Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Signs and Portents

Another piece of the fansubbing process where I've occasionally dabbled is typesetting. Typesetting consists of two rather separate activities:
  • Styling: selecting and apply fonts, colors, spacing, and effects to dialog.
  • Typesetting proper: selecting and applying, fonts, colors, and effects to signs.
Let's look at each of those in turn.


At its core, styling is about font selection, and then about font size, effects, and spacing. I rarely do this on my own, as I don't have much feeling for typefaces; if left to me, every drama would be set in Corbel, and every comedy in DomCasualD. Fortunately, other team members with good typographic sensibilities make these decisions.

Font coloring can vary, but most dialog is set in white, with a black outline. Sometimes other outline colors are used, particularly in comedies, but white with a black outline is the least distracting.

The basic font style may have variations to represent different dialog modalities. For example, if the dialog represents thought, the subtitle may be set in italics. If the dialog is a flashback or overlaps another speaker, the subtitle may have a different outline color. It's easy to take this too far and end up with absurdities like different outline colors for each character. (In EPIC's version of Harukanaru Toki 3: Endless Destiny, the outline matched the character's hair color.) Personally, I prefer to keep the number of styles to a minimum: main and overlap, with a third for thought if the translator really insists.

The transition from 4:3 aspect ratios to 16:9 aspect ratios has affected spacing, particularly padding. When the typical anime was only 640 pixels across, it didn't really matter if the subtitle came fairly close to the left and right edges; the eye could encompass the line without moving. Further, horizontal space was at a premium, so wide left and right margins tended to create 3-line subtitles, a definite no-no. With 853 pixels across on SD, and 1280 on HD, there's more room for the subtitles and less pressure on the margins. Lines that come close to the margins require eye movement, particularly in HD, so wider margins are preferred. A 640x480 anime typically had 10 pixel margins. Today's 16:9 episodes have 60 pixel margins, or even wider.  Likewise, subtitles have been moved away from the bottom of the screen, with the original 10 pixel padding mask extended to 30 or 35 pixels.

Once the stylist has selected the dialog styles, the application of the styles is fairly mechanical and easily done during the editing process. The editor has to look out for a few potential issues:
  • Special characters. The selected font may not support em-dash (long dash), accented characters, or foreign characters. Em-dash can be emulated by {\fscx200}-{\r}, but other unsupported special characters must be replaced by their standard English counterparts.
  • Italics. Some fonts have true italics and don't require special treatment. When fonts lack true italics, italics are emulated by sloping the font to the right. This creates compression of any space that follows an italicized word, so that the italicized word appears to run into the next word. The fix is to elongate the space following the end of italics, e.g., {\i1}italics{\i0\fscx130} {\r)normal-text. (The scale factor may need to be 140 or 150, depending on the font.)
  • Sign clash. Dialog may clash with signs or with those scrolling messages that seem so prevalent in TV episodes these days. The dialog may need to be moved up or down with {\pos(x,y)} or moved to the top of the screen with {\an8}.

The minimal goal of typesetting is to put the translation of important signs somewhere on the screen; the maximal goal is to make the translated sign appear to be part of the original drawing. Yawara is an example of the minimal approach. Signs translations are placed at the top of the screen. No effort is made to integrate the English text with the picture on the screen.

More elaborate typesetting effects can be achieved with the SSA/ASS typesetting markups. These range from simple font selection and scaling to elaborate animations that will move, transform, or clip subtitles through multiple frames. Because SSA markups are embedded in the script, this is the only form of typesetting compatible with softsubs, and experts can achieve quite remarkable effects, albeit with great effort. For example, the comic book dialog in at the end of C1's Nodame Cantabile episode 23 is done entirely with SSA markups; the signs script is three times longer than the dialog script. One sign in FFFpeep's Nekogami Yaoyozuru has more than 300 lines, each covering one frame.

The most elaborate typesetting is done with photographic manipulation programs, like Adobe Photoshop, or special effects programs, like Adobe AfterEffects (AFX). These programs can create typesetting that is truly indistinguishable from the original. However, they have to be encoded into the video, which complicates and lengthens the subtitling process. Because most groups set speed as an overriding priority, AFX typesetting is declining.

As with styling, I prefer to leave typesetting to team members with greater experience and proficiency, but I have done a few shows myself, including the Orphan Fansub version of Hand Maid May and the Frostii episodes of Gosenzosama Barbanzai. For me, font selection remains the greatest challenge; figuring out which typesetting tags to employ to get a specific effect is actually a lot of fun.

The best way to learn typesetting is to try it. Take a script with interesting softsubbed signs, load it into Aegisub, and see what the typesetting tags are doing. By varying tag parameters, or removing tags entirely, you can get a good sense of what's happening. Then take an episode and try doing the signs yourself. You'll fall off the bike a few times, but eventually, you'll get the hang of it. And if all else fails, there's always the Yawara model:

    {\an8}Sign: what the sign says

Have fun!

Monday, May 14, 2012

It's All in the Timing

I'm not a timer, and I don't play one on TV, but in the course of doing editing and QC, I've picked up the basics of this deceptively simple and absolutely necessary part of the fansubbing process. As a result, I've become quite sensitive to bad timing and find myself correcting script timing more often than I would like.

Timing is the process of fitting subtitles to the spoken dialog. Subtitles should appear when a line begins and disappear when a line ends, more or less. (It's a bit more complicated than that.) Really good timers can time a script almost as fast as they can listen to it. For me, the process takes hours, and by the time I'm done, my wrists are really hurting from all the mouse clicks - a sure sign that I'm not doing it correctly.

When I started fansubbing back in 2006, the group I first joined believed in precise timing. Lines appeared precisely when speech began and disappeared precisely when speech ended. This didn't bother me, because I'm a fast reader, but after I started working with other teams, I learned that almost everyone added padding before (lead-in) and after (lead-out) lines, to allow more reading time. In addition, they added additional padding between adjacent lines (joining) so that lines didn't disappear and appear quickly, an annoying visual pattern called flashing. Finally, every group tried to make sure that lines didn't spill over a scene boundary change unnecessarily (scene bleed) or start just after, or end just before, a scene boundary (reverse scene bleed).

Thus, a timer's style can be defined by a relatively small number of parameters:
  1. How many frames of lead-in?
  2. How many frames of lead-out?
  3. How many frames allowed between lines for joining?
  4. How many frames should be added to pad to a scene boundary?
  5. What are the rules on scene bleeds?
1-4 are strictly numeric and can be applied by rote; in fact, Aegisub - the most popular subtitling program - has a tool that will apply these parameters to a precisely timed script.

The only "controversy," and it's a rather mild one, is around the rules for scene bleeds. Clearly, if a line continues on for a substantial amount of time beyond a scene change, the subtitle has to remain on the screen. On the other hand, if the continuation is just an extension of the last syllable of the line, the subtitle should be cut off at the scene change. But what if there's a whole word, or even just a whole syllable, beyond the scene change? Opinions differ.

My "style" as a timer can be summed up as follows:
  1. Five frames for lead-in (200ms). Most timers use 200-300ms.
  2. Seven or eight frames for lead-out (300ms). Most timers use 300-500ms.
  3. Join if gap is less than or equal to eight frames (320ms). Most timers use 500-1000ms.
  4. Extend to scene boundary if less than or equal to six frames (250ms). Most timers use 300-500ms.
  5. Extend over a scene boundary if a word or significant syllable would be cut off. No real consensus on this one.
If you prefer the majority position on timing to mine, fear not: I've only timed 58 scripts in the last ten years, mostly for my Orphan Fansubs label, and that was 58 too many.

In my opinion, timing doesn't get enough respect. Bad timing makes subtitle viewing really unpleasant. For example, almost all R1 subtitle scripts are badly timed, and I almost always prefer to watch fansubs instead. If you think it's easy, give it a try. I think you'll start to understand why timing is important, and why good timers are hard to find.

[Revised 15-Nov-2015]