As you might imagine, subtitling live shows and live news channels isn’t without its challenges. To get it right requires a dedicated, professional, skilled approach. To find out how it’s done, what the typical pitfalls of live subtitling are and how to resolve them, check out this informative article from Red Bee Media’s IT Manager, Access Services, Hewson Maxwell.
Translating what’s said on live television into readable text – it sounds simple enough. But take a moment to consider the challenges of providing live subtitling across multiple channels, with breaking news, regional broadcasts and over-running sporting contests, then add to that mix the understandably high standards of timeliness and accuracy expected by viewers, lobby groups and Ofcom alike and it might start to seem more complex.
We, and the industry as a whole, are always looking at ways to address the challenges we face with live-subtitling through ongoing investment in innovation and technology.
Volume of work
A huge challenge presented by live subtitling comes from its sheer scale; 24 hours a day of live output for news channels, over 150 daily hours of live output, and a workforce of subtitlers spread across many continents and also working from home.
Most truly live subtitling is generated using voice recognition software, most commonly Dragon NaturallySpeaking. There are huge benefits to this approach. When coupled with the re-speaking method, whereby a subtitler repeats everything spoken on screen in a clear and level voice, with punctuation and colour commands, the recognition and output is broadly excellent.
Furthermore, good speech engines are easy to use, so it is relatively easy to recruit and train people to subtitle well.
However, historically, there have been some downsides. The best voice recognition engines avoid releasing text until they receive enough context to be sure of what is being said. This can lead to a significant gap of output on air, followed by an instantaneous release of a large chunk of text. Slowing this glut of text down to a readable speed, as most software does, leads to de-synchronisation of subtitles and video and the need to edit or omit sections to catch up.
Regardless of the amount of context, voice recognition software will always struggle to understand some of the time, particularly with unusual terminology or names – the kind of vocabulary commonplace in live news. Traditional subtitling software uses housestyles to automatically replace common typographical errors, such as “empire state-building” for “Empire State Building” and the program’s comprehension errors, such as “Nicholas so cosy” for “Nicolas Sarkozy”.
Subtitlers also define macros for alternate forms of sound-alike words, so they can tell viewers whether it is chilly out, or they’re making a chilli, or the sports event is happening in Chile. But macros and housestyles are set up prior to going on air, and are therefore of little use when a new name emerges in a breaking news story.
Innovation in subtitling
Over the last three years or so, we’ve been looking at how we can improve the quality of live subtitling. We believe technology and innovation will be key drivers to achieving this goal and as such, we have been investing heavily in building a bespoke platform and software that we believe will help to address some of the challenges listed above. Unique functionality such as the ability to integrate with broadcaster schedules and a re-speaking interface designed to be the fastest on the market are just some of the improvements we’ve been focused on.
Live subtitling will continue to be a complicated, imperfect and expensive process for some time to come, but with our new software, Subito, we believe we’ll be able to deliver greater quality to the audience, and begin to add extra utility and lower costs for broadcasters. We know there will always be more that can be done, and we remain committed to both integrating current technological advancements and driving the next set forward. We will continue to do so until we reach a day when live subtitles are barely distinguishable from prepared ones.
MPC, the lead visual effects studio for X-Men: Days of Future Past, delivering 372 of the vfx shots, has released a number of before and after stills showcasing its work on the film.
MPC created the future sequences in the movie, including the future sentinels, from concept art through to final compositing, the X-Jet, Xavier’s virtual world, future environments and mutant effects.
The sentinel is a 10-foot long, fully cg "mutant slayer covered with approximately 100,000 independent blades, the movement of which had to be directed artistically rather than driven by simulation," says MPC. "The vast number of objects proved too cumbersome with existing workflows so an entirely new approach was required."
Now for some incredibly complex sounding detail possibly to help explain the new workflow.... You've been warned…. this comes direct from the press release, and, to be honest, I don't understand a word of it….
MPC’s R&D team, lead by Tony Micilotta, introduced the concept of a follicle that approximated the shape and size of the final blade model. These were combined into per body part follicle-meshes and could be manipulated using standard deformers. This not only provided requisite visualization for animators, but doubled up as primitives from which transforms could be derived using trigonometric methods. These transforms were cached as particles and were subsequently ingested by a bespoke Katana Scene Graph Generator (SGG) that instanced blade models accordingly.
Back to the understandable side of vfx once more, the opening sequence of the film required MPC to create extensive matte painting and environment work as well as generating meshes, textures and particle effects. Also in the opening sequence, the character Sunspot’s flames were achieved using Flowline fluid simulation technology to produce multiple layers of volumes and particles. On top of this, the ice body of a character that turns into an iceman was created using effects layers of spray, ice crystals and 'dry ice' type effects. MPC’s team also created the character Colossus’ metallic skin and a digital double of War Path. The sequence takes place in a bunker deep underground, which involved work from the environment team to provide set extensions and finishing touches.
The climax of the film takes place in and around an ancient monastery in the Himalayan mountains. For this, MPC recreated and extended the monastery set and creating lightning effects, large swirling volumes and buffeting winds.
MPC also created a cg X-Jet, Xavier’s virtual world and Wolverine’s claws.
Here are a few before and after images showcasing MPC's visual effects work....
If you have seven minutes to spare and would like to become an expert in the different stages involved in creating a top-end animation, you'd be well advised to check out the following film.
It's an interview with Beakus's animation producer Steve Smith that's a superb overview to how an animation is created, with loads of step-by-step examples. It was commissioned by Time Out New York and created by Hibrow.tv and Smith is an excellent narrator to explain the skills and craft of animation.
The six news channels of Dutch broadcaster RTL have just undergone an extensive refresh including a new identity created by designers Mark Porter Associates (who created the look for Guardian newspaper and website) and Dutch design studio Smörgåsbord Studio.
The redesign has taken 18-months, which sounds like a very generous amount of time for simply sprucing up the look. However, the work involved redesigning logos, title sequences, on-screen graphics for news, weather and business as well as creating the layout and design of the news studio set. And, of course, all designs had to work across multiple platforms.
RTL Nieuws broadcasts 17 bulletins each weekday and six weekend bulletins, and has an audience of up to two million. It also broadcasts business programming under the RTL Z banner, which airs during the day and a weather, as well as traffic service (RTL Weer & Verkeer).
“Everything has changed since we introduced our previous identity in 2007. The world of news, the way we consume news and RTL Nieuws itself," says Said Caroline Schnellen, marketing and communications manager at RTL Nieuws.
"With all this in mind it became the right time to rethink the brand’s visual identity. We needed to show one brand, one look-and-feel, on TV, web and app. In order to do so we felt this could only truly happen if we would change all platforms at the same time. What followed was an immense project, with many parties involved and close coordination throughout."
To view the redesign and find out how it was thought up and executed, check out the short film below.
Here's an interesting film from US-based production kit shop Fotodiox showcasing its top five products for filmmakers that are all available for under $20 (around £12). The list has been compiled after consulting Fotodiox's customers and includes an LED light panel, a lens adapter, a power arm, clapperboard, gear belt and a 5-in-1 reflector.
Following on from Televisual’s ranking of the UK’s best colourists, we detail the productions that were picked out by colourists and producers as the best graded pieces of the year
In last month’s issue of Televisual, we profiled and ranked the UK’s top grading artists according to votes cast by fellow colourists and producers as well as awards nominations.
Alongside voting for their favourite fellow colourists, we also asked those same respondents to vote for what they felt was the very best graded work of the year across TV, ads, and film. Over the following pages we detail the top eight productions that caught the eye of the grading profession as being truly standout work.
01 Peaky Blinders Graded by Simone Grattarola, Rushes
The most voted for production of the year was graded by the colourist who placed fourth in our poll of the UK best commercials graders, Rushes’ Simone Grattarola.
“The grade was beautifully considered and realised.” Thomas Urbye, The Look
“You’re thrown right into 1920s industrial middle England yet it still looks modern, stylish and sexy. I love the tobacco palettes and film noir shadows that pushes the gangster vibe.” Katherine Jamieson, Halo
“Simone’s use of tonality and the interplay of shadow, creates a strong sense of atmosphere which is totally complementary to the story’s post-war setting.” Joe Stabb, Suite.
“Making British drama look as good as the American stuff.” Duncan Russell, Glassworks
“Bold, cinematic and moody. Just like the show.” Jamie Parry, Dock 10
02 Vodafone The Kiss Graded by
Jean Clement Soret, MPC
The poll’s top placed colourist graded the second placed production, the romantic Vodafone spot, The Kiss directed by Frederic Planchon that shows the life of a couple as their kiss continues across the years.
“Such a beautiful flawless grade.” James Bamford, The Mill
“Executed with perfection.” George K, MPC
“Great transitions. Good combination of technical and artistic talent.” Duncan Russell, Glassworks
“It has a texture that is hard to describe in words, but is perfect for the piece... VFX and grading working together beautifully” Chris Rodgers Splice
Aidan Farrell, The Farm
The first placed colourist in the TV and film poll, The Farm’s Aidan Farrell, produced the grade for Channel 4’s paranoid thriller, Utopia
“Brought to life by the grade – bold and pushing boundaries.” Tim O’Brien, Evolutions.
“Stylish and different.” Paul Staples, Encore.
“A brilliantly shot drama with a fantastic look.” Dan Coles, Tecnicolor
“The dynamic and bold use of colour complemented its dark and enigmatic narrative which was incredibly captivating” joe stabb suite
Seamus O’Kane, The Mill
The Mill’s Seamus O’Kane provided a grade that pefectly complemented the spot’s look of 1920s footage brought back to life.
“A combination of photochemical and digital techniques which perfectly evoke another era. A great example of a colourist working the look of a project from shoot to final grade.” Chris Rodgers, Splice. “Like watching an old print brought back from the brink of destruction, the grade captivated me from the first frame.” Ross Baker, Halo
“Very creative, clever and technically impressive interpretation of an early photographic process” james tillett mpc
Kevin Horsewood, Prime Focus
Kevin Horsewood has provided the grade across the various Sherlock series and worked wonders again with 2014’s outing.
A great series complemented by a rich and complex grade.” Tim O’Brien, Evolutions.
“Incredibly rich and clean grade.” Danny Wood, Envy
“A high quality grade with strong contrast but one that didn’t crowd the story.” Simon Astbury, Unit
Jet Omoshebi, Encore
Encore’s Jet Omoshebi provided the grade for the series that the word “gritty” was made for.
“Horrific and stylish. Difficult to do, eh?” Jamie Parry, Dock 10
“It has warmth and depth of colour.” Vince Narduzzo, Narduzzo Too.
“Nice contrast between de-sat gritty scenes and colourful night shots.” Danny Wood, Envy
“It manages to make London look gritty and real yet still beautiful, despite the dark subject matter.” Katherine Jamieson, Halo.
=04 Galaxy Chauffeur
Steffan Perry, Framestore
“Loved the Technicolor feel.” George K, MPC
“Stunningly graded cg and live action.” Ben Rogers, Gramercy Park Studios.
“It Looked stunning and the 3D worked seamlessly in the grade”
james bamford the mill
=04 Bridgestone Tyres Everywhere
Matt Turner, Absolute
“Would have been really easy to have overdone it.” Derek Moore, Coffee & TV
“A really distinctive piece of work.” Denny Cooper, Rushes
“Full of looks all well done and stitched together into an interesting piece” Chris Rodgers Splice
Here are a couple of interesting pieces of creative work to start the week. First off is creative agency DBLG, which has been experimenting with combining a 3D printed character with stop-frame animation (and a little bit of 3D animation for good measure).
After 3D printing lots and lots of models of a bear in different stages of a walk cycle of climbing the stairs and stop-frame animating the results, the outcome is an eye-catching, brilliantly executed animation of a bear climbing the stairs thats beauty lies in not just being the usual cg fodder.
DBLG says: "The most exciting [of our recent work] is a studio project we've been working on over the last few months, which combines 3D animation, 3D printing and stop-frame animation. DBLG's in-house studio projects are a platform for us to experiment with creative ideas and above all have fun. Massive thanks for Blue Zoo for the character animation and Resonate for the audio mix and sound design."
Next up is some work for Fujitsu called Together We Can Make It Happen, from Blink director Tomas Mankovsky, which messes around with perspectives to create some interesting results. The spot was posted at MPC, which says the following: "A combination of complex set builds and a range of vfx techniques were used. MPC’s vfx team, led by Timo Huber, approached the spot utilising vfx techniques including matte painting, set extensions and clean up to remove extras and props on-set."
"The brief was to visualise the support and solutions provided by Fujitsu with ‘stage-hands’ that are seen providing invisible assistance to empower businesses. MPC was present on set to advise the production team on the complex shots where choreography was paramount."
It's always really enlightening to see visual effects breakdowns and witness just how much creative and technical work goes into key visual effects shots. Here's a great example from MPC, showing a generous selection of the 550+ visual shots the company completed for Disney's The Lone Ranger. The vfx covered in the film ranges from full cg canyons, caves and Comanche attacks to cg trains, horses, birds, arrows, fire and scorpions.
MPC's team was led by vfx supervisor Gary Brozenich and producer Oliver Money and was completed at both MPC Vancouver and MPC London. The London team created a group of cg scorpions that emerge from the ground and crawl onto the faces of Tonto and Lone Ranger before being licked by a cg muzzled Silver.
The scorpions are full cg throughout the shots built and animated by the team, and any time Silver laps at them his head and mouth are cg. The creatures were created through high-end Shader work and development, and used MPC’s proprietary hair and fur simulation software.
The team also completed horse and rider simulations and full cg cave interiors.
MPC’s VFX Supervisor Gary Brozenich on working with Director Gore Verbinski
“The Lone Ranger needed to bring the epic scope of the classic cowboy film but made with the tools and perspective of a modern filmmaker," says MPC's vfx supervisor Gary Brozenich. "It allowed us to go bigger and bring greater spectacle than its predecessors, taking the possibilities vfx brings and pushing the visual as far as they could be, but without tipping into anything fantastical that may take you out of what is a very rooted and aesthetically earthy film.”