A Brief History of Subtitles

Most TV programs and films, now have the option for Subtitles, in fact it is now very rare not to have the option. But how have they become mainstream?

This blog post explores exactly what Subtitles are and how they came about.

What are Subtitles?

Subtitles are the overlay of text explaining the narrative of film or to that is being shown on the screen.

When were they first used?

According to Wikipedia they were first seen in 1903 as epic, descriptive titles in Edwin S. Porter’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (The technique may have been invented by cartoonist and filmmaker J. Stuart Blackton.)

These were in fact Intertitles, which was descriptive text put in between scenes of silent films, to explain to the audience what is happening.

In 1927 the first sound film was produced, the audience could hear the actors, so the intertitles inserted between scenes disappeared. However many film producers found that making several language versions, or have the film post-synchronized (dubbed) in another language expensive, so still wanted to be able to overlay text onto the film. This became what we now call subtitles, since this technique is comparatively cheap.

On August 14, 1938, the BBC broadcast Arthur Robison’s Der Student von Prag in a subtitled version.

How were they created?

In 1930 a Norwegian inventor called Leif Eriksen, took out a patent for a method of stamping titles directly on to the images on the film strip, first moistening the emulsion layer to soften it.

Later, in 1935, a Hungarian inventor, O. Turchányi, registered a patent for a method whereby the plates were heated to a sufficiently high temperature to melt away the emulsion on the film without the need for a softening bath.

Both of these techniques produced erratic results, sometimes you were unable to see the letters.

In 1932 two separate inventors R. Hruska, in Budapest, and Oscar I. Ertnæs in Oslo took out patents on chemical processes.

It wasn’t until 1988 that a laser process was developed by Denis Auboyer in Paris and by Titra-Film in Paris and Brussels.

In the 1970s two systems were developed using a word processor. The first was based on teletext, the second used a computer-controlled character generator.

Why do we use Subtitles?

Subtitles are primarily used with the deaf and hard of hearing in mind, although many hearing film and television viewers choose to use them.

As well as allowing foreign films or TV programs to be shown in the native language.

 

Transcription and Typing

First Typewriter

first typewriter

The first typewriter recognised as being “commercially successful” is one invented in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [1]

The patent was sold for $12,000 to a company called Densmore and Yost, who tried to manufacture the machine. The company made an agreement with E. Remington and Sons to produce the machine.  In 1874,  the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer went on sale. It had a QWERTY keyboard, and was a blind writer, as the keys struck upwards. It meant that the typist couldn’t see the characters as they were being typed. [2]

Learning to Type

Children these days learn the keyboard very quickly without ever having a typing lesson. Because they navigate the keyboard using one hand or just two fingers, does that make it wrong because they are not using the tried and tested methods?

Learning to type, in the traditional way, is about learning which fingers type which letters, lots of repetition, and then the development of typing by touch or touch typing, by muscle memory. It was believed that this was the most efficient way of typing. Once the individual has mastered touch typing, the development of speed is crucial.

Children today can learn to type by games that teach them whilst having fun. It becomes second nature very quickly as they are using mobile devices with keyboards from a very young age.

Typing speeds used to be the benchmark, along with accuracy, for administrative jobs. The job adverts used to state how many words per minute the individual needed to be able to type in order to be considered for the job. A typing test, at interview, was standard to check speed. Check your typing speed here.

edu_seating
Image courtesy of  ratatype.com/learn

 

Here are some best practice pointers for safe and efficient typing. You can view the web page here for full details.

Posture – sit straight, elbows at right angles, face the screen with head tilted slightly forward

Home keys – ensure you always return your fingers to the home keys between typing bouts

Take a break – ensure you take regular breaks, to rest your eyes and your hands, wrists and shoulders

 

Evolution of the Typewriter

Since the invention of the typewriter, the keyboard, as it has become known, has evolved hugely.

mytype-timeline-full
Click on the Timeline to learn more

The concept of the modern keyboard has also changed, with the invention of mobile technology.

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Typing Then and Now

When I learned to type, it was on the old fashioned manual keyboards, in a cold hut, whilst at sixth form college. Having mastered the basics, I then progressed to an electronic word processor that took on another learning journey. The keyboard was more reactive and faster, the keys required less pressure and what had been manual calculations before for tabs or centering were now a more automated process.

USB typwriter
USB Typewriter?

Typewriters and word processors gave way to computers, with small screens, small memory capacity and large keyboards. As technology progressed, screens got larger and so did the memory, and keyboards became more streamlined.

Eventually, the computers got smaller in physical size, massive in capacity and screen and keyboard condensed into one device. Typing can still be done manually on touchscreen with fingers or a stylus. But you can now dictate to your device and it is clever enough to recognise what it is you want to say.
The documentation produced has also changed. Letters used to be the only

hawking
Stephen Hawking

way to communicate, and these were typewritten or handwritten. Emails became another way to stay in touch, followed by text messaging.

Social media followed, allowing words to reach their recipient in a flash.

Technology exists to allow a user with a disability to type by having their eye movements tracked on a keyboard… Stephen Hawking.

The future is here – you can now buy a virtual keyboard, which a small bluetooth device projects on to a flat surface, offering the user a full keyboard experience. [3]

Virtual Keyboard.jpg
Virtual Keyboard

Whatever next?

Transcription and Typing

Whatever you  need typing, Fingertips Typing Services can help. We have years of experience of typing and transcribing a variety of projects, for example, but not limited to:

  • Interviews/focus groups/seminar/conferences
  • Medical reports
  • Property/lettings/estate agents reports
  • Legal/insurance reports
  • Education/dissertation/theses

Visit the Fingertips Typing website to see how we can help you work effectively, by providing a friendly, professional and personal service.

Written by: Debbie Rowe, typist for Fingertips Typing Services

Resources

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typewriter

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sholes_and_Glidden_typewriter

[3] http://gandtnews4u.blogspot.com/2012/12/cube-laser-virtual-keyboard-future-of_75.html

Transcription and Subtitles

Subtitles

There are lots of reasons why a television programme or film that you are watching has subtitles.

It might be a World film or foreign language film that has been translated and subtitled. It might be a mainstream programme that is subtitled for the hearing impaired and even a specialist programme, where participants speak in heavily accented or dialectal English.

YouTube, the world’s most popular video-sharing website where almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every single day [1], offers an auto-captioning service. The captions are created by generated by machine-learning algorithms, and so the accuracy and the quality of the captions vary. [2]

“Automatic captions are available in English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.”

Subtitle Fail

There are obviously going to be times when subtitles fail, due to human error or lack of sophisticated algorithms.

Human error – whether that be spelling, unfamiliarity with the subject, mishearing or lack of concentration – can lead to a subtitle fail. This is especially amusing when subtitles are used to capture a sound, an action or an emotion, where dialogue is not involved. [3]

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Other fails happen where the subtitles don’t match what is happening on the screen. This occurs when the typist is not checking that the subtitles matches the action.

Famous characters or franchises can suffer at the hands of subtitling when then typist is unfamiliar with the person, character, plot, subject or series.

sergei lavrov
Talking about Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Russia [5]
hedwig
Harry Potter’s owl, Hedwig [4]
benedict
Benedict Cumberbatch, also known as Sherlock Holmes [6]
 Here is a selection of screen shots from movie subtitle fails.

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 Sensible Subtitles

Fingertips Typing Services uses a workforce of experienced and accurate typists to offer a subtitling service for a wide variety of media:

We have worked on subtitling projects for a variety of media and production companies, who commission television shows, films and projects.

 

Visit Fingertips Typing Services today to see how we help you subtitle your media project.

Written by: Debbie Rowe, Typist for Fingertips Typing

 

Resources

[1] http://fortunelords.com/27-mind-blowing-youtube-facts-figures-and-statistics-backed-by-data/

[2] https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6373554

[3] http://distractify.com/entertainment/2015/07/21/subtitle-fails-1259459194

[4] http://www.buzzfeed.com/lukelewis/subtitles-that-are-no-help-whatsoever#.gheBbO1Oz

[5] https://twitter.com/HuffPostUK/status/441878583586213888/photo/1

[6]  https://twitter.com/farmfeatures/status/446377082395066368/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

[7] http://whatculture.com/film/25-hilarious-movie-subtitle-errors?page=4

[8] https://brickwall.uk.com/

[9] http://thinktmb.com/

[10] https://www.linkedin.com/in/lulu-belliveau-0b268514

[11] http://www.storynamics.com/