The CaptionMax Reflection List

Posted by CLeininger on December 29, 2010 at 9:42 am. Captioning, Subtitling, Techy, Video Description

Picture of a rock totem in front of a calm body of water at sunset.

Kate’s latest blog inspired us to reflect on some of the things that we’ve tried and learned this year at CaptionMax.  We are so proud of the staff for working so incredibly hard to send the best captions, translation, and audio description out the door!  When we look back at all that we’ve done we feel more rejuvenated and excited for what next year will hold.  In January, we’ll share some of our blogging goals for 2011 with everyone. Year two is sure to be filled with lots of fun projects, both big & small, and we would love to hear your feedback.  But first, to start it off right, let’s look at some of our accomplishments in 2010.

CaptionMax’s 2010 Social Media Reflection List
We are proud that we…
- Won grants for more description (we are so excited to be able keep our describers busy)
-  Reached out to supporters of description
Shared our accessibility efforts with MN Representative Keith Ellison
-  Created a video explaining description
-  Posted more fully-described public domain videos on our YouTube page
-  Created custom videos about our company and about how to caption for YouTube
-  Launched our facebook page and included more staff updates and quizzes (seriously, isn’t our captioning trivia the best?)

Alright. Enough with the pat on the back.  There’s a lot to do next year and we can’t wait to share our plans with you!

2010 Holiday Greetings

Posted by CLeininger on December 23, 2010 at 12:08 pm. Captioning, Video Description

Superman Animated Shorts (1941-1943)

Posted by Emma on December 22, 2010 at 9:23 am. Captioners, Movies

by Jason Mitchell

Our resident public domain and creative content expert, Jason, is back to share his love of animated shorts.

I had intended to cover a public domain work with a holiday theme this month, but as it turns out, there really isn’t that much in the public domain that has a holiday theme.  Instead, I’m going to talk about a series of animated shorts that I consider one of the greatest gifts the Golden Age of animation has given us. [rimshot]

Superman standing majestically

Fleischer Studios is a name largely unknown today, but the company’s contribution to animation as an art form is immeasurable.  While Disney was and remains the leader in animation, the Fleischer brothers’ works were a strong competitor of Walt’s for years, even more so than the Warner Bros. animation division for a time.

While Disney’s influence has shaped the popular conception of what animation should look like and who its audience is, in the early days of animation, there was no prejudice that cartoons should be cutesy affairs for kids.  Before television, animated shorts played in theaters before feature films, and were meant for a mass audience.

While the Disney and Warner Bros. shorts primarily used animals as main characters, Fleischer Studios’ most iconic characters were human, such as Popeye and Betty Boop.  This is partially due to Max Fleischer’s invention of the rotoscope.

Drawing of a man at a rotoscope

Max’s invention allowed animators to use live-action footage as a reference for animation.  Actors would be filmed portraying the action to be animated.  The resulting footage would be projected onto glass and traced by an animator, frame by frame.  This allowed for extremely lifelike animation.  The technique of rotoscoping is still used today, although usually in digital form.

A rotoscope drawing of Clark Kent and Lois Lane

In 1941, Paramount Pictures, who had recently come to own Fleischer Studios, was interested in adapting the popular Superman comic books into a series of animated shorts.  The Fleischers were already working on their second animated feature and were not interested in the project.  In an attempt to dissuade Paramount from financing the Superman series, the Fleischers told Paramount that the shorts would cost an unheard-of $100,000 each to produce.  Surprisingly, Paramount approved a $50,000 budget for the first short, which was still around three times the budget the Fleischers were accustomed to.  With resources previously unavailable to them, the Fleischers decided to take on the Superman project.

The series is a landmark in animation history.  The huge budgets allowed for elaborate action scenes, beautifully detailed backgrounds, and a fantastic musical score.  The rotoscope animation techniques gave Superman realistic movements, and the already familiar cast of voice actors from the Superman radio series were used to voice Superman and Lois Lane.

Rotoscope image of police shooting at a giant robot

Unlike the West-Coast Disney and Warner Bros., Fleischer Studios was based in New York, an advantage in making the Metropolis of the Superman shorts feel like a living presence.  The lighting techniques, camera angles, and overall look would anticipate the film noir movement.

Clark and Lois in the office.

The series of 17 shorts would have a lasting influence, most notably in the modern depiction of another of DC Comics’ most popular characters.  Frank Miller acknowledges Max and Dave Fleischer’s work as being influential on his 1986 series The Dark Knight Returns, a major milestone in the Batman canon.  The Superman series was also highly influential on Batman: The Animated Series, which debuted in 1992.  The series would become a milestone in its own right, launching the DC Animated Universe and promoting the idea that modern animation can reach an adult audience.

A cartoon image of Batman posing in the metropolis.

Any fan of animation, comic books, or just good action stories will love this series.  It really doesn’t get any better.  All 17 shorts are in the public domain and available for free download or stream on  Warner Home Video has also released a DVD set with restored versions from the original masters.

(PS….we’re also working on making these shorts fully accessible; with video description and captions! A choice few will be up on our YouTube page soon! We’ll be sure to announce it when they’re up and ready.)

Fun Word Friday: Sounds

Posted by Emma on December 17, 2010 at 9:17 am. Fun Word Friday

by Kirsten Dirkes

It sounds like a good day to discuss sounds! (Sorry, no pictures this week.)

– a high-pitched, prolonged, wavering vocal sound; among others places, ululation is found in singing contexts and Tarzan contexts, though I’d recommend learning from my mistake and turning down your speakers if you’re going to YouTube the latter

WALLA - an American entertainment industry word for a sound effect that imitates a crowd murmuring; walla can consist of people saying “walla,” “rhubarb,” “peas and carrots,” or actual sentences, among other things

FOLEY – the recording of sound effects for use in film, radio, or television

WILHELM SCREAM – any of a series of high-pitched screams recorded for the 1951 film Distant Drums and used as stock footage in over 200 films

A Shout-Out to the Voices

Posted by Emma on December 15, 2010 at 9:41 am. Consumer Advisory Board

A pictures of a studio microphone

CaptionMax has a dedicated Consumer Advisory Board with experts in all kinds of accessibility. As guest bloggers, we ask our board members to  share their accessibility stories. Our next CAB guest blogger is Josh Miele, Ph.D.  Dr. Miele is a Research Scientist with the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute where he conducts research in the areas of audiotactile graphics and auditory displays. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  You can find out more about Dr. Miele on his LinkedIn profile, by reading his editorial comments on accessible technology at his blog, or by following his more broadly focused twitter feed @BerkeleyBlink.

As a hearing, speaking blind person, so much of the information in my world comes to me through the voices of others. There are voices in my clock and calculator, my computers and cell phone. I rely on the recorded voices that announce the arrival of buses and trains, and I am intimately familiar with the voices that narrate my books and movies. These voices may not be James Earl Jones or Patrick Stewart. They may have none of the sauce and swagger of Mae West or Jack Nicholson or even the temporary familiarity of the latest American Idol celebrity. The voices I’m talking about come without faces or bodies, without benefit of biography or pride of personality. These are the virtually anonymous working voices, the voices that provide access to information, the voices of infrastructure that I rely on every day of my blind life and usually take for granted.

An excellent example is the Time Lady. In the early ‘70s, the telephone had only one voice. She told us the time, encouraged us to “call the operator for assistance,” and warned us to hang up before she blasted our brains out with that ear-splitting pulsation of death that screamed, “HANG UP THE PHONE!” She told us when our circuits were busy, when our friends had moved, and even sometimes what number to dial to reach them in their new homes. She was even the first voice of voice mail, and her mellow, middle-American drone became, for me and millions of other young Americans, the voice of the telephone.

Recently I learned that she did have a name. Jane Barbe was responsible for virtually all of the telephone-related recordings in the United States before 1980. A little poking on the Internet reveals that the so-called Time Lady is now something of a cult figure. It seems that she was human, had an acting and singing career, a husband, children, and grandchildren. It turns out that she was from Georgia and that the American Standard accent she modeled so perfectly was an act, a vocal persona adopted to assure America that the telephone network was in the hands of helpful, competent, Midwestern professionals. But she wasn’t Jane Barbe to most of us – she was simply the voice of the phone, the voice we would know anywhere, telling us to please hang up and try our call again.

Other voices blind people know intimately, but about which we know practically nothing, are the narrators of talking books. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) provides thousands of new talking books each year. These books are recorded by dozens of professional readers whose names we have come to know well but whose personalities are only shadows behind the books they have recorded. Of course, we can infer that Bob Askey probably likes westerns, that Martha Harmon Pardee may enjoy romances, and that Erik Sandvold is likely to be a sucker for pithy science fiction, but we never have a chance to discuss the books with them. Their recorded voices are tireless, reading a 20-hour book in a single sitting if we demand it of them. Without complaint, the voices are there in the middle of a sleepless night, on crowded buses, in sickness and in health. They read to us as we grow and mature, first reading us titles like Winnie-the-Pooh and Frog and Toad, moving on to All Creatures Great and Small, then Star Wars and Ender’s Game, and ultimately mature books like What to Expect… and Fatherhood.

These hardworking voices are the conductors of our trains, the readers of our books, and the describers of our movies. Our relationship to them is well-defined with an elegant simplicity, uncomplicated by the normal politics of human interaction: they speak, and we listen. But the reality is not so simple. Easy though it is to forget, there are people and lives behind the voices – people who take pride in their ability to melt behind the more important message and simply be the voice of the visuals, the book, the train, or the time.

Now the time has come for me to talk back. I recently read of the death of Terry Hayes Sales, a talking-book voice who spent hundreds of hours entertaining me as a child. As so often happens, I didn’t properly appreciate her until I heard the news of her death. Of course, voices are constantly going silent: Jane Barbe died in 2003, Don LaFontaine – the voice of countless movie trailers – died more recently, and the list will continue to go on and on.

So this is a shout-out to the people behind the voices of the past, present, and future: I break my silent part in our relationship to tell you that your words are heard and appreciated. The films you describe, the books you read, the announcements you make, and the samples you record are keys that help open accessible avenues in education, employment, and entertainment for me and thousands of other blind people. Thank you for describing the Backyardigans and for reading to me as I drift off to sleep. Thank you for announcing my bus stop and for identifying the color of my shirts. Thank you for your dedication, your commitment, and your willingness to let the information take priority over your individuality. It is because of you and your voice that we know that this recorded edition contains the entire text of the print edition, that the next stop is Sacramento and Fillmore, and that if we need help, we can hang up and then dial the operator.

Fun Word Friday: Rocks

Posted by Emma on December 10, 2010 at 9:55 am. Fun Word Friday

by Kirsten Dirkes

Last week, we featured the colorful topic of international clothing.  But I don’t want to spoil you into thinking you’ll get something vibrant and exciting every week, so this week’s topic is rocks. (However, we have added some photos, so this post may be more exciting than we intended.)

BAS-RELIEF (bah-reeleef) - a sculpture of raised main elements carved in low relief
A bas-relief

CHOCOLATE HILLS - a dense collection of conical mounds in the Philippines
A picture of the chocolate hills

BRIDGE SCOUR - the erosion of rocks, dirt, and sediment from around bridge pilings and abutments
A picture of bridge scour

RIPRAP - a pile of rock used to fortify shores against erosion
A picture of riprap along the river

STACK - a stone column in the sea near a shore, caused by erosion; see, if you hadn’t put all that all that riprap there, you would have gotten a pretty stack…eventually.
A picture of a stack by the ocean in Scotland

The Reflection List

Posted by CLeininger on December 8, 2010 at 10:00 am. Video Describers

by Kate Schlagel

Writing a list on a piece of paper

I think we’ve all been there.  We kiss at midnight, welcome the new year, then sit down to write the list.  The magic list that will keep us focused, slim us down, save us money, or get us more involved in our community.  You know, the New Year’s resolution list.

In the past, I’ve made several attempts at keeping my promises, but few have been successful.  I start out full of energy and motivation, excited about my clean slate and the prospect of creating a better me.  Then February rolls around.  The list sinks lower and lower on the priority list until it completely disappears.  I move on.   I fall back into old habits…at least until January rolls around.

A few years ago, I nixed New Year’s resolutions and started a new list tradition: the reflection list.

At the end of each year, I think about the events that happened, the new things I tried and learned, and the challenges I overcame.  I find this process much more fulfilling.  I start January feeling accomplished and ready to take on new challenges.  The events or discoveries you list don’t have to be monumental, they just have to be things you’re proud of or excited about.

Here’s my 2010 list:

- Visited the Mediterranean
- Tried rock climbing
- Grew my first garden
- Learned how to operate a Mac
- Opened a store on Etsy
- Went back to school

Give it a try!  Post a comment below and share your 2010 reflection list.  What have you done and learned during these past 12 months? Here, I’ll get you started: “Made first reflection list.”

Fun Word Friday: International Clothing

Posted by Emma on December 3, 2010 at 9:27 am. Captioning, Fun Word Friday

by Kirsten Dirkes

The topic of international clothing is filled with colorful items that are memorable for being really fun to say. Seriously, just try to forget some of these words; I bet you can’t.  Especially the grand boubou.  Sadly, nobody in my office ever wears any of these things.  On the other hand, I work from home, so I have nobody to blame but myself.

OBI - a sash or belt worn with a Japanese kimono or other clothing

DASTAR - a Sikh turban

GI - an English word for a martial arts uniform; from the Japanese word keikogi, a training uniform

AO DAI (ow-zye) - a traditional Vietnamese outfit of a fitted silk tunic over pantaloons, worn mostly by women in its current resurgence

GRAND BOUBOU (gran boo-boo) - a long, loose robe commonly worn by West African men



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