IDC Helps Make Superfest Accessible with Blind and Low-Vision VO Talent
Hip Hop Just Got Its First-Ever Audio Music Video for 2.2B Visually Impaired People Around the Globe
International Digital Centre Earns Audio Description Honor
New York-based post-production and digital media processing firm International Digital Centre (IDC) has been honored by the American Council of the Blind’s (ACB) Audio Description Project (ADP) for its work in “empowering blind and marginalized talents” in the audio description space.
The Audio Description Achievement Award — awarded to IDC in the media category at the recent 2021 ADP conference — noted IDC’s work in contributing “to the establishment and/or continued development of significant audio description programs.”
“The awards committee certainly felt that describes [IDC’s] work to ensure the continuation of quality description, embrace and empower blind professionals in the field, and elevate voices from marginalized communities during the pandemic,” Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, ADP project coordinator and grant writer, said in statement.
IDC received the award due to its employment of blind and low-vision narrators during the pandemic, along with the launch of a new internal quality control program, which brought on a blind audio description expert to help polish scripts. Additionally, that AD department worked closely with a major streaming provider to update their style manual, adding guidelines for describing characters of diverse backgrounds and appearances.
“By including blind experts in the creation process, listening to feedback from AD consumers, and pushing platforms to incorporate AD, IDC has worked to elevate voices from marginalized communities to make sure they are amplified, heard, and represented in authentic ways,” IDC said in a statement. “We are proud to carry this work forward into IDC’s future.”
IDC Audio Description Department honored with ADP Achievement Award
IDC’s Audio Description department was thrilled to accept the 2021 Audio Description Project's Audio Description Achievement Award in the Media category, at the 2021 ADP conference. Each year since 2009, the ACB's Audio Description Project (ADP) has recognized individuals and organizations for their contributions to audio description, as nominated by their peers and users. Per the award guidelines, nominees must have “made outstanding contributions to the establishment and/or continued development of significant audio description programs” in their category.
Jo Lynn Bailey-Page, ADP Project Coordinator and Grant Writer, noted: “The awards committee certainly felt that "describes" your department's work to ensure the continuation of quality description, embrace and empower blind professionals in the field, and elevate voices from marginalized communities during the pandemic.”
During a very challenging 2020, CEO Marcy Gilbert and department head Eric Wickstrom ensured the safety of writers and voice talent, continuing production through the creation of a secure remote recording studio. Eric also spearheaded an initiative to employ IDC’s first blind and low-vision narrators. By year’s end, the department had onboarded four narrators and piloted an internal Quality Control program, which hired a blind Audio Description expert to polish scripts. The AD department also worked closely with a major streaming provider to update their style manual with guidelines for describing characters of diverse backgrounds and appearances.
By including blind experts in the creation process, listening to feedback from AD consumers and pushing platforms to incorporate AD, IDC has worked to elevate voices from marginalized communities to make sure they are amplified, heard, and represented in authentic ways. We are proud to carry this work forward into IDC’s future.
IDC Helps Launch the Entertainment Globalization Association
IDC is proud to announce our partnership in launching the Entertainment Globalization Association as one of 60 industry leaders focusing on outreach, education, and setting world-class standards in the nuanced world of localization.
In the words of President and Founder Marcy Gilbert, "I couldn't be more excited. We’re thrilled at this opportunity to keep raising the quality of globalization, so we can better serve our audiences, make universal accessibility the gold standard, and continue to bring the world closer together through storytelling.”
Know Your Narrator - Roy Samuelson Interview with Liz Gutman
Reid My Mind Radio - Eric & Liz Interview
IDC Produces First Netflix Project Featuring a Blind Narrator
With the release of the Netflix series "Skin Decision," the NYC headquarters of post production company International Digital Centre (IDC) is proud to launch their first Audio Description project using a narrator who is blind.
Audio Description department Director, Eric Wickstrom and head writer Liz Gutman set a goal at the beginning of 2020 to start onboarding and using narrators who are blind or low-vision.
Undoubtedly, the Coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges. However, with some quick thinking and the coordinated assembly of secure, remote recording studios on both coasts, audio description production has flourished. At the same time, once their industry partners began to normalize a remote workflow, the time seemed ripe to begin reaching out to blind VO talent.
One of the things we pride ourselves on is our community engagement," said Wickstrom. Gutman agreed: "As the pandemic worsened, some in the disabled community spoke out on social media about remote working concessions being made so easily for non-disabled people – concessions that disabled people had been denied for years.”
It was when Wickstrom was connected with Thomas Reid, an accessibility advocate and the founder of the established Reid My Mind Radio podcast, that everything clicked. According to Wickstrom, "Thomas has a great voice, a professional home audio setup, and the necessary experience to do a great read for an AD script. It just made sense."
How has working with blind talent affected the workflow? "Hardly at all," said Gutman. "It depends on the individual, but it usually only requires some minor script reformatting on our end." With that said, there will be a learning curve as more blind VO actors are onboarded. Wickstrom explains: "We're sensitive to the fact that different people will have different needs. We're keeping our lines of communication wide open with all our talent, so that we can anticipate and smooth out any potential bumps as quickly as possible."
With that said, there are three more blind VO narrators currently working with IDC, and several more on deck. "Overall, it's been a really smooth process," said Wickstrom. "I'm only kicking myself that we didn't do it sooner." IDC's new goal is to have at least a dozen blind and low-vision VO talents in regular rotation by year's end, and an expectation to have multiple projects voiced by them each month.
M&E Journal: How ‘Local’ Is Leading the Way Toward a Global, New World in Post Production
Today’s streaming platforms, with worldwide volume and connections, realize that the process of adapting source material to foreign, special needs, or specific target audiences, is essential. M&E companies now have a distinct strategy to achieve the most effective results. This opens new revenue streams as well as optimizing the media production workflow and current business models.
Now, content producers creating in cross-platform technologies will often receive a list of preferred localization vendors. The most dedicated of these specialized post providers incorporate cultural norms and differences into all of their efforts. With highly skilled technicians and expert translators, they enable source material to resonate with greater impact toward their targeted audiences.
Localization is both an influential and powerful resource for commercial or informational purposes. It serves as a way to inform, train, educate, and, of course, entertain consumers both locally and globally. Partnering with a trusted localization vendor is a key component to ensuring that your creative messages will be delivered and understood.
Vendors are focused on not just maintaining industry standards but, rather, exceeding viewer and client expectations. When Netflix expanded its revenue streams by expanding its geographic markets, we at IDC helped facilitate in its wide-reaching localization efforts. By late 2012, Netflix had a presence in 40 countries and about 6.1 million streaming subscribers outside the U.S. Following an aggressive globalization push, Netflix is now available in 190 countries.
Its international subscribers grew to more than 62 million by the end of 2017, even exceeding its domestic audience. While Netflix’s proprietary algorithms are highly guarded, Cindy Holland, VP of original series for the streaming leader, did shed some light on the “taste communities” that help guide programming decisions.
Rather than focus on traditional advertiser demographics, Netflix categorized its subscribers by “taste communities,” those who gravitate toward the same shows and genres. “There are connections between content types … unintuitive things,” Holland explained last summer at the Television Critics Association press tour, noting that the company makes programming decisions based on analyzing the viewing habits within those taste communities. Netflix’s algorithm will also promote the shows that other subscribers in the same community enjoyed, making the connection on a global level even stronger, thanks to ever-enhancing localization moves to strengthen their processes.
That commitment to multimedia localization allows content providers maximum opportunity for both expansive and specialized access toward targeted viewership. Source data is now accessible in the most nuanced ways, adhering to specific standards that satisfy high-quality, international audience requirements. This dynamic delivery system is now far-reaching and culturally accommodating to new audiences on a daily basis.
Now that film and TV series are more regularly being translated into more than 30 languages, consumers are beginning to expect entertainment in their native tongue at the time of its original language release. Localization truly gives content the feel of custom-creation, be it to wide or narrow audiences.
With viewing option possibilities growing nearly as fast as the rate of content consumption, localization is essential. And, for the previously untapped audiences, it’s reminiscent of when film and TV went from black and white to color. For newer audiences, it’s akin to watching the visual enhancement jump from standard to high definition, and now, like the embrace of 4K and HDR.
The Realities of Remote Dubbing
ABSTRACT: Modern-day audio dubbing has become a far more intricate process than in years past. Requiring purpose-built equipment and applications that ensure frame-accurate precision is crucial toward creating a product that will immerse viewers of media not created in their native language. In the midst of the current global pandemic, that process has been challenging … and has advanced in ways that will undoubtedly enhance future productions.
The challenges of remote dubbing — both physical and technological — have come front and center during the pandemic.
The physical hurdles are the most obvious: under normal circumstances dubbing would usually take place in a purpose-built, soundproof vocal room. One likely designed by an acoustic engineer with everything from extra-thick walls and acoustic panels, to large video reference monitors and highly sensitive microphones.
Needless to say that luxury is very difficult to come by in the midst of a global pandemic and subsequent quarantining. Casting actors for dubbing is an art in itself and while some voice-over talent have home studios, most do not. So keeping the integrity of the casting process poses a dilemma that is contingent on the actor’s living quarters.
Blindly surveying a site for pre-production, or in this case an actor’s home, comes with many challenges. Each actor’s home setting adds to a kaleidoscopically variable list of obstacles. For instance a typical New York City apartment is often equipped with brick walls, hardwood floors, footstep noise from the apartment above and of course the ubiquitous noises of a big city. Most of the aforementioned would cause an audio engineer tasked with this challenge to cringe.
THE DIY METHOD
Fortunately, the DIY methods of home studio dressing have been around ever since nonlinear home recording first became a reality more than 20 years ago. Many of those methods — such as draping comforters on windows, laying cardboard on the floor, or even setting up shop in a closet — are very helpful toward dampening the dreaded noise reflection.
Along with remote recording spaces, equipment is another issue that can be equally as challenging in a remote environment. The microphone is easily the most integral part of the remote recording process. While professional recording studios use microphones that produce pristine audio, the makeshift home studio likely cannot provide an environment quiet enough to facilitate the hyper sensitivity of a high-end condenser microphone. There have been tireless debates as to the advantages and disadvantages of both Dynamic and Condenser (or Capacitor if you happen to be British) microphones, particularly in a remote studio environment. In short, a Condenser microphone will capture more nuances of an actor’s voice along with potentially undesirable room reflections. While a dynamic microphone will capture less nuance but also less room reflection and can also be considerably smaller such as a lavalier (clip-on) microphone.
Ultimately the most important factor is that the eventual-recorded audio be clean enough to use in the post phase, where some truly amazing things can be done to audio files today. However, the decision between a Dynamic or a Condenser microphone can prove to be vital and differ greatly depending on the room it will ultimately be used in. Some of our best results just so happened to be recorded with an inexpensive dynamic microphone which was handheld and recorded under-the-covers in a slumber party storytelling fashion.
THE TECHNOLOGICAL ISSUES
The technological challenges of remote dubbing are not quite as much fun to solve. Anyone who has ever used a USB interface to record into a computer has had to compensate for some level of latency. Even while moving at the speed of light, the internet has inherent latency as well (think of news anchors interviewing subjects remotely and their delay in answering the questions).
Add to this the fact that, during a quarantine, the entire neighborhood is likely to be working from home, saturating the same local internet lines being used to send audio halfway around the world while producing a frame-accurate, lip-sync dubbing session. Fortunately, nonlinear recording affords many methods to compensate for latency. However, the connectivity dropouts are a bit more complex and compensating for that requires more innovative methods.
There are products on the market, for example, that send audio from the actor to the receiving end (usually the remote studio) while simultaneously recording the audio from the transmitting end (likely the actor). Upon demand the engineer with the use of these technologies is able to synchronize the audio files in a way that will fill in the breaks in audio from the originating source. Recording software has come quite a long way in recent years. Moore’s Law is responsible for most of that. Though it should be mentioned that the necessity for remote video meetings well before the pandemic has forced the proliferation of audio and video quality enough to be able to handle acceptable latency with video transmission. Because video is so much more robust than audio, the resulting developed technologies were able to encapsulate audio, in particular, at a highly efficient bitrate with minimal degradation. As a result, remote audio recording has reaped the benefits of these codecs which require less and less overhead as each year passes. Today one can push uncompressed 192 Kbps, 384 Kbps or even 1,344 Kbps audio in 7.1 with enough bandwidth.
The final piece of the puzzle is, of course, the video frame. Modern dubbing is a lot less forgiving of a process than in years past. What was once acceptable is no longer. When producing a lip-sync overdub in a different language there are many factors that contribute to a strong final product. Aside from lip-sync accuracy, there are many functions that a Dubbing Director must relay to an actor for creative direction. Being in the same room and giving direction is a lot different than being remotely connected and gesturing to an actor 3,000 miles away, communicating with an engineer, and changing scripts on the fly while keeping pre-release material secure. Even with lightweight proxy video: latency compensation is by no means a simple task.
There are many technologies on the market today that address these issues. Some of those technologies such as Time Code Synchronization have been able to mitigate latency down to a single frame. However, to date there is not one solution that solves all of the issues without sacrificing one over the other. That is not to say that there are not some brilliant technologies that will continue to advance as we speak. The current pandemic has surely brought objectivity into light and has forced technology developers to work overtime in solving these issues. Our studios have taken multiple precautions to reopen safely and while remote dubbing may only be able to emulate an in person studio session, the technologies that have been brought to light will undoubtedly be incorporated into our studios. And as these technologies advance we will have gained confidence in their functionality as a result of our experience with them.