Little did I know that subtitling my short, “Stull”, would take so much time. After all, it’s a short, and it isn’t particularly heavy on the dialogue. I’ve been using Avid’s SubCap effect, which is supposed to make this easier. I’ve found it super slow, but it’s probably better than a number of alternatives.

I’m planning on using this workflow documented on DigitalMediaNet to get the timing and typing (er, cutting and pasting) I’ve done in MediaComposer into DVD Studio Pro. Having the subs in both places means I’ll be able to output festival copies with subtitles in a number of formats at the post facility where I’ve been working on this, as well as, theoretically, have consistent subtitles on the DVD.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far about subtitling:

1. Get your translators started early.

Once you have a cut of the film that you’re relatively sure is final in terms of dialogue (or at least will have no dialogue added), make a Unicode text file with the dialogue split into groups of words that will fit on the screen at one time. This is all a translator needs, but it’s also nice to provide a video reference so the context of the words can inform their translation.

For a bonus, if you have time, see if you can generate a machine-readable text-file for the translator to type into. This can save time cutting and pasting, which, even with my paltry 106 titles (multiplied by three translations), means a lot of time. Avid is not great about going back and forth from a word processor, as many of you who have used it while doing transcription well know.

I started with the goal of having French and Spanish translations. Thanks to reader George P. Schnyder, I also will have a German version. And, based on other reader comments, I decided to do an English for Hearing Impaired version as well. (That one I can do myself.) The Spanish translation is now done; I’m still waiting on the French. Not that I need it right now, I still have plenty of cutting and pasting left to do of the Spanish version, and I need to put in the hearing-impaired specific titles into my English version.

2. Mind the Special Characters

SubCap had problems displaying the German special characters at first (double-s, umlaut vowels). Some re-cutting and pasting worked. By the time I got around to the Spanish ones, I ran into the same problem, but couldn’t remember how I solved it. The subtitles showed fine in the text box, but plain refused to render:
Special characters from foreign languages in Avid's subcap effect tool not working

Neither Unicode UTF-8 or UTF-16 nor changing the font to Arial would work, as suggested on this forum thread. This thread had the real tip: enter Master Caption List.

3. Use the subtitles for your trailer.

I’ve been putting up subtitled versions of my teaser trailer on Vimeo. Yes, it’s kind of ridiculous to make a trailer for a short, but it was a fun exercise. And also, I’m surprised how many people do ask if I have a trailer when I tell them about the movie. It’s what the public expects.

If you’re curious, here’s the “Stull” Teaser Trailer with German subtitles. Here’s the “Stull” Teaser Trailer with Spanish subtitles.

BONUS: If you like how my subs look, here’s a screencap of the settings…
My settings for the Avid SubCap subtitling effect editor - font, size, color, alignment, outline, padding etc.

DOUBLE BONUS: Way back in 2006, I posted about dotSUB, a website that helps source the translation of videos.