JBI Studios' Blog on Voice-Over, Dubbing, and Multimedia Localization.

4 Tips for Burning Captions & Subtitling to Video

Burned-in captions and subtitling are a commonly-requested video localization option, despite the fact that we’re living in the age of SRT and WebVTT sidecar files. Why? Because burning in allows more control of the text that appears on screen, which is critical for some content. For this reason, producers and multimedia localization professionals must know how to produce high-quality burned-in video deliverables.

This post lists 4 tips you must keep in mind when burning captions and subtitles to picture.

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Different workflow for burned-in captioning & subtitling

Despite the many advantages of sidecar caption and subtitle files for multimedia localization, burning to picture still offers producers one very attractive feature – near-complete control of the look of the subtitles text. This alone can make burning in a better option for branded content like TV and online spots. And likewise, it’s a good way to ensure that there are no glitches in situations in which content creators can’t control the playback setup – for example, when videos are used for live events and presentations.

Editing timeline with subtitling added for burned-in delivery.

For more information, see our previous post, Why Would Anyone Burn Captions or Subtitling to Video? (4 Reasons).

Burning to picture has very specific post-production requirements, and there are a few things you must know to produce high-quality deliverables – including the four tips that follow.

1. Source a high-resolution video for integration.

Burning to picture requires re-exporting your full video file with the titles added. You can do this with a compressed video – for example, an MP4/H.264 file – and get very good results. But it really pays off to use a ProRes or other HD master when burning in.

Why? For starters, because you’ll get a higher-quality localized video. The drop in quality from burning to a compressed video probably won’t be too bad – it may be imperceptible to most viewers, in fact – but it’ll still be there. If you’re localizing a premium, color-corrected marketing spot, you’ll want your visuals to pop in the localized versions as much as in the English. On top of that, burning to a high-res source gives you more latitude if you reuse your localized videos. For example, if you add DVD to your deliverables, you can just compress your localized high-res videos to MPEG-2 with no issues – this is not the case if your best-quality video is already compressed.

2. Incorporate on-screen titles into your video localization plan.

Because burning to picture produces one video file per language, you can easily include your on-screen titles (OST) into a comprehensive video localization workflow. Most projects with a sidecar deliverable leave the OST alone or provide translations in the caption/subtitle track that run alongside the original text. But burning in allows producers to completely replace all titling on their videos.

Remember that this requires getting source editing files or textless videos during pre-production, and means more effort during production. It also means making decisions early in the process about how your subtitles will interact with the existing on-screen titles. For example, will your subs match the font and formatting of the OST for a consistent look? Or, will you want them to have a unique look so that it’s easy to tell them apart? The latter is common on e-Learning localization and educational webinars, for example, which can have longer on-screen text segments mirrored by an off-screen voice-over.

No matter how you decide to localize your OST, make sure to take them into consideration during quoting and project setup.

3. Make sure your caption & subtitle text is legible.

You’ll be able to set the font, color and formatting of your text with a large amount of precision. Designers love burning in for this reason, in fact. Remember, though, that caption and subtitle legibility is critical for your audience, and that ornate fonts, non-standard colors and heavy formatting may render text difficult to read, especially against certain types of content like action shots or animations. This is especially true when subtitling into languages with more character complexity – for example, on Japanese subtitling projects.

4. Remember compression.

Finally, remember that compression will decrease the sharpness of your image – and that this will affect your burned-in captions or subtitles. (Sidecar subtitles don't have this issue since they're separate from the video file itself.) If you’re going to compress your localized videos at different qualities, run a test before committing to your text specifications – especially if you’re localizing into languages with more detailed scripts or heavy accenting. For example, your Arabic subtitling may look great at ProRes 422, but it may be difficult to read in a highly-compressed MP4 video.

Remember, changes after final burn-in require re-exporting

Burning to picture severely limits your revision cycles after release. It’s easy to forget this since sidecar files allow for effectively endless updates on streaming content. But changes to burned-in deliverables require a full re-export, which is more time-consuming, or may even require searching through archives for legacy projects. Make sure that your subtitled content goes through a rigorous quality assurance process to avoid changes once the video has been distributed. Thorough QA is a critical component to ensuring high-quality, accurate deliverables on all localized multimedia projects – that’s why JBI Studios provides it on every production. When burning captions and subtitles to picture, it also avoids costly studio re-work and delays to implementation.

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Topics: Subtitles & Captions Video Translation

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