Disney experiments with synthesized voices for cinema, theme park voice assistant

Entertainment powerhouse Disney celebrated the second anniversary of Disney+, its subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service, in November 2021. To mark the occasion, they allowed TikTok users to play along with the voices of Disney characters via a text-to-speech (TTS) feature.

Disney’s interest in synthesized voices goes beyond a marketing gimmick. On the contrary, the company’s use of synthetic voice technology – and the continuation of internal work on the subject – seems to be intensifying, probably reflecting the growing demand for dubbing on SVOD platforms.

The Mandalorian, a Star Wars television series made for Disney+, featured a synthetic voice for a young Luke Skywalker in its December 2020 season 2 finale. Voice cloning startup Respeecher provided the technology behind the voice.

Disney has once again turned to Respeecher for help with the Disney+ Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries, specifically for the Darth Vader character. While it’s unclear how well his dialogue was synthesized, the platform may just have enhanced voiceovers provided by 91-year-old actor James Earl Jones.

Most recently, Disney previewed a branded voice assistant for Alexa devices called “Hey Disney!” for resort guests. Although the company’s description of the “Disney Magical Companion” doesn’t delve into the “how”, its cast of 25 characters from Disney and Disney-owned franchises includes Aladdin’s Genie, voiced by the late actor Robin Williams, suggesting that synthetic voices probably play at least part of the feature.

Disney competitor Paramount has teamed up with London-based tech startup Sonantic to solve a similar challenge posed by the 2022 film Top Gun: Maverick. Actor Val Kilmer, whose voice suffered permanent damage due to throat cancer, was able to reprise his original role in the sequel using the voice Sonantic generated for him.

Text-to-speech outsourcing seems to have worked for Disney so far. However, recent job postings hint at plans to bring in experts.

Among Disney’s thousands of open roles, a May 2022 post for a VP of Localization specifies that the VP will be responsible for creating processes for new systems and technologies, such as the use of synthesized voices. , AI and machine translation (MT).

Similarly, Disney Streaming Advanced Research, an arm of Disney Streaming, is looking for a Senior Video and Voice Collaboration Design Engineer “to work on consumer-facing features that take advantage of voice interaction,” among other technologies.

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