Video Translation 101: What are lower thirds? What are chyrons?

The terms “lower third” and “chyron” come up regularly during video translation, especially subtitles and UN-style voice-over projects. Both terms have long histories and slightly different usages, but it’s essential to know a little bit about them during localization.

This blog post will look at lower thirds and chyrons, and how they can trip up translation projects.

[Average read time: 4 mins]

What are lower thirds?

In a video context, the phrase “lower third” can mean two things:

  1. The lower third portion of a video screen. Imagine splitting a video image into three parts from top to bottom – the sections are the upper, middle and lower thirds of the frame. In the following screen capture of an e-Learning scenario, we’ve split the screen into thirds with red lines, and labeled each one. The one with the “3” is the lower third.thirds-video-screen-video-tranlsation-subtitles-dubbing.jpg
  2. Any title that appears in the lower third of the screen. Since any speaking in a video usually happens in the top two thirds of the screen (that’s where the face lands in most compositions), any titles that will play while a person speaks generally appear in the lower third of the screen. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule – there are plenty of videos out there that don’t follow this convention – but it is standard practice in film and video production. The next time you watch a broadcast news program or documentary, note how prevalent this convention is.

Titles that appear in the lower third are generally broken down into two categories: subtitles/captions and identifiers. You can see instances of both in the following screen captures – they’re circled in red:

Screen capture of Japanese subtitled video translation. Screen capture of video interview with name indentifier in the lower third.
Subtitles/captions Identifiers


Subtitles/captions translate voice audio, and are generally synchronized to short phrases or sentences. Identifiers do just what their name implies – they identify who is speaking, usually giving his or her or title. Lower thirds can also include other information, like date or location. In fact, news outlets now regularly cram the lower third – check out the following screen capture from CNN:

Still from CNN with a packed lower third.

So what is a chyron?

One of the first companies to offer title rendering services – basically, an interface for creating text titles over video – was the Chyron Corporation, from Melville, New York. They were so dominant in the field that the term “chyron” started to be used generically for on-screen titles, not unlike “kleenex” for paper tissues and “xeroxing” for photocopying. A chyron is just another name for a lower third. There are a few others, like supers, super bars, straps, and name tags – but ultimately, they refer to lower thirds as well.

What do you need to know for localization?

Just knowing what a lower third is – or a chyron, super, or name tag, for that matter – is half the battle, since they’re not generally taken into account for translation projects, and can become an unexpected cost during production. Just being able to anticipate that they’ll need localization will avoid the second most common cause of unforeseen costs in video translation.

For subtitles projects, it’s important to ask the client what he or she would like to do with any subtitles that need to appear at the same time as lower thirds – generally, those subtitles get moved to the upper third of the screen (high enough that they don’t obstruct a speaker’s face), as the in the following example:

Green video frame with lower third name identifier, and subtitle in the upper third.

However, some clients may prefer to keep the subtitles in the lower third, by moving them to one side of the screen or even breaking the subtitle into three lines so they take up less horizontal space. We’ve also seen instances where the client preferred to lower the font size of the lower thirds to create more space for the subtitle. The key is to address this issue with the client before subtitles are integrated into a video, since re-work after delivery will also add unexpected costs.

Finally, the last tip is to get source video editing files whenever possible. That allows editors to replace the lower thirds text by quickly copying and pasting, and produces the best results. If the source files are not available, an editor can either re-create the titles or mask and replace them – this process produces generally good results, but is much more time-consuming. Some producers create “textless” versions of their videos specifically so they can have localized lower thirds and titles added later on – this practice is catching on in e-Learning and corporate video production, fortunately.

Ultimately, the key is to be aware of the lower thirds. Being able to anticipate their localization will provide more accurate quotes, and addressing clashes with subtitles before integration will reduce costly re-work.

Download "7 Myths of Audio & Video Translation," JBI Studios' indispensable guide to audio translation and dubbing.

Topics: Subtitles & Captions Translation & Localization Video Translation

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