Special Issue: Building Bridges between Film Studies and Translation Studies

A proposed set of placement strategies for integrated titles

Based on an analysis of existing strategies in commercial films

By Wendy Fox (pixelpublic GmbH, Germany)

Abstract & Keywords

This article gives an overview of creative subtitling of additional languages used in recent commercial films. Based on a quantitative analysis of placement strategies of these integrated titles, possible shortcomings and improvements are discussed and the most frequent strategies are summarised in a first set of basic placement strategies.

Keywords: audiovisual translation, integrated titles, creative subtitles, placement strategies

©inTRAlinea & Wendy Fox (2017).
"A proposed set of placement strategies for integrated titles Based on an analysis of existing strategies in commercial films"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Building Bridges between Film Studies and Translation Studies
Edited by: Juan José Martínez Sierra & Beatriz Cerezo Merchán
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2250

1. Introduction

While there is a wide range of thoughtful guidelines for the creation of subtitles in general (e.g. Ivarsson and Carroll 1998, Karamitroglou 1998, Díaz Cintas and Remael 2007) and subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing in particular (SDH, e.g. Ford Williams 2009), some audiences and film professionals still see subtitles as ‘a blemish on the film screen’ (Díaz Cintas and Remael 2007: 82) and ‘intrusion into the visual space of film’ (Thompson 2000: 1). This subjective perception hints on the relevance of not only proper translation and timing of subtitles but also their design. The position and design of traditional subtitles can be seen as a major drawback, and especially viewers not used to them – mainly from English speaking countries and those with a long tradition of dubbed films – might find it hard to focus on both reading the subtitles and exploring the image. British director Danny Boyle, appreciated for films such as Trainspotting (UK 1996) and Slumdog Millionaire (UK/FR/USA 2008), described the problem by stating that ‘you don’t watch the film – you read the film and you scan occasionally to the actors’ (Beckman 2008). And he doesn’t stand alone with this opinion. Rawsthorn (2007) describes conventional subtitles as ‘limply at the bottom of the screen’ (ibid.) and only legible ‘if you’re lucky’ (ibid.). The demand for the cheapest possible solution that works on all kind of devices might be an understandable explanation – but how much might a slightly higher investment into subtitling actually weigh, especially compared to the enormous costs of dubbing? Combined with Romero-Fresco’s observation that ‘half of the revenue of […] both top-grossing and award-winning Hollywood films comes from foreign territories’ (Romero-Fresco 2013: 202) while ‘translation and accessibility services only account for 0.1 % – 1 % of the budget of an average film production (Lambourne 2012)’ (ibid.), it can only be in the interest of film producers to take a critical look at the position and design of the subtitles on the screen and the way they are perceived by the audiences to introduce possible improvements.

Based on my doctoral thesis that uses eye tracking and questionnaires to investigate the impact of integrated titles on the reception and enjoyment of film (Fox fc.), this article focuses on the placement strategies of commercially used integrated titles - titles that are placed individually and integrated into the image composition of a film -, including how they came into existence, and what the critics and audiences thought of them. Based on an analysis of the frequency of the various placement strategies, it aims to create a useful and frequency-based set of positions for integrated titles.

2. Integrated Titles

Various terms have emerged over past years to describe deviations from conventional subtitling. While fan-created subtitles that ignore existing conventions were initially described as ‘abusive’ (Nornes 1999: 18), Nornes appears to be one of the first to discuss subtitles not only based on content but also layout. He recognises the criticism concerning the graphical intrusion of subtitles into the film image and considers it ‘likely that no one ever has come away from a foreign film admiring the translation’ (1999: 17), emphasising the need for exploring new methods. More recently, Foerster criticises the conventional guidelines’ aim of invisibility and the resulting ‘register and […] design for subtitles that never call attention to themselves’ (2010: 82), defining subtitles ‘solely as a means of understanding what is being said on screen’ (ibid.). Mentioning examples such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail (UK 1975), Annie Hall (USA 1977), and ‘Desperanto’ (segment in Montreal Stories, CAN 1991) and discussing the subtitles of Nochnoy Dozor (‘Night Watch’, RUS 2004[1]), she defines ‘aesthetic subtitling’ (2010: 85) as a practice that ‘draws attention to the subtitles via aesthetic means exploring semiotic possibilities, which include the semantic dimension without being restricted by it’ (ibid.) and is ‘predominantly designed graphically to support or match the aesthetics of the audiovisual text and consequently develop an aesthetic of their own’ (ibid.).

Following a more film studies-based approach, McClarty speaks of ‘creative subtitles’ (2012: 138). She sees ‘subtitling practitioners [as] mere norm-obeying machines’ (2012: 135) that ‘continue to have their hands tied by the constraints of the field and the norms of the profession’ (ibid.) while failing to ‘acknowledge the insights that could be gained by referring to audiovisual translation’s parallel discipline: film studies’ (ibid.). McClarty sees the need of a ‘creative’ approach that does not simply ‘describe a subtitling practice that differs from the norm but [that denotes] an approach that looks outward from its own discipline as well as its own culture’ (ibid.) and aims for ‘difference rather than sameness’ (McClarty 2012: 140). She emphasises that, so far, not the creativity of a translator or subtitle practitioner have led to innovation in title design, e.g. in Slumdog Millionaire, La Antena (AR 2007) or Austin Powers in Goldmember (USA 2002), but the ‘imagination of film directors and editors’ (ibid.) that did not only want to provide a translation but also create additional effects of comedic or artistic nature (2012: 140-142) as well as indicate sound (McClarty 2012: 146) or speaker location (McClarty 2012: 148). The goal should not be to replace existing norms and guidelines but a ‘creative response to individual qualities within and between films’ (ibid.), created by a ‘translator-title designer’ (McClarty 2012: 149) that aims for both linguistically and aesthetically pleasing titles that are produced during the filmmaking process and in cooperation with the film maker, editors, and title designers. Other terms that can be found in recent studies are ‘dynamic subtitles’ (Armstrong/Brooks 2014, Brown et al. 2015) and ‘speaker-following subtitles’ (Hong et al. 2010; Hu et al. 2013). These concepts place titles close to speakers and additionally focus on the automation of the placement process.

While the presented terms are still based on the concept of subtitles that are placed below or at the bottom of the image, even Nornes back in 1999 put the ‘sub’ in parentheses ‘because they were not always at the bottom of the frame’ (Nornes 1999: 23). As Bayram and Bayraktar speak of ‘integrated formats’ (2012: 82) when integrating text into image for educational purposes, and Armstrong and Brooks mention the enhancement of subtitles through ‘integrating them with the moving image’ (2014), the term of ‘integrated titles’ was chosen for the two conducted reception studies (Fox 2012; Fox fc.). The goal was to include all the previously mentioned concepts while emphasising the relationship between image and title. The various terms, however, show the wide bandwidth of possible approaches that cannot be defined by tight norms or strict guidelines.

As Foerster (2010), McClarty (2012), and others stated, not only the analysis (cf. Chaume 2004) but also the creation of subtitles should not purely be based on translation studies. Film studies can offer insight into image composition and storytelling, communication and graphic design can offer definitions of aesthetics and creativity, usability studies provide basics of user experience design as well as interface design, and computer sciences provide insight into potential automation processes and software design (Fox fc.). Based on the discussed research and these additional fields, the following section provides an overview and quantitative analysis of integrated titles in recent film productions.

3. Placement Strategies

This analysis is product-based and was conducted by taking screenshots (of static, unmoving titles) and short clips (of animated or moving titles) from a selection of films. The sample for analysis consists of – to the investigator’s best knowledge – all examples of English films released between 2000 and 2015 that contain integrated titles that translate an additional language into English as well as the so far only known film that made use of integrated titles throughout the whole length of the film, translating Russian into English. Contrary to the sometimes partially integrated SDH with horizontal displacement that can be found on Blu-ray disks (BD), there are no pre-existing guidelines or rules these integrated titles follow concerning placement and design. Therefore, all known examples were included in the sample analysis to reflect the state-of-the-art as accurately as possible while being able to exclude rare strategies due to their lower frequency. After a discussion of possible shortcomings, the most frequent strategies are then summarised in a first basic set of placement strategies for the creation of integrated titles.

3.1 Sample Analysis

Apart from the Russian film Nochnoy Dozor, the multilingual films and series discussed in this section were all produced in the USA and include an additional language that was subtitled into English. As the number of films including this kind of titles is still very small, no distinction was made between the forms and sources of the films analysed. Table 1 represents the analysed sample and gives the basic film credits.

 

Name

Release

Director

Production Studio(s)

Main Distributor

Languages[2]

Man on Fire

2004

Tony Scott

Warner Bros. International

Twentieth Century Fox

English
Spanish

Nochnoy Dozor

2004

2006

Timur Bekmambetov

Channel One

 

Twentieth Century Fox

Russian

Heroes

(Episode 01)

2006

Tim Kring

Tailwind Productions

Universal Pictures

English
Japanese

Slumdog Millionaire

2008

Danny Boyle

Celador Films Ltd.

Twentieth Century Fox

English

Hindi

Fast Five[3]

2011

Justin Lin

Original Film

One Race Films, Dentsu

Universal Pictures

English

Portuguese

Star Trek Into Darkness

2013

J.J. Abrams

Bad Robot

Paramount Pictures

English

Klingon

John Wick

2014

Chad Stahelski

David Leitch

87Eleven

 

Lionsgate

Entertainment

English
Russian

Table 1 Overview of the analysed films with integrated titles for an additional language

Tony Scott’s Man on Fire might not be the first film ever to use a more creative approach on its subtitles for additional languages, but it seems to be the most frequently mentioned early example (Kofoed 2011; McClarty 2012; Romero-Fresco 2013), followed quickly by the Russian film Nochnoy Dozor with its integrated titles for the English-speaking audience. Together with Nochnoy Dozor’s sequel Dnevnoy Dozor[4] (‘Day Watch’, RUS 2006) and Slumdog Millionaire, this ‘quartet of high-profile releases from Twentieth Century Fox and its specialty-film unit Fox Searchlight has initiated a radical, popular re-conception of the subtitle’s status in its previous distinction between inter- and intra-lingual contexts – as graphically additive captions and as linguistic translation’ (Kofoed 2011). They offer titles that are a ‘central aspect of the filmic mise-en-scène’ (Kofoed 2011)[5] and underline the fact that ‘subtitles as a graphic presence [are] inseparable from its medium as film’ (Egoyan/Balfour 2004: 68). While Man on Fire includes 219 integrated titles that translate from Spanish into English (compared to 1332 subtitles if watched with English subtitles, therefore accounting for approximately 16.44 per cent of the film’s dialogue), the English subtitled version of Nochnoy Dozor offers a complete translation for the foreign English-speaking audience with integrated titles accounting for around 6.46 per cent of the overall subtitles. Therefore, two kinds of integrated titles can be identified here: Titles that are part of the original version of a film and translate an additional language (Man on Fire, Heroes, Slumdog Millionaire, Fast Five, Star Trek Into Darkness, John Wick), and titles that translate an entire film into another language for a foreign target audience (Nochnoy Dozor, Dnevnoy Dozor). These films are presented and discussed in the following.

3.1.1 Man on Fire

‘Subtitles are boring’ – this simple opinion stated by Tony Scott (Scott, interview[6]) led to a new perspective on subtitles after decades of lacking interest from directors and producers. Without knowing that he would establish a new trend, if not even a future paradigm shift, he wanted the subtitles to be conceived as a ‘kind of character in the scene’ (ibid.). Therefore, his American remake Man on Fire provides a variety of integrated and aesthetically more or less pleasing titles that, as already stated, account for approximately 16.44 per cent of the film's dialogue (219 of 1332 overall English subtitles). With its setting in Mexico, several words and phrases in the film are in Spanish. However, not only this spoken content is subtitled, but also some English statements – presumably to underline and intensify the corresponding content. An especially interesting aspect is the conscious placement in the mise-en-scène or ‘within the shot’s depth of field, such that characters and objects may move before the subtitles, obscuring them from the reader’s gaze’ (Kofoed 2011). In addition to several fading animations (see Figure 1), a wide variety of kinetic effects was used to underline the active role of the titles in Man on Fire. Concerning the layout, the titles are rendered mostly in Franklin Gothic[7] and well readable due to their sans-serif and bold character that provides a good contrast to film image. They are also ‘not confined to the top layer of the film, they have depth and perception’ (Vit 2005).

fig1

Figure 1 Additional fading effect in Man on Fire (01:03:18)

The reactions to Man on Fire were mixed. While some critics celebrated the innovative titles as ‘small, visual victories that add charisma and personality to commonly bland and uninspiring subtitles’ (Vit 2005), others such as film critic Brian Gallagher refer to them as an example of ‘how NOT to do subtitles’ (Gallagher 2004). While Man on Fire displays several aesthetic types of text integration, it is not always comprehensible on what basis the present effect was chosen. Some titles are displayed word by word, corresponding to the actual speed of speech, while others are displayed in a whole or line by line, flicker, re-appear after a scene cut or move through the image. A smaller, but more comprehensive selection of effects might have had a stronger and more thoughtful impact. These integrated titles, however, seem to only be part of the English original version of the film. For the German DVD and BD releases, the titles were removed and replaced with traditional subtitles.

3.1.2 Slumdog Millionaire

‘Rejoice – subtitles have been freed!’ With this exclamation, the Washington Post celebrated Slumdog Millionaire’s titles when the film came to the cinemas in 2008 (Beckman 2008). While the film was initially supposed to be completely in English, the British director Danny Boyle quickly realized that the child actors in India wouldn’t be able to deliver their lines credibly in English (ibid.). He therefore decided to let them speak Hindi and promised Warner Independent[8] ‘that the film would be even more exciting because of the subtitles’ (Beckman 2008; cf. Kofoed 2011). He ‘came up with the idea to have the subtitles look more like the dialogue in comic books, which float depending on where the characters are positioned’ (Beckman 2008). According to McClarty, this ‘works to keep the audience engaged with the plight of the young boys’ (2012: 143). The titles were also ‘placed within coloured caption boxes’ (Kofoed 2011)[9] and inspired not only by comic book captions but also the non-traditional subtitles of Nochnoy Dozor (Beckman 2008; Kofoed 2011). The coloured boxes ensure both ‘visibility’ (McClarty 2012: 143) and legibility against the changing background and slightly resemble compositions on posters and in comic books. While traditional subtitling conventions often suggest black boxes (e.g. Karamitroglou 1998), the ‘colour of the transparent box changes according to the colour scheme of the mise en scène’ (McClarty 2012: 143) in Slumdog Millionaire. The 202 integrated titles account for about 17.99 per cent of the film’s dialogue (out of approximately 1123 subtitles if watched with English subtitles).

The Washington Post’s film critic Rachel Beckman described the titles in Slumdog Millionaire as bouncing ‘around the screen in a rainbow of colors’ (Beckman 2008) and ‘stylish and splashy and original. They’re liberated’ (ibid). McClarty underlines the importance of these titles not only fulfilling ‘their linguistic, translational function’ (McClarty 2012: 143) but ‘also fulfilling an equally important aesthetic function through their colour and an affective function through their positioning in the heart of the on-screen action’ (ibid.). However, she notes that these titles rather allow for an ‘overall understanding of the situation and dialogue, rather than a word by word comprehension of each subtitle’ (ibid.) and also Romero-Fresco sees that ‘the translational role of these subtitles (and even their legibility) often takes a back seat to their affective use of colour and position to advance plot and character development’ (Romero-Fresco 2013: 210). This discussion of the titles in Slumdog Millionaire shows that decisions concerning the significance awarded to the translational function of the titles on the one hand and the aesthetic and affective function on the other have a strong influence on the final product and translators and designers involved in the postproduction have to work hand-in-hand to achieve a good result.

In addition to ignoring the layout instructions of the traditional guidelines, the titles also lack periods at the end of each sentence. This might lead to irritation of the audience as it might not be clear whether the sentence was finished or will continue in a following title. The typography is modest and makes use of a single typeface with soft edges and a legible stroke width. The combination of typeface, drop shadow and coloured box, however, might lead to a decrease in legibility. From examples such as shown in Figure 2, it appears as if the image composition was considered more important than indication of speaker or speech direction, but then there are also titles that disturb the image composition strongly even though better solutions would have been possible. While the placement of the titles could be improved by decreasing the distance to the speakers and focus points, the overall layout and especially the coloured boxes support the atmosphere and emotions in the respective scenes and most likely had a strong impact on the reception of Slumdog Millionaire.

fig2

Figure 2 Indication of speaker outside the frame in Slumdog Millionaire (00:34:49)

3.1.3 Heroes

The American television show Heroes was produced and broadcast by NBC between 2006 and 2010.[10] While almost all characters in Heroes speak English, the Japanese friends Hiro and Ando speak their mother tongue at the beginning of the first season and only learn English bit by bit due to their continuous stay in the United States. Thus, Hiro and Ando are the only characters in the first season to be subtitled. These titles were integrated into the image dynamically, seemingly on the basis of the placement of speech bubbles in comics as Hiro is a huge fan of them and draws all his knowledge of supernatural abilities and other characters from them (see Figure 3). The integrated titles in the first episode of the first season of Heroes make up about 13.56 per cent of the film’s dialogue, accounting for 96 out of 708 titles if watched with English subtitles.

fig3

Figure 3 Title placed in between speakers during a dialogue in Heroes S01E01 (00:14:12)

Overall, the first episode of the first season of Heroes showcases many interesting placement strategies and might include some of the first film material that was actually shot in a way that would provide space and sufficient contrast to allow for the title placement in the postproduction.

3.1.4 Fast Five

Fast Five was released to cinemas in 2011 as a joint production between Original Film, One Race Films, and Dentsu, distributed by Universal Pictures. Even though the screened version included 101 individually placed titles translating Portuguese conversations and statements into English, no mention of this can be found in critic’s reviews of the fifth part of the Fast & Furious series. The integrated titles make up 7.49 per cent of the subtitles that would be required to watch Fast Five completely subtitled in English (101 out of 1348 subtitles in total).

Fig4

Figure 4 Title indicating speaking direction (Fast Five, 00:11:51)

As visible from Figure 4, the typeface is a bold white sans-serif with a slight shadow and creates a strong contrast to most backgrounds. In one case, single words are highlighted in italics, reflecting the speaker’s emphasis. All in all, the titles are usually placed close to the speaker or in speaking direction and allow for a close focus for the audience. Even though the titles weren’t mentioned in any major film critic’s review, the production studio and directors seemed content and continued the practice in the following sequels of the Fast & Furious franchise – Fast & Furious 6 and Fast & Furious 7, both distributed by Universal Pictures. As the titles in the sequels follow similar layout and placement strategies, these films were not included in the analysis to prevent biasing of the placement analysis towards this franchise.

3.1.5 Star Trek Into Darkness

After the immense success[11] of the first film in the reboot of Star Trek in 2009, the second part Star Trek Into Darkness followed quickly in 2013, directed by J. J. Abrams and produced by Bad Robot. Similarly to Fast Five, the critics didn’t mention the few integrated titles in this film. While this might be due to the fact that there are just eight integrated titles out of 1753 subtitles if watched with English subtitles (therefore accounting for about 0.45 per cent of the film’s dialogue)[12], the American (and other) audiences might also be becoming accustomed to the more frequently occurring integrated titles for the translation of an additional language in a film[13] – in this case, of the fictional language Klingon.

The placement in Star Trek Into Darkness is very simple and always indicates speaking direction – whether towards a person outside the frame (see Figure 5) or from a speaker outside the frame. Even though uppercase letters are normally rated disadvantageous concerning readability and reading speed (Liebig 2009), the negative effect should be negligible due to the very short scene and number of titles in it. The bold typeface and uppercase letters fit the rather ‘brutish’ and guttural Klingon language well. The text colour reflects the colours in the shot and makes it fit well into the scene, resembling the use of coloured boxes in Slumdog Millionaire.

Fig5

Figure 5 Titles indicating speaking direction and reflecting the surrounding colours
in Stark Trek Into Darkness (00:51:30)

Star Trek Into Darkness might not offer a big variety – or even number – of integrated titles, but the designers nevertheless did a good job of integrating the Klingon to English translations into the scene. The focus was obviously set on making titles and scene match and there is definitely room for improvement concerning the distance between focus and title as well as legibility. But out of the films analysed in this article, it is the film with the highest gross from cinema screenings in the United States (about $228,778,546).[14] Thus it can be seen as promoting integrated titles to the so far biggest audience and – much like Avatar (USA/UK 2009) with its handling of an additional fictional language – increase the probability of directors and producers putting additional thought into their handling of translation within their films and audiences to actually welcome creative and integrated titles.

3.1.6 John Wick

In the 2014 blockbuster John Wick, mainly produced by 87Eleven[15] and directed by Chad Stahelski and the uncredited David Leitch, both traditional subtitles and integrated titles were used to translate Russian dialogues into English. John Wick is the only American film in the sample to combine traditional subtitles and integrated titles and slightly resembles Nochnoy Dozor in doing so. While the reason behind this decision might differ for the two films, the effect is quite similar and discussed in the following.

During an interview performed by the film critic Bill Graham[16], the two filmmakers of John Wick were asked for their reasons for choosing integrated titles: ‘I think it had to do with tone. Most people use subtitles to get across information or do what they are there for, translation. We needed hints with tone’ (Graham 2014). They see John Wick as a ‘graphic novel’ (ibid.) and themselves as story tellers who want their audience to enjoy the film. Using integrated titles ‘puts you at ease’ (Graham 2014) and allows you to ‘relax and just watch it’ (ibid.). Inspired by Man on Fire as well as graphic novelists such as Frank Miller (known for works such as Sin City [USA 2005], 300 [USA 2006] and Ronin [UK/FR/USA 1998]) they wanted ‘the subtitles to be part of the story’ (ibid.) and use them ‘as if it were just story text, not just subtitles’ (ibid.). Out of the roughly 561 subtitles that make up the English subtitles of the film, 58 are integrated into the image and 12 are traditional subtitles – therefore, the integrated titles account for approximately 10.34 per cent of the film’s dialogue. Added together, the burnt-in subtitles and integrated titles account for about 12.48 per cent of the film’s dialogue.

Fig6

Figure 6 Title placed below the speaker and with highlighted swear word (John Wick, 01:02:15)

If mentioning them at all, film critics and viewers had only praise for the titles in John Wick. Describing them as ‘unique […] by either highlighting certain words or positioning them in different areas’ (Abreu 2014), ‘stylized’ (ibid.) and as ‘throwing color and extra font impact’ (Robinson 2014), it’s appraised as ‘nice to see something being done with those subtitles just to make reading them a bit more engaging with the film’ (Mistry 2015).

This apparently thoughtful approach, however, raises the questions why the first 12 subtitles follow the traditional conventions and are not even using the same typeface. A possible reason might be the same as for the use of the integrated titles: The directors wanted to convey a ‘tone’ with the titles – so two sets of different titles might be able to deliver different tones or at least support different atmospheres. While John is obviously on his way to become the ‘hero’ of the film when the integrated titles are introduced, we don’t know what will happen to him at the beginning when the traditional subtitles are used. They are passive and don’t tell us anything about the relationship between John and Iosef (see Figure 7).

Fig7

Figure 7 Traditional subtitle in the first chapter of John Wick (00:12:18)

All in all, the titles in John Wick are a showcase of what is possible with the thoughtful use of typefaces, colours and placement. They convey tone and might make the audience more interested in the titles and the translations they offer. Additionally, the titles are comparatively dominant and have their own character, much like Tony Scott’s titles in Man on Fire. Unlike the overwhelming number of different effects, placements and layouts in Man on Fire, however, John Wicks’ titles convey a clear design and message. They add a visual component to the image that is normally reserved for comics. While the titles below speakers and focus points work well and often indicate speaker and speaking direction, a few titles might not offer a high legibility, are prone to speaker misidentification, and probably implicate simultaneity that doesn’t take place.

3.1.7. Nochnoy Dozor

The Russian production Nochnoy Dozor, based on the book of the same name by Sergei Lukyanenko, was released to Russian cinemas in 2004 and directed by Timur Bekmambetov. As it ‘became the biggest Russian hit since the Soviet Union’s collapse’ (Rosen 2006), Fox Searchlight purchased the international rights and released it to US cinemas in 2006. It’s not completely clear who then made the decision of imposing ‘digitized subtitles’ (Rosen 2006) instead of traditional subtitles or dubbing the film. Rawsthorn (2007) claims that Bekmambetov ‘insisted on subtitling it and took charge of the design process himself’ and quotes him describing the subtitles as ‘another character in the film, another way to tell the story’. However, the way Kofoed and Rosen report it seems much more likely as Fox Searchlight would rather be the driving force and decision maker concerning the localisation of the film:

Deeming the Russian-supplied English subtitles to be of insufficient quality, Gilula worked with Bekmambetov and American Laeta Kalogridis to develop a re-cut and re-write for the ‘international’ version of the film, adding ‘digitized subtitles’ that he felt ‘enhanced the experience’. (Kofoed 2011)

Rosen (2006) quotes Stephen Gilula, the then chief operating officer for Fox Searchlight, that they ‘thought we’d do subtitles that enhance the visual experience’ as the ‘original English-language subtitles provided by the filmmakers were of poor quality’. In her review of Nochnoy Dozor, film critic Leslie Felperin stated that the reason for that decision was to ‘help those subtitles slip down more easily with mainstream viewers’ (2005: 79). The decision to use slightly animated and sometimes integrated titles to translate the film from Russian into English seemed to have paid off as the film ‘finished first on the indieWIRE Box Office Tracker (iWBOT) of per-screen averages over the four-day Presidents' Day weekend’ (Rosen 2006) and ‘also had the highest three-day per-screen average’ (ibid.) at that point of the year.

The vast majority of the titles in Nochnoy Dozor are in a white sans-serif typeface while a small percentage (15 out of 1006 subtitles, amounting to 1.49 per cent) is coloured in red and sometimes dissolves into a blood trail in the ‘air’ (see Figure 8).

Fig8

Figure 8 Title dissolving into a blood trail (Nochnoy Dozor, 00:11:12)

The 65 integrated titles in Nochnoy Dozor only account for about 6.46 per cent of the film’s dialogue, with the other 941 titles (accounting for 93.54 per cent of the 1006 titles in total) being placed traditionally in the bottom-centre area. Various titles appear to be placed in the depth of field as they disappear behind objects or characters walk in front of them. In five scenes, a title follows a moving object (e.g. at 00:44:30) or dissolves into the scene. Kofoed sees ‘all the textual effects of Man on Fire […] replicated in Night Watch’ (2011). The reasoning behind the placement strategies is not always comprehensible – McClarty calls it ‘far from consistent’ (2012: 149) – and the audience can just wonder what led to the decision of placing some titles integrated into the image and others in the traditional bottom-centre area. And similarly to the release of Man on Fire, this version of Nochnoy Dozor is hard to come by. It is not sold in Germany and only included in a special 2-DVD version sold in English speaking countries while the ‘subsequent release on Blu-ray and DVD of a new high-definition digital master does not feature the embedded subtitles’ (Kofoed 2011; cf. McClarty 2012: 149). The German DVDs and BDs only offer traditional subtitles and the dubbed version.

3.2 General shortcomings

While the titles in scenes with two or more speakers were found to be generally well-placed below the speaker or in speaking direction (in between the speakers), there are some situations in which these titles are visible at the same time even though only one person is speaking. While this is unlikely to lead to a misidentification of the speaking character as stated in the previous sample analysis (as these titles are targeted at a hearing audience), this might lead the audience in perceiving the scene as faster and more hectic than it actually is (see Figure 9).

Fig9

Figure 9 Titles indicate simultaneity that doesn’t actually take place (Fast Five, 00:49:21)

Most of the titles in the sample, such as the ones depicted in Figure 6, are well integrated into the image composition and colour schemes, but some just don’t offer a good contrast and are therefore hardly legible. The title in Figure 10 offers neither a good contrast due to the grey-blue background nor is it very legible as the line spacing and number of lines is just too high in relation to the time the title is visible. It also blocks the view on a relevant focus point in the image – John’s target, Iosef’s hiding place.

Fig10

Figure 10 Title in John Wick with a too wide line spacing, weak contrast,
and that collides with a relevant image area (01:14:46)

Similarly, some titles in Star Trek Into Darkness could have been placed closer to the speakers to decrease the distance the eye has to travel in some of the shots (especially considering cinema screens). While the contrast is very strong in most of the titles, there’s still room for improvement. The additional 3D and light effects make it sometimes difficult to distinguish the individual letters from each other and might have a negative impact on the legibility.

Besides the small number of cases of alleged simultaneity and issues with readability, the main problem that can be identified with the analysed integrated titles is consistency. Some films offer a clear design (John Wick, Fast Five, Star Trek Into Darkness, Slumdog Millionaire) but struggle sometimes with the placement or legibility, other titles seem to not only having been positioned all over the place but also don’t follow a consistent layout (Man on Fire, Nochnoy Dozor). Future productions should take viewer’s general expectations of subtitle placement more into consideration while using a consistent layout and comprehensible placement strategies.

3.3 Graphical Translation into German

For the German versions in cinema and on DVD and BD, the titles of John Wick were the only ones that were completely recreated. In Man on Fire and Fast Five, the titles were removed and replaced with conventional subtitles. In Star Trek Into Darkness, the original English integrated titles are still visible and translated by additional subtitles, overcrowding the otherwise well-orchestrated image composition (see Figure 11).

Fig11

Figure 11 Additional German subtitle
in the German BD version of Star Trek Into Darkness (00:52:23)

The titles in John Wick, however, follow the same graphical rules as in the original version and similar typefaces and colours are used (see Figure 12). This hopefully marks a new trend of distributors actually spending the time and money to both linguistically and graphically translate integrated titles, as so far, John Wick remains the only example of integrated titles that were recreated for the German release – at least on BD.

Fig12

Figure 12 Graphically and linguistically translated title
in the German BD version of John Wick (00:47:32)

In Slumdog Millionaire, Nochnoy Dozor, and Heroes, no trace remains of the creative titles – they were removed from the image and the relevant parts dubbed in German. This doesn’t only take away the creative aspect of the titles becoming part of the image composition, but also the multilingual character of the films is removed. While this is already a very strong graphical and linguistically intervention, it even changes the storyline in Heroes, as the two characters learn more and more English during the whole series and speak less and less Japanese. Situations arise from their lack of English as well as their improving English that could not take place without this aspect of their characters. In Man on Fire, the protagonist sometimes struggles with the Spanish language, resulting in others correcting his pronunciation or him mixing both languages within sentences. The question is whether these removals simply happened in order to save time and money by not having to recreate the integrated titles or if it was based on an interpretation of this aspect not being important or relevant enough to spend additional thought on it. However, the result remains the same: The films were altered immensely and German audiences denied access to the original experience.

4. Derived Placement Strategies

The previous section gave an overview of integrated titles as a means of translation of an additional language in an English film – so far the only known commercial use of integrated titles. While Nochnoy Dozor is often mentioned as an example for the complete translation of a film with integrated titles, these titles only make up about 6.5 per cent of the otherwise traditional subtitles. The often praised creative effects only account for less than 1.5 per cent of the titles. This makes Star Trek Into Darkness the only film with a lower percentage of integrated titles in proportion to the spoken dialogue, illustrated by the enclosed intralingual English subtitles (see Table 2). Being the earliest examples of integrated titles, Man on Fire and Slumdog Millionaire still offer the highest percentage of integrated titles in the analysed films. Considering that only one episode (out of at least 79 episodes) of Heroes was analysed and one episode already included more than 96 integrated titles (accounting for 13.56 per cent of the spoken dialogue in the episode), it’s safe to say that all seasons of Heroes combined most likely offer the highest number of integrated titles.

Film

Year

Duration

(min)

Intralingual English Subtitles

Integrated Titles

Integrated Titles

(%)

Man on Fire

2004

146

1332

214

16.07

Nochnoy Dozor

2006

114

1006

65

6.46

Heroes S01E01

2006

45

708

96

13.56

Slumdog Millionaire

2008

120

1123

202

17.99

Fast Five

2011

131

1348

101

7.49

Star Trek Into Darkness

2013

132

1753

8

0.45

John Wick

2014

101

561

58

10.34

Table 2 Overview of the proportional amount of integrated titles in the discussed examples

As the placement strategies of integrated titles for a hearing audience were analysed and grouped following the number of visible speakers as important criterion and relevant feature of the image composition, these strategies are now summarised following the same distribution. Even though the issue of misleading simultaneity was observed in this sample as well, it was not recorded in a separate group, as these titles are directed at a hearing audience that is most likely still able to assign the titles to the respective speaker.

Figure 13 illustrates the derived positions for off-screen speakers. The positions are numbered from 1 to 4 for easier identification (with number 2 being the original title from that scene). Besides the traditional position in the bottom-centre area (1: Traditional (bottom)), speakers and their speaking direction can be indicated (4: Speaking direction) or the titles placed below or next to the focus (2: Below focus, 3: Next to focus).

Fig13

Figure 13 Examples for identified positions for off-screen speakers
(edited screenshot from Fast Five)

Figure 14 shows the identified positions for visible speakers. The positions are numbered from 1 to 5 for easier identification (with number 3 being the original title from that scene). Below (and alternatively above) the speaker (1: Below speaker, 5: Above speaker) allows for a quick identification. Indication of the speaking direction (2: Speaking direction) can be useful in conversations to allow for a quick focus change between speakers. The position next to a speaker (4: Next to speaker) seems to be used in order not to cover important elements in the image, and the very specific position around the speaker in John Wick (3: Around speaker) supports the central position of the speaker, allowing to focus on his face during the reading of the title.

Fig14

Figure 14 Examples for identified positions for one visible speaker
(edited screenshot from John Wick)

Finally, Figure 15 illustrates positions derived for two or more visible speakers. The positions are numbered from 1 to 7 for easier identification (with number 2 being the original title from that scene). The first decisions seems to be whether the focus is supposed to be on the speaker or the person spoken to. Accordingly, titles were placed below speaker or focus (2: Below speaker, 3: Below focus), in between them (5: Between speakers) or above (7: Above speaker/focus). The positions next to speaker and focus (4: Next to focus, 6: Next to speaker) again only seemed to be used in order not to cover important image areas or elements. The traditional bottom-centre area (1: Traditional (bottom)) was rarely used.

Fig15

Figure 15 Examples for identified positions for two
or more visible speakers (edited screenshot from Man on Fire)

The following frequencies could be derived from the sample:

Visible Speakers

Placement Strategy

MF

ND

H

SM

FF

ST

JW

ALL

%

Film count

Off-screen

Traditional (bottom)

15

-

2

 

3

-

-

20

2.67

3

 

Below focus

18

2

-

3

-

-

9

32

4.28

4

 

Next to focus

22

-

3

12

14

-

1

52

6.95

5

 

Speaking direction

-

-

1

4

-

1

-

6

0.80

3

 

Image composition

-

-

-

7

-

-

-

7

0.94

1

1 Speaker

Traditional (bottom)

-

-

-

-

-

-

5

5

0.67

1

 

Around speaker

-

-

-

-

-

-

3

3

0.40

1

 

Below speaker

54

8

51

33

16

-

12

174

23.26

6

 

Next to speaker

19

-

7

39

12

-

16

93

12.43

5

 

Speaking direction

54

14

16

23

13

7

3

130

17.38

7

 

Effect-based

-

15

-

-

-

-

-

15

2.01

1

 

Image composition

-

-

-

25

-

-

-

25

3.34

1

 

Below focus

1

17

-

-

-

-

-

18

2.41

2

2+ Speakers

Traditional (bottom)

-

-

-

-

-

-

2

2

0.27

1

 

Above focus

-

-

-

1

-

-

-

1

0.13

1

 

Below speaker

-

-

-

-

27

-

-

27

3.61

1

 

Below focus

1

-

-

13

-

-

-

14

1.87

2

 

Next to speaker

-

-

-

16

-

-

-

16

2.14

1

 

Next to focus

-

-

-

12

-

-

-

12

1.60

1

 

Between speakers[17]

35

-

16

14

16

-

7

88

11.77

5

Television

Placed in television

-

8

-

-

-

-

-

8

1.07

1

Integrated

 

219

65

95

202

101

8

58

748

100

7

Traditional

 

 

941

 

 

 

 

12

953

 

2

Table 3 Overview of all derived strategies

As visible from Table 3, placement below the focus or focal point in the image (e.g. a person spoken to or an object that is discussed) and next to a focus make up the biggest percentage of the derived strategies and were used in at least three of the six analysed films. The indication of speaking direction can also be seen as relevant strategy as it was used in 50 per cent of the films. The indication of speaking directing for one visible speaker was used in all analysed films, followed by placement below the speaker and next to the speaker. The derivation from this strategies is minimal (4.1 per cent) and only takes place in Slumdog Millionaire where the titles don’t seem to follow clear placement strategies.

The only strategy for situations with two or more speakers used in more than two of the analysed films was the indication of speaking direction which accounted for about 13 per cent. Even though a placement close to the actual speaker seems like a favourable solution in scenes with multiple speakers and was in fact used for about 6.3 per cent of these titles, only one film made use of it. While a placement close to a relevant object or focal point might be a good solution, placing the title close to a person that is not the speaker might lead to confusion and misinterpretation of the scene (see Figure 16) – especially for hearing-impaired audiences. This leads to the importance of defining an overall concept for the placement strategies being used in the translation of a film with integrated titles.

Fig16

Figure 16 Title placed below the person spoken to despite the scene offering enough space for it to be placed under the actual speaker or in between speakers (Slumdog Millionaire, 00:31:26)

In summary, the placement strategies used in these films aren’t as diverse as they might appear at first glance. For all of the three defined situations, three basic strategies can be defined due to their high frequency: below and next to a focus or speaker and indicating speaking direction (as listed in Table 4).

Visible Speakers

Placement Strategy

Off-screen

Below focus

 

Next to focus

 

Speaking direction

1 Speaker

Below speaker

 

Next to speaker

 

Speaking direction

2+ Speakers

Below focus / speaker

 

Next to focus / speaker

 

In between speakers

Table 4 Overview of all derived strategies with a high percentage and film count

The result of this analysis is a first basic set of placement strategies for integrated titles that can be extended by additional individual strategies such as the placement around the speaker in John Wick or those based on overall image composition in Slumdog Millionaire. These alternative positions for integrated titles, however, should only be used if this leads to a better processing and experience than the traditional placement could offer. The goal of integrated titles should not be the use of alternative positions at all costs. While this article focuses on integrated titles for hearing audiences, an analysis and discussion of horizontally displaced titles for hearing-impaired audiences can be found in Fox (fc.).

5. Conclusion

The ‘interference’ of professionals from the film business without any background in translation and subtitling might have brought this industry on the long overdue new course towards a more integrated approach towards film translation and hopefully leads to better cooperation in the future. All in all, the derived strategies of the partially and completely integrated titles differ much less than might have been suspected. Titles for off-screen speakers can be placed below a focus or focal point, next to it or in indication of speaking direction from outside the frame. One or more speakers offer positions below or next to the speaker, in speaking direction or between speakers, and below or next to the focus in the image (e.g. the person spoken to).

The general recommendations for the creation of integrated titles discussed in Fox (2012, fc.) demand intuitiveness, usefulness and satisfaction from titles. While it is difficult to rate the intuitiveness of the mostly small amount of titles, the other two demands can be rated quite easily. Concerning usefulness, the translations seemed mostly suitable and readable. The eyestrain was most likely reduced in most cases due to small distances in between consecutive titles and most titles were placed close to the action and speakers. Concerning satisfaction (based on pleasant layout and comprehensible design concept), all titles appeared to be placed within the safe area, used suitable typefaces and legible colour combinations and saturation. Shortcomings included very few incidents of unintended simultaneity, the use of the rather weak top-centre position, collisions with relevant image areas, and a too long distance to the main focus. Some of the films’ concepts for the placement of integrated titles lacked consistency concerning both position and design and could therefore inflict irritation and reduce the entertainment value. As consistency is relevant for all three demanded characteristics of integrated titles, this can be seen as the most important lacking feature and the most serious shortcoming. If shortcomings are avoided and the general recommendations are followed, it is to be assumed that the individual placement and design of integrated titles leads to better reception and increased entertainment value of audiovisual content. An entire reception study as well as a proposed workflow for the creation of integrated titles based on eye tracking and questionnaire data can be found in Fox (fc.).

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Notes

[1] Released in the USA by Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures in 2006 with English titles.

[2] The main language in the film is given in the first line, the additional, subtitled language in italics in the second line. As Nochnoy Dozor was subtitled completely from Russian into English, only the source language is stated.

[3] There is also a small number of similar titles in the following films of the series (Fast & Furious 6 [USA 2013], Fast & Furious 7 [USA/JP 2015]). The same goes for further Heroes episodes.

[4] This film could not be analysed as it is even harder to come by than its prequel. It was released in the USA in 2007 with English titles by Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures.

[5] For a definition of mise-en-scéne, see http://bit.ly/1piY4E3 [2016-11-22].

[6] Interview with Tony Scott, performed by Daniel Robert Epstein for UGO in 2007, as quoted in Kofoed (2011).

[7] See, for example, http://adobe.ly/2f2wTwz [2016-11-22]. Two other unidentified typefaces were used in a small number of titles, one of them resembling type printed in newspapers.

[8] Later replaced by Fox Searchlight Pictures as main production studio.

[9] Created by London-based title designer Matthew Curtis.

[10] Also taking into account its sequel Heroes Reborn (USA 2015-2016) with a similar concept of integrated titles.

[11] See http://imdb.to/2fljF9m for the box office numbers [2016-11-22].

[12] The discussed scene can be found on YouTube (00:00-00:45): http://bit.ly/2f2wASk [2016-11-22].

[13] See http://bit.ly/1lBXwB4 [2016-11-22].

[14] Followed by Fast Five and Slumdog Millionaire with a gross from cinema screenings about $209,837,675 and $141,319,195 (cf. http:/imdb.com [2016-11-22]).

[15] Several more credited and uncredited production companies as listed on IMDb: http://imdb.to/2fVyC68 [2016-11-22].

[16] Cf. http://bit.ly/2fWUqwx [2016-11-22].

[17] Includes ‘speaking direction’.

About the author(s)

Wendy Fox works at digital design agency pixelpublic and until recently was research assistant and lecturer in Audiovisual Translation at FTSK Germersheim, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, where she completed her PhD in Audiovisual
Translation. She also has a Diploma in Communication Design from the University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe. Wendy writes on subtitle processing and subtitle design and has recently published in Translation Spaces (2016) and in forthcoming
anthology New Directions in Cognitive and Empirical Translation Process Research (John Benjamins). Her work connecting subtitling and graphic design gained her the Karl Steinbuch Scholarship of the MFG Innovation Agency for ICT and Media
(2013).

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Wendy Fox (2017).
"A proposed set of placement strategies for integrated titles Based on an analysis of existing strategies in commercial films"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Building Bridges between Film Studies and Translation Studies
Edited by: Juan José Martínez Sierra & Beatriz Cerezo Merchán
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2250

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