrayal that will be discussed below. The description covers the main areas of character representation as inferred from reading on this topic in a number of disciplines, including narratology, Film Studies and Game Studies. Comment in the findings on character portrayal is organised by trait (including names, objects and physical appearance), personality traits and conflict.

Character names are rendered exclusively through the linguistic code. As this is the code the audiovisual translator actually manipulates, the role of dubbing in this particular aspect is essential for the transmission of this trait. Certain nicknames, however, are taken from a visual characteristic, as they are actually related to physical appearance or a specific quality. In such instances, the visual channel complements the verbal content. This is the case, for example, of ‘Old Greybeard’ referring to Gandalf and his elderly appearance, or ‘Strider’ as a nickname for Aragorn, alluding to the long distances he travels. This latter example is complemented with a close-up of his boots as he leads the hobbits towards Rivendell in the scene after being introduced in La comunidad del anillo.

Information regarding physical appearance, artefacts (objects) and other complements distinguishing each character are portrayed through the visual channel, with a particular emphasis on iconographic and photographic codes. An important factor in physical appearance is the casting of actors, as this becomes a restriction for subsequent audiovisual texts. After the film trilogy, the portrayal of Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn is associated with Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen, not only for their physical appearance, but also their voice pitch and tone. This paralinguistic information is also applicable to actors dubbing into Spanish. Thus, the coincidence of voice timbres in the voicing and dubbing of audiovisual texts belonging to a transmedia project contributes to textual cohesion and reinforces intertextuality.

The importance of signifying codes in screening character personality traits is conditioned by the nature of such traits. The role of verbal content proves essential for most traits, most notably Frodo’s intelligence and melancholy, Gandalf’s mentorship, wisdom, diplomacy and bad temper, and Aragorn’s wisdom. These traits are basically rendered through the active presence of linguistic and paralinguistic codes on the acoustic side, and the mobility code (facial and body expression) on the visual side. These active codes have been suitably taken into account in dubbing, as the translated instances work appropriately with these codes in the Spanish dubbed versions. Therefore, they succeed in portraying these personality traits in the target text.

A balance between acoustic and visual codes was observed in a specific set of traits. This statement is applicable to Gandalf’s strategic management, Frodo’s physical and psychological resilience and Aragorn’s qualities as an explorer. These traits are rendered through the combined presence of linguistic, iconographic, photographic and mobility codes. The analysis led us to infer that speech should also be considered a defining trait. This perception was later confirmed in conversation with Nino Matas, the translator into Spanish, who mentioned that in the dubbing he tried to provide each character with a specific idiolect. In the observed data, this proved to be especially relevant in the portrayal of Gandalf and, to a lesser extent, Aragorn.

In all the traits observed, the linguistic code could be deemed complementary or barely relevant only in regard to Aragorn’s skill as a healer, a quality transferred basically through the iconographic (plasticity), photographic and mobility codes. In this regard, it should be borne in mind that dubbing was a key factor in selection of fragments for analysis. Therefore, purely visual traits were underrepresented in the corpus despite the aim of making the selection as representative as possible. In summary, the findings show an active incidence of signifying codes in the portrayal of personality traits, with predominance of the linguistic code and, to a lesser degree, mobility and paralinguistic codes.

The characters experience a transformation as they evolve through the story. This evolution is rendered through conflict. Progression in each conflict is subtly shown through the sum of fragments or situations relating to it. Signification in conflict is transmitted by both channels, with a varying use of codes for each scene and situation.

Frodo is the protagonist of the story and his conflict consists in destroying the Ring. This leads him to experience a physical and psychological journey associated with his attachment to the object. As a manifestation of Sauron, the Ring is both Frodo’s token and his antagonist. This leads him to an internal struggle rendered in the film trilogy through active resort to codes from both channels. Frodo’s increasing madness is mainly portrayed through the photographic code (by means of close-ups and extreme close-ups of the character and the Ring) together with the plasticity code and the sound effects code. This content is complemented with Frodo’s words (linguistic code) and the tone he utters them in (paralinguistic code). The synchronous presence of these codes is suggestive of the onset of madness of the protagonist, just as Jackson intended to emphasise in the film trilogy.

Aragorn’s conflict is shown in an evolution of his attitude to leadership starting as secret heir to the throne of Gondor, then assuming his role and finally attaining his goal as the crowned king. This conflict is mainly pictured through linguistic and paralinguistic codes and, to a lesser degree, the figuration code (which shows Aragorn’s change in leadership through the arrangement of the characters in several scenes) and the plasticity code, which is used to symbolize the love bond with Arwen.

Gandalf does not experience an evolution in his conflict (focusing on the victory of Good over Evil) but rather a change of appearance, in which the fight with the balrog, a fictional creature in Tolkien’s fantasy legendarium, serves as a point of inflection. This episode is rendered on screen through the simultaneous active presence of codes from both channels, including linguistic, paralinguistic, musical and sound effects codes, on the one hand, and iconographic, mobility and photographic, on the other. In the fragments of this episode, the linguistic code is dependent on the visual content. Therefore, in this example the visual codes act as a restriction for the decisions of the translator. This relationship was observed in many other instances and confirms one of the functions stated by Chaume (2013: 291) and included above (see Section 3).

6. Conclusions

The analysis and further evaluation of results led us to the following conclusions on the incidence of signifying codes in dubbing. Apart from the linguistic code, which is the code manipulated by the translator, the paralinguistic and the mobility codes (especially through the physical profilmic movement code) are of greatest relevance for dubbing. Both can provide relevant, meaningful information that should be taken into account in translation decision-making. They also work as significant layers of intertextuality in films and video games in transmedia storytelling.

Though without significance in terms of semiotics, a suitable approach to synchrony has an immediate impact on the quality of dubbing both in films and video games. In this regard, the shot code (particularly medium, close-up and extreme close-up shots) and physical profilmic movement are essential to identify the level of synchrony of dubbing instances.

As mentioned earlier, cinematographic language is progressively entering video games. In the corpus analysed this phenomenon is made especially clear through the active presence of the mobility and photographic codes. Most video game fragments taken from game dialogue and cut scenes included the presence of subtitles and in-game text (graphic code). In these cases, there is a strong resemblance between the dubbed and subtitled instances. This leads us to conclude that dubbing takes into account the verbal visual content so as to provide coherence. Furthermore, the presence of the graphic code on the screen becomes a restricting factor for dubbing decisions, manifested in the acoustic channel.

A significant number of fragments analysed in the films and the video games show an active role of iconic composition, whether through the figuration code with meaningful arrangement of items on the screen or by means of the plasticity code to highlight specific objects. The translator should be aware of these phenomena so as to decide whether to emphasize this meaningful content with verbal cues or eliminate them to avoid redundancy. The figuration code is actively used to show Aragorn’s growing stature as a leader, while the plasticity code shows Arwen’s choice of mortality through the diminishing brilliance of the Evenstar pendant. In both cases, dubbing is used to reinforce this visual information, emphasizing Aragorn’s leadership and Arwen’s choice of mortality with verbal content.

I conclude this article with an overall assessment on the use of signifying codes in audiovisual translation research. After the analysis, it can be confirmed that this analytical perspective reveals relevant semantic nuances in the audiovisual material under study. The detection of such semantic layers has a positive influence on decision making in dubbing films and video games. This is especially necessary to overcome the restrictions and constraints these texts place on the translator. To sum up, this semiotic film-oriented approach is suitable for the study of projects with numerous audiovisual texts and their translation. Therefore, I am convinced that future research on audiovisual translation could benefit from observing the semiotic fabric of texts and their intertextual connections following the approach presented in this paper.

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Audiovisual material cited

El señor de los anillos: La comunidad del anillo (Peter Jackson 2001: New Line Cinema)

El señor de los anillos: Las dos torres (Peter Jackson 2002: New Line Cinema)

El señor de los anillos: El retorno del rey (Peter Jackson 2003: New Line Cinema)

La caza de Gollum (Christopher Bouchard 2009: Independent Online Cinema, Rickety Shack Films)

El señor de los anillos: La batalla por la Tierra Media I (Electronic Arts Los Angeles 2004: Electronic Arts)

El señor de los anillos: Las aventuras de Aragorn (Headstrong Games 2010: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment)

About the author(s)

Miquel Pujol is currently a lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC), where he lectures in translation theory and audiovisual translation both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. In 2015, he completed his PhD thesis, which deals with the use of dubbing in the representation of characters in films and videogames belonging to a transmedia storytelling project. He is a member of the Trafilm research project (http://www.trafilm.net). His research interests include audiovisual translation, multilingualism, intertextuality, localization and media studies.

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©inTRAlinea & Miquel Pujol-Tubau (2017).
"The role of dubbing and signifying codes in the portrayal of characters in transmedia films and video games"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Building Bridges between Film Studies and Translation Studies
Edited by: Juan José Martínez Sierra & Beatriz Cerezo Merchán
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2248

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