14th February 2018
Richard ran a workshop called “Learn to subtitle – in an hour!” which, as the name suggests, taught students the basic principles of subtitling in just an hour (or as it ended up being, 45 minutes)! Subtitling is the addition of written text to a video, representing the auditory verbal channel with a visual verbal channel, meaning audiences are expected to do more work. Therefore, some cultures traditionally prefer to use dubbing or voiceovers to translate films into their language.
Richard explained that the international standards which govern subtitling change the way we have to translate. He gave some examples of bad subtitling, which can involve lagging behind the spoken words, or not staying on the screen for long enough. To avoid this, the standards state that there must be no more than two lines on the screen at once. It is necessary to time the subtitle with the audio, and use different colours, or italics and normal type, for different actors or voices. The maximum line length is 35 characters, and there must be a minimum of 1 second for every 12 characters. Typically, spoken text will be reduced by a third, with adjectives and adverbs omitted to focus on nouns and verbs. This ensures that the main message gets across, and only extra detail that is not essential to the meaning of the phrase is cut out.
The workshop then introduced Aegisub, the subtitling software that Richard was teaching us how to use. Subtitling software allows the user to easily divide a video up into timed sections, and add subtitles for them. It also checks the subtitles for conventions of length and speed. However, it doesn’t check the quality of the translation produced; this is left up to the translator. After a brief introduction we put what we had learned into practice, and subtitled a short section of an English film (as the focus here was learning the principles of subtitling rather than translating).
After we had had a few minutes to do this, Richard showed us an example of the film clip with subtitles that he had prepared earlier. This demonstrated ways to overcome common problems in subtitling, for example you can blend subtitle one with another to gain more time on the screen, or lose some stylistic detail by replacing the phrase “is not a bad guy” with “is a good guy”. He then explained that there are two ways to save a subtitled clip. The first is called soft-subbing, where the video file is left intact and you have to load the subtitle file in separately. If you want to upload your file somewhere (i.e. YouTube) or embed it in a webpage, you need to use the second method, which is called hard-subbing. This is technically complex, but means that the can embed in a webpage. Finally, Richard explained that it is necessary to have a video file in order to subtitle, and warned students that they need to be careful regarding copyright laws if hosting a subtitled video on a website.