How to create an Audio Description

The audio description (AD) is an acoustic description of visual content. It is used in videos so that blind persons can understand what the film is about.

The AD is mainly required for videos that have a low voice content. This is also important as the description will be placed in the non-spoken parts of the film.

When planning the film, plan enough time for the AD. If the video has a high proportion of speech and action, there will not be enough time for an AD.

The sound quality of the AD should match the sound quality of the movie.

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The first steps

An AD can be created with any audio editing software. The following procedure makes sense:

  1. First check whether an AD is necessary and possible. Videos with a high proportion of speech simply lack the necessary pause to accommodate an AD. However, it is not necessary in such cases either.
  2. Record the scenes that need to be described, preferably using a stopwatch to measure the length of the usable passages. Important information also includes names of persons or places shown, as well as all visually relevant information that is not conveyed by the speaker.
  3. Write the texts for the audio description. Like all texts, these must be carefully edited. The AD should not evaluate, but describe objectively. So don't write

    "The happy group looks at the camera."

    Rather write:

    "The group looks at the camera laughing."

  4. Once the text has been written, the individual passages must be spoken. Use a recording technique that matches the recording quality of the video. If the AD is noisy and the clip isn't, it looks a little strange. The speaker should speak neutrally and slowly. Factors such as playback speed can still be revised afterwards. The speaker can use the off-speakers in typical television documentaries as a guide. He is a neutral narrator and not part of the film action. He describes what can be seen and does not judge.
  5. In the last step, the spoken passages must be synchronized with the film.
Most video editing programs allow you to work with multiple audio tracks. Nothing more is needed to merge an AD with the film. The volume of the video track is reduced at the points where the audio description is inserted. It must be ensured that the speaker is easy to understand and that no acoustically important information in the video gets lost.

What works in the audio description and what doesn't

It is of course not possible to accommodate all visual information in the AD. In a typical whodunit crime thriller, viewers should find out who the culprit is. To do this, the blind must be provided with all the information that sighted viewers are also given to guess.

One way to get key information for the AD is also the script. What is particularly important for a film is also noted in the screenplay.

If you listen to the film without a picture, you will get a feeling for which information is important for the listener.

Also, watch an audio description clip to get a feeling for what it looks like.

Get feedback

Last but not least, you can try to get a blind test listener who can give you feedback on the audio description. This should be done before you record the audio description so you don't have to do the work twice.

But don't forget: the blind person can only judge whether the text of the audio description is correct. Since he can't see the film himself, he depends on you to do a good job.

Alternatives to Audio Description

I have to admit that the audio description (AD) - the film description for blind persons from the off - has not really convinced me so far. To me, it's like someone telling a joke and telling me the punchline in the same breath. I was inspired to write this post by a small discussion on Facebook.

For me, television is the medium of the 90s. I've watched less and less TV since middle school, that was until the mid 90's. At that time there were almost no programs with AD, especially with the American programs that we preferred to watch at the time. I haven't owned a TV for many years, I'm not interested in the series on Netflix. I have the few programs that interest me recorded using an online service and then listen to them on my cell phone. My media are the internet and audio books.

So I'm not up to date when it comes to the latest television technology and television aesthetics. And blind persons who have grown up with audio description from an early age may find it easier to accept.

The audio description is a foreign body

In my opinion, the AD is a foreign body in the film. usually, the silent parts of the film are accompanied by atmospheric music. Music is very subconscious and yet suggestive. The AD interrupts this mood to a certain extent. In terms of communication theory, one would say that communication is interrupted by meta-communication. Or more vividly: Imagine that your partner would comment on the color of the candle and the quality of the candle wax during a romantic get-together.

Another problem is that the AD can never satisfy all blind viewers: it either reports too much and is sometimes superfluous. Or she reports too little, so that one could manage without her. In principle, each scene contains thousands of pieces of information that the viewer can take in at a glance. Naturally, AD can only convey a fraction of this.

And I don't think it can convey a mood like the actual film. The current rule is that the AD voice should be monotonous like a newscaster. This makes sense in general, but a neutral voice is not good at triggering emotions. It would be better to let the music work.

Conceptually, it would definitely be smarter to include the AD in the making of the film. The directors, screenwriters or whoever should give more weight to the non-visual layer from the beginning and the production of the AD should be done in the film team, then some problems would take care of themselves.

The audio description as part of the film

And of course there is another way. One possibility is that the presenter in a program or the off-voice takes over the task of description. Of course, it cannot provide as much information as a full-blown AD. But a good copywriter can provide enough information so that even the blind viewer gets a little more fodder.

In films, this task can be performed by a first-person narrator. We know that from series like Magnum, Scrubs or Malcolm in the Middle. Nobody there finds the interjections disturbing because they are simply part of the film.

A hybrid of radio play and film

And of course everyone knows the film that gets by without pictures - the radio play. A good radio play - there aren't that many of them - uses the right medium for every message: voice, music, noises, silence.

In our outrageously expensive Hollywood blockbusters, however, these factors are rarely used: Of course, in addition to the visuals, the voices and the music are also used. But noises are used very sparingly compared to radio plays. So how about making the foley artists more prominent in movies? This would allow you to transport much more information without anyone having to chat.

Incidentally, the whole thing would have the advantage that the AD would also be more widely accepted by the visually impaired - who would also benefit. Either they don't even know they exist. Or they reject them because they find them annoying.

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