Positioning and styling captions when speakers overlap and interrupt each other

It can be challenging to caption scenes with multiple speakers. Bottom-center caption placement is far from ideal for readers when it fails to clarify which captions belong to which speaker. Adding to the difficulty: speakers often talk quickly, interrupt each other, and overlap their speech to show collaborative support. When captions are placed underneath or […]

Chirp! Captioning BB-8 in The Force Awakens

(Warning: Spoilers throughout.) The release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens on DVD and Blu-Ray last week gives us a welcome opportunity to take a much closer look at the closed captions. The BB-8 droid provides an instructive case study. According to the official movie script, the orange and white spherical droid […]

When a yellow subtitle meets a character from The Simpsons

In the RGB color model, pure yellow is created by adding red and green light together at full value (red 255, green 255, blue 0). On Hulu.com, the default color of the closed captions is a warm but bright yellow-gold. This color is created by allowing the red value in the red-green mix to predominate […]

Tracking sonic timelines in closed captioning

Verbs are the heart of nonspeech captions, especially when paralinguistic sounds are involved (grunting, laughing, crying, etc.), because captioning nonspeech is fundamentally about representing and embodying action (which is what verbs do). Note, first, the distinction between discrete and sustained sounds. Nonspeech sounds that have a clear beginning and end are discrete or one-off sounds […]

Closed captions as identity markers (leitmotifs)

When the same nonspeech caption is repeatedly associated with a specific character or recurring context, it comes to serve as a kind of leitmotif for that character or context. In classical music, especially the operas of Richard Wagner, a leitmotif refers to a musical phrase, melody, or flourish that is associated with a specific character […]

Subtitles as visual art

Subtitles in foreign language films don’t have to be visually boring, uninspiring, or ugly. But too often, that’s exactly what they are. Legible, maybe, but still visually dull and lifeless. Standard subs are rarely well integrated into a film’s visual aesthetic. Alice Rawsthorn (2007) puts it bluntly in her critique of the standard subtitle: Subtitles […]

Chapter 9: The future of closed captioning

This supplemental website includes all of the media clips discussed in Reading Sounds (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Purchase your copy of Reading Sounds today in paperback or e-book. Figure 9.1. Blending form and content in closed captioning. In this clip from The Three Musketeers, a few lines of dialogue are manipulated to appear like […]