How VITAC Creates Audio Description

By: David Titmus
Microphone in front of a computer monitor for recording audio description tracks
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Microphone in front of a computer monitor for recording audio description tracks
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VITAC provides audio description for a number of clients in a variety of industries, including TV networks, streaming services, online content producers, educational institutions, and corporations.

Our audio description process involves four areas of production: writing, voicing, audio editing, and quality control.

The audio description script is first written by a highly trained professional who specializes in translating visual information into description. The describer analyzes the video to determine the importance of visual aspects, and creates a script that fits within pauses in dialogue and music. Audio description often cannot convey all of the visual information included in each scene of a video program. Therefore, the writer, often with the help of the content creator, makes choices to ultimately create the best possible description. Describers strive to be clear, concise, conversational, and use familiar terms in a manner that is consistent with the content and vocabulary of the program.

Once a script is finalized, a professional voice artist records the narration. This voicer is chosen to match the nature and tone of the video content and will remain constant throughout a series’ production. Voicers speak clearly, at a rate that can be understood, while conveying energy and volume without competing with the actors onscreen. Lately, we’ve seen a move in the industry to synthetic narration, where a computer-generated voice reads the script created by a writer. This approach saves time and money, and it’s acceptable for some producers and audience members. However, it’s important that producers ultimately consider an audience’s preference when determining whether a human or computer-generated voicer is appropriate for their content.

Using the recorded voiceover, a mixing specialist combines the show audio with the audio description recording, “dipping” or lowering the volume of the background noise or music to accommodate the narration. The editor makes sure that the voiceover, whenever possible, does not overlap the dialogue of the show. In addition, the editor can speed up bits of description so that a show with lots of dialogue can accommodate easy-to-hear descriptions. The mixer can even modify the pitch of the voiceover so that a description sped up to fit a two-second gap, for example, will not suffer from the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” effect.

Finally, the quality control expert reviews the final file with voiceover to make sure that everything from script accuracy to final mixing is correct. After this review, the file is exported in a variety of formats, including WAV, MP3, and AIF.

Of note: The above describes the process for prerecorded audio content. Lately, more and more producers are asking for audio description for live television broadcasts. It can be done in a highly controlled environment where the writer and voicer are the same, and the mix is performed by the network. We are proud to provide this service via partnerships with the most talented describers in the industry.