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Subject: Re: Surtitles
From: Engineering Department <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Engineering Department <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 17 Apr 1997 21:50:29 -0400

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> From: Joe Clark <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Surtitles
> The Toronto _Star_ last Saturday ran a nice-sized feature on the use of
> su{b,r}titles in opera to translate libretto into English. It is asserted
> that the concept was devised by the Canadian Opera Company in 1983 and
> heisted by everyone else in the trade. The Metropolitan Opera's seatback
> displays, much-discussed in the context of NCAM's MoPix project
> movie-captioning technology, are name-dropped here, too.
> Apparently the COC started out with a slide projector and now uses a
> computer. The photo accompanying the story shows that COC designers use
> typeface favoured by intellectuals too self-important to acknowledge they
> know nothing about typography, Helvetica, which clearly clashes
> bathetically with anything other than a genuinely modern opera, like Atom
> Egoyan's _Salome_. (Of course, tell them this and they'll immediately
> switch to the only other font they know, Times Roman, which also isn't
> right.)

About a year I was involved in building a surtitle system for the Virginia
Opera Association.  Used an 18 foot by 3 foot high resolution LED display
(I really busted my chops to make that darn thing run quietly too --  given
half a chance the power supplies will whistle and the fans are sure to
rattle and clank).

The font issue is matched by the color issue.  Fonts with serifs get a bit
ratty looking when reduced to on or off dots, but the font is intrinsically
more readable.  The ratty serifs may explain the popularity of the sanserif
Helvetica.  Colors seem to be a matter of the room color and the kind of
lighting used on stage.  Green shades seem to be preferred -- Orange,
yellow and red really glare.

The nice thing about computer driven surtitles is that the maestro can
integrate the captioning into the production.  One example is the level of
detail in the captions.  For some audiences refrains can be captioned,
while refrains can be left uncaptioned for other audiences.

The maestro also has control of the translation.  Idioms, for example, lend
an informal quality while "olde English" phraseology has quite the opposite
effect.  Naturally, it's a lot more subtle than these two extremes suggest.

The big issue today is over the kind of display folks like.  There are
slides which can be projected with wonderful resolution, but are hard to
change and tend to throw off distracting amounts of incident light,  There
are various seat back displays that technically are able to provide
translations (and even music scores) to each individual opera goer, but
require the viewer to look away from the stage and refocus to read.  There
are the LED surtitles which lack the resolution of the slides or the
personalization potential of the back-seat displays, but are less invasive
than the slides and more integrated with the stage than the seat-back

Well, who said anything was perfect?

Win Wiencke
Image Logic Corporation

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