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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Visualizing film through sound

Imagine watching a movie but not being able to visualize it. For people with visual impairments, it is difficult to understand the elements hidden within gestures, sceneries and actions of film. 

Audio description is a crucial aspect in providing information and visual content, that’s where description writer Justin Sohl and voiceover artist Laura Post come in.

Sohl and Post were featured guests of the first Speakers Series event at the Great Hall on Monday, hosted by the Media Arts department.

Sohl is a lead description writer who has a background in film from the University of Southern California (USC).

‘’Before audio description, going to the movies for individuals who are visually impaired could be a rather unfulfilling endeavor,’’ Sohl said.

He has been in the field of audio description for 18 years, starting at WGBH, a National Public Radio provider located in Boston, in 2001.

He said even though he never thought audio description would be his profession, his passion to film industry led him to De Luxe company where he currently works. 

“Any film or streaming content you watch, De Luxe has its hands on it,’’ Sohl said.

Sohl gave students a brief history of the company and talked about the audio description process. He said the idea of audio description goes back to the very beginning of Talkie Era in 1929, when people were trying to do live audio description in the New York of Bulldog Drummond film.

‘’Even back then there was a look towards inclusivity for blind individuals in media,’’ Sohl said.

Sohl provided examples from his previous productions he worked on to show comparison of the scenes with and without audio description. 

He said there are a lot of visual details that would be totally lost to the blind audience without audio description. 

‘’We’re painting a picture of a film so the blind consumer can experience the same films and television programs as other individuals,’’ Sohl said. 

The process of writing audio description usually starts with watching the film and taking notes on moments where characters are named, different locations are established or on something that’s going to be relevant later. 

Sohl talked about the audio description work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He said some of the important scenes were deducted because of the extremely high security right before release.

‘’They intentionally degraded a lot of the images, so I didn’t exactly know what happened until right before release they gave us a clean version we had to quickly describe on the fly,” Sohl said.

Laura Post is a voice actress and voice director best known for anime characters.

“My first movie was Rise of the Guardians, and I’ve been doing it ever since,’’ Post said.

According to Post, the narration recording process usually takes twice as long as the length of the movie.

Voice objectivity is one of the biggest challenges as a voice actor, according to Post.

“As an actor you really want to act, but it’s not our job to tell the audience how to feel about the movie,’’ Post said.

Post said movie narration requires a lot of practice and matching the tone, or scenaric theme.

Sohl said pauses are an important part of the narration as well, and sometimes it speaks for itself.

‘’Don’t describe something unless it needs to be there, because you’re interrupting those carefully orchestrated collages of sound effects, music and dialogue,’’ Sohl said.

Film major Jose Ruiz said the guest speaker event brought many people in and the presentation was useful. He said he realized it’s not as easy as it seems and was appreciative of how much work is put into the production.

“The advice they give and things that they say is invaluable because It comes from experience,’’ Ruiz said. “And from them to pass on that experience and to tell you everything that has gone in their life is awesome.”

He was impressed by Post’s ability to switch her voice from normal talking to the professional voice.

“It was eye-opening and that kind of made me want to do it myself,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz is planning on directing movies in the future.

“I’m grateful these people take time out of their jobs to come and say ‘we’re going to try to help you be the next people in line,’’’ Ruiz said.

Sohl said audio description is a good way for those who want to be writers.

“You learn the economy of words and how you can express something dynamically,’’ Sohl said.

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