Subtitle Appearance Analysis

Part 3: Text Color

Just like font and font size, this third appearance parameter seems quite straightforward on the surface. "What is there to think about? It should be white, of course!" β€” is what you'd hear from most viewers and subtitlers if you asked them about subtitle text color. The rest would say that they prefer yellow, and that'd be about it.

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Yet, should you start digging deep into the subject, you'll quickly find that there's much more to text color than one might think. After all, there should be a reason why the BBC folks don't shy away from using cyan:

If you did a survey on subtitle text color, what it should be, the most common answer would be, "It should white, of course! What else?" The rest would say that they prefer yellow, and that'd be about it.

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Just like font and font size, this third appearance parameter seems quite straightforward on the surface. Yet, if you dig deep into the subject, you'll realize that there's much more to it than one might think. After all, there should be a reason why the BBC folks don't shy away from using cyan:

And why the people at Valve are fine with pink:

And why Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson went with orange:

Do they all know something we don't? Well, perhaps. Let's find out! We'll use the usual framework β€” readability, aesthetics and considerations.

When asked what color for subtitles they prefer, people usually say, "White, of course!" Much fewer fancy yellow (in Brazil, SBS Australia and Hulu), and that's about it, with rare exceptions. And you know what? Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson beg to disagree:

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BBC don't shy away from cyan:

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Something from a video game:

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And also colored outline in anime and Slumdog Millionaire.

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I. Text Color and Readability

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Max Deryagin (MD): To begin, please tell me about your subtitling career, from the time you started off and up to the present day.

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Contrast

 

Say that you'll address this topic in the next article about border. (but show an image with blue subtitles with a good border.)

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Many considerations and no good math at the moment, so difficult to quantify, but luckily Andrew Somers is working on a solution. You need to be mindful of this aspect and keep in mind that it's better to err on the side of higher contrast.

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Optical illusions.

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Low contrast = orbicularis oculi fatigue = eye strain.

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According to Legge (XVI), low contrast reduces visual span via longer and more saccades/fixations.

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(Show an example of a sub that reads good to an average viewer and bad to some other people.)

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Talk about cones in eye? (LINK)

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Enough color contrast with the border (LINK) and luminance contrast itself.

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(the problem is that the existing literature doesn't work, so I have to use conjectures β€” Legge and web design AAA) because

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All kinds of definitions of contrast: luminance vs. color, Weber, Michelson, RMS, etc.

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Subtitling is different:

- But we in subtitling have image-to-text saccades (preipheral), so contrast is more important.

- Parts of image show through letter openings.

- There’s background motion.

- Time limitation.

- There's an outline.

- Much bigger font size, so lower contrast is needed.

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Contrast will differ from person to person depending on such things as the size, type and color settings of the display, the font and shadow type selected, the amount of screen glare, etc. (especially important for mobile devices.) Also, because of varied contrast sensitivity of the viewer (deteriorates with age or eye conditions), and color blindness!

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Contrast is much more important for low-vision viewers and older people.

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Especially bad in video games (but mostly due to border issues).

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Talk about the two calculators and eye problems (color blindness, etc.)

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Depends on: font, font size, type and color of border, surrounding colors (image), etc.? (show examples for each).

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Talk about semi-transparent (in BBC iPlayer and Sherlock).

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Children and the elderly see contrast worse.

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Black subtitles (LINK)

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Differentiation

 

Speakers (BBC and teletext) + Video games (South Park: The Fractured But Whole)

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Languages (The Handmaiden theatrical release β€” read on Wiki and/or watch) (e.g. LINK)

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burned-in and open subs (or two-language subs)

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color for individual words as emphasis (instead of italics β€” John Wick).

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Dialogue and onscreen text

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II. Text Color and Aesthetics

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1. Intro (color choices in films are almost never arbitrary β€” they're carefully chosen in pre-production (costumes, decorations), prod (filmmaker) and post (colorist)).

2. Talk about color schemes.

3. Talk about function of color.

4. Talk about how to find a good color that matches the scheme and the function.

All with examples.

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For who? For filmmakers or game devs? Or what?

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Films use specific color palettes to set the tone and mood of the film. Talk about how with examples.

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(So what you can do is match your color to the palette). LINK

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1. Extract a palette from the shot

2. Use a tool to find a matching color

3. Bingo bongo!

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Rule: To the extent possible, and unless intended otherwise, the subtitle text's color(s) should fit the image's color scheme and function and not call undue attention to itself.

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Color functions:

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  • Elicit psychological reactions with the audience

  • Draw focus to significant details (e.g. Gone Girl LINK)

  • Set the tone of the movie

  • Represent character traits

  • Show changes

  • Show arcs in the story (like in video games)

  • evoke a period in time (the Virgin Suicides)

  • foreshadow events

  • no function -- the filmmaker just like the color combo

 

pastel tones = utopia in Edward Scissorhands = don't use garish

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Response to color depends on culture and context.

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Monochromatic, analogous, complementary, triadic (=Batman's Joker) color schemes in film.

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Do not use discordant colors for subtitles. And the sub shouldn't pull attention from the image even if not discordant.

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Don't introduce a new color that's not present in the scheme if you're not part of the production team.

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Color temperature.

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Sherlock = semi-transparent texting subs (e.g. for super dark scenes).

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Visual design

 

- design/film’s color identity (read on use of color in film)

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- differentiation between realites (time/space/dreams) and chapters

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- Avoid going against the image (yellow in cold shot, bright in dark shot) (try to find a completely dark shot in a film with dialogue) β€” should be according to the color scheme of the mise-en-scene (John Wick).

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Color psychology

 

- Avoid negative color associations (depends on country/culture) (Red is considered lucky in China, Denmark and Argentina, while in Chad, Nigeria and Germany it means the opposite. From Wiki.) Color psychology. (!!!)

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Color symbolism Wiki

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Way too individual and culture-dependent.

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Spoliers

 

- Avoid spoiling the plot with colors (p. 108 in Pablo’s AFM)

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III. Color Choice: What To Consider

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Viewing Device Type (mobile = glare, cinema = dark room and no glare)

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Language (languages with thin strokes suffer from contrast more).

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Eye Strain (binge-watching and binge-playing)

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Technical limitations (e.g. Line 21 = the 8 colors you can choose from on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, etc.; DVD = only a bunch of colors; teletext = only a bunch of colors)

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few subs = lower contrast will do; many = need to increase.

IV. Recommendations

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Β© 2020 MD-Subs

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