Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 9: Crazy

I know there are a ton of terrible "signed songs" out there; it's all too easy for a hearing person with a tiny bit of ASL to pick a song, look up each word of the lyrics in their Signing Dictionary, and string them together in one ungrammatical chain of nonsense. When ASL music is done well, though, it's an amazing thing to watch. I'm no expert, but this interpretation of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy by B Storm is one of the best productions I've seen, not just in sensitivity of interpretation, but in characterization, makeup, narrative design, and video editing. Storm clearly paid close attention to the rhythm of the song in making his camera cuts, and I tried hard to duplicate that timing in the captions, leaving them on throughout each of Cee Lo Green's gorgeous melismas, but blanking them as soon as he cut off. It's a fine balance; you don't want to clear the captions too quickly, because then people don't have time to read them, and the constant blinking on and off can be very distracting. On the other hand, you don't want the captions just hanging there when no one is speaking or singing. You need to pay attention both to what's going on in the soundtrack and to the video itself. It's best to blank a caption when the video switches cameras or when someone makes a gesture indicating that they're moving on.

Two things I wish Universal Subtitles had, which would make these finer points of captioning a bit easier: 1) A manual "blank" key, which wipes a caption on command, rather than having to drag the caption's box on the timeline during the second go-around. The commercial software I used to use in my old offline captioning job had one, and it was invaluable. 2) A "nudge" function. Even the quickest captioner has to account for the delay between mind and hand. If they anticipate the caption before it's spoken, they risk triggering it too soon, but if they hit the button right when they hear the first word, it's already too late. The only way I've found to fix this problem with Universal Subtitles is to caption the whole video normally, hitting the button as soon as I hear the first word, and then going back through the syncing process again, paying close attention to the timeline and hitting the caption button about five little tick marks before each caption I placed on my first runthrough. That compensates for my reflex delay, but it also necessitates an additional runthrough, which I wouldn't need to bother with if I could tell Universal Subtitles to timeshift each caption, say, half a second earlier. Then if there are any mistimed captions I could catch them and tweak them on my final review rather than having to devote an entire runthrough to retiming my initial caption placement. It's not a big deal on a three-minute video, of course, but it would be a helpful feature to have somewhere down the line. I'm still thoroughly enjoying the process of captioning a video per day via Universal Subtitles, though, and a few of my colleagues seem to have gotten in the spirit as well. It's a wonderful tool, and I encourage anyone who's contemplated putting captions on their videos to play around with it and see how truly simple and intuitive the interface really is.


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