AUDIO DESCRIPTION: THE VISUAL MADE VERBAL
National Captioning Institute
Day Phone: 703-917-7693
In an oral presentation of this paper, I invite session
participants to “see” what description is all about by figuratively closing
their eyes and listening to an excerpt from the feature film The Color of
Paradise. First, I play it with no picture on the screen and no description
—just as someone with no vision might experience it if he or she had no access
to description. Then I play the same excerpt as described by the National
Captioning Institute’s Described Media division; and finally, one last time
with the video intact so viewers can make their own judgments about how well we
did with the description.
Here I provide an annotated version of the description
script for this film excerpt. The notes may afford some insight into our
reasoning as to why we used the precise language we used—why we chose the words
we selected to bring images to your mind’s eye. Please read and see --
ANNOTATED AUDIO DESCRIPTION SCRIPT FOR THE COLOR OF PARADISE
Please note: sound cues are in CAPS and in brackets; descriptions preceded by”>>.” Annotations are in parentheses. The appearance of the character “Mohammed” is described earlier in the film.
>> Mohammed kneels and taps his hands through the
thick ground cover of brown (Color has been shown to be important to people
with low vision, even people who are congenitally blind) curled leaves.
>> A scrawny nestling struggles on the ground near Mohammed’s hand.
(Timing is critical in the crafting of description. We weave
descriptive language around a film’s sound elements.)
>> His palm hovers above the baby bird. He lays his hand lightly over the tiny creature. Smiling, Mohammed curls his fingers around the chick and scoops (Vivid verbs help conjure images in the mind’s eye) it into his hands, He stands and strokes its nearly featherless head with a fingertip.
>> Mohammed starts as the bird nips his finger. He
taps * his finger on the chick’s gaping beak. He tilts * his head back, then
drops it forward. Mohammed tips * the chick into his front shirt pocket.
Wrapping his legs and arms around a tree trunk, Mohammed climbs.
(* Description, like much poetry, is written to be heard. Alliteration adds variety and helps to maintain interest.)
>> He latches onto a tangle of thin, upper branches. His legs flail for a foothold. Mohammed stretches an arm between a fork in the trunk of the tree and wedges in his head and shoulder. His shoes slip on the rough bark.
>> He wraps his legs around the lower trunk, then uses
his arms to pull himself higher. He rises into thicker foliage and holds onto
tangles of smaller branches. Gaining his footing, Mohammed stands upright and
cocks his head to one side.
>> An adult bird flies from a nearby branch. (What to
include? This image is important — the adult bird returns in the next scene.)
Mohammed extends an open hand. He touches a branch and runs his fingers over
wide, green leaves.
>> He pats his hand down the length of the branch. His
fingers trace the smooth bark of the upper branches, search the network of
connecting tree limbs, and discover their joints.
>> Above his head, Mohammed’s fingers find a dense mass of woven twigs-a bird’s nest.
>> Smiling, he removes the chick from his shirt pocket
and drops it gently into the nest beside another fledgling.
>> He rubs the top of the chick’s head with his index (Be specific-- precision creates images!) finger. Mohammed wiggles his finger like a worm (Similes paint pictures!) and taps a chick’s open beak. Smiling, he slowly lowers his hand.