Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Futzing with Captioning in Camtasia

I've been screwing around with Camtasia using their captioning tool to learn how it works. This is my latest movie. It has several serious flaws that I'll describe in a bit. But first let me say some nice things about the Camtasia captioning tool.

There are two ways for captions to appear. They can be under the video as stand alone text. Or they can overlay the video. In the later case, there is an option for closed captioning, so the viewer can turn that on and off. That is slick. (But this option is only available if the video is produced as Flash.) Also, if you have a script for the captions to go along with the movie and you have reasonably short sentences so you know where the breaks should be from the point of view given by the text, then Camtasia has a nice real time tool for putting in the timings of those breaks. I give them high marks for that too.

But the overlay does this by putting in a colored background onto your image and that cuts off about 1/4 of the image from the bottom. That colored background has some transparency, but for all intents it means that part of your image capture will be blocked. That's fine if there is white space or something else neutral. It's not very good, however, if there is information content in that part of the image.

I found myself feeling very awkward reading a script of my own creation aloud. If you watch and listen to the video above, I'm sure that comes through. I'm much more natural without a script. But production-wise, it clearly is less effort overall to write the script first and read it back then to talk through the slides and generate the script as a transcription of the talk through. In fact, I don't really even like PowerPoint if I'm going to be speaking, because I want to go with what moves me at the time and not stick with the preassigned message. (On the other hand, if I simply wrote the text and didn't speak it, then the PowerPoint would be ok to me as a way to deliver the images that are part of the writing activity.) So there seems to be no good way to have it all, including a reasonable time in which to generate an end product.

The other problem with the video is the background music. I don't know if this is completely Kosher, but to avoid copyright infringement issues but to use music that is familiar and whose lyrics one might (not so) subliminally tie to the message in my presentation, I've opted for midi versions of well known tunes. In this case it is a segment from the Wizard of Oz song, "If I Only Had a Brain." And this same segment is repeated over and over. (My music editing skills are also fairly feeble. Through fade in and fade out I was able to get the volume of this segment set at a reasonable level. But I couldn't do that uniformly to the entire song.) But, the midi sound can be grating on one's nerves. It would be much nicer to have the actual instrumental bit from the movie. One could eliminate the background music entirely, for sure. But my sense if that this were well done, then the more one can engage the senses of the viewer, the more effective the video would be, though I must say that there's no analog to the captioning for the background music.

My conclusion from all of this is that for a person without disabilities, we could produce a reasonably interesting show by using text, music, and images as the primary inputs, with spoken words only rarely, accommodate much of the production issues I mentioned above and be satisfied with the result on some grounds. But if we want an experience that is accessible to all, a goal we should aspire towards, then aesthetically it will be limited in a variety of ways. I'm sure someone more skilled than I could improve on what I've produced here. But those limitations are likely there for all of us.

Video is likely to become an increasingly important part of our repertoire. So I'd be curious to know how the rest of you are thinking about captioning and accessibility now. For me, it's something I'm still trying to wrap my arms around.

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