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!

1 comment:

  1. I always use the overscan-safe formula of [Left/Right margin] = [pixel width of image] * 0.075 and [Vertical margin] = [pixel height of image] * 0.05. For 640x480, that leads to 48/48/24. Even at that res, the eyes still get dragged to the corners if there are long/complicated dialogues.

    To overcome the space limitations and avoid 3-liners, I either split the lines at the timing level (perhaps adding a \N to the shorter line to aid reading speeds), or edit/simplify the translations down a bit. Generally it's possible to cut verbal chaff like "well then" or "a place like this", or remove redundant names -- "What're you doing, Misha-san?! --> "What're you doing?!" -- without losing significant amounts of meaning.

    I'd say fansub styling quality and readability has fluctuated over the years. It's gotten somewhat better recently thanks to the rise of the Daiz/Nyaa/gg/Commie Cartel. But there's got to be something wrong when I can put on many ancient Divx3 .avis from 2001 and get perfectly readable hardsubs, yet quite a few softsubbed h264 .mkvs from ~2008 require significant restyling to avoid eyestrain.